Bitdefender security appliance for home networks seeks to replace end-point antivirus

Bitdefender BOX can replace or run alongside a home router to scan all network traffic for security threats

Bitdefender BOX is managed from an Android or an iOS application

Bitdefender BOX is managed from an Android or an iOS application

Antivirus firm Bitdefender unveiled a hardware security appliance for home networks Tuesday that aims to protect devices by scanning network traffic to detect and block potential security threats.

The new Bitdefender BOX is a mix between a router, network firewall and intrusion prevention system. It can sit behind an existing router, connected to one of its Ethernet ports, it can be placed in front of a router, so that it also protects the router from Internet-based attacks, or can act itself as a router.

The device has a single-core 400 MHz MIPS microprocessor, 16 MB Flash memory, 64 MB DDR2 RAM, two 10/100 Ethernet ports and a wireless chipset that supports the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi standards and is capable of speeds up to 150Mbps.

Despite these unimpressive technical specifications, Bitdefender BOX does not affect the network performance when positioned alongside a router to scan network traffic because it doesn't perform deep packet inspection, according to Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender.

The device intercepts and scans only essential parts of the data packets that flow in and out of a network to identify known malicious patterns, Botezatu said. This is done with help from Bitdefender's cloud-based threat intelligence network, he said.

When used as a router itself, the device certainly cannot match the network performance and some of the functionality provided by high-end home routers. It does, however, provide a security layer that the vast majority of such devices lack and also has a smaller attack surface than most of them.

BOX costs $199, which includes the price of the hardware and a one-year subscription. Users will then have to pay $99 for every year after that, regardless of the number of devices protected by the appliance. Orders will open in mid-December and shipping will start in January, according to the company.

Network security appliances like intrusion detection and prevention systems are common on corporate networks. Preventing malware infections on end-point systems is increasingly difficult, so blocking malicious traffic at the network level, including attackers' attempts to control infected systems or to extract data from them, has become essential to limiting the impact of such security breaches.

Through BOX, Bitdefender seeks to bring similar protection to home networks, where the ever increasing number of Internet-connected devices has raised new security challenges.

Users have gotten used to installing antivirus products on their laptops and desktop computers, and maybe even on their mobile devices. However, home networks can also include smart TVs, game consoles, media centers, IP cameras, network-attached storage devices, smart thermostats and a variety of other devices that fall into the large Internet-of-Things category. Many of these systems handle data that users would prefer to remain private and some of them even contain Web browsers and various Web-based apps, making them a potential target for attackers.

Bitdefender BOX can identify and block connections to malicious URLs and known bad IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, malware downloads, malformed packets that could indicate incoming attacks and other potential threats. However, the device does more than scan network traffic.

Bitdefender will also provide light software agents for Windows, Mac and Android that will communicate with BOX and can act as replacements for antivirus programs. These agents can detect if the software or the OS installed on computers are missing important security patches and can automatically install the updates. They also monitor all applications executed on the devices and use the Bitdefender cloud to determine if they're clean.

When a computer is taken outside of the user's home network, the agent can establish a VPN (virtual private network) connection back to BOX, routing all traffic through it and analyzing it for threats. This also protects the device from man-in-the-middle and other attacks when connected to insecure networks, like to public Wi-Fi hotspots.

In the future, Bitdefender plans to implement parental control functionality in BOX, which will also be enforced by the software agents, even if the user takes the device outside of the home network, Botezatu said.

Since BOX is aimed at parents and nontechnical users, a lot of effort was put into making its set-up process as simple as possible, Botezatu said. Users can configure and control BOX through a user-friendly application installed on their Android or iOS devices, he said.

If users choose to install the device alongside an existing router, they need to provide the username and password for the router's administration interface and BOX will automatically make the necessary configurations so it can start inspecting network traffic. When configured as a router, users will be asked about their ISP connection settings.

BOX's price might seem quite high, putting it in the same range as high-end home routers. However, according to Botezatu, since BOX and its software agents can replace traditional antivirus products, users will no longer have to buy individual antivirus licenses for each of their devices. Instead, the $99 annual subscription for BOX will offer protection for an unlimited number of devices, some not even covered by traditional antivirus products.

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