Back in prehistoric times, when a household typically had at most one computer, installing a security suite on that computer was simple and logical. In the modern world, each household member likely has at least one computer, plus a collection of mobile devices. Installing security on all of them gets tough, even if you have an unlimited license such as McAfee AntiVirus offers. Then there are those plentiful Internet of Things devices that just don’t allow for installation of security software. Protecting the whole network rather than individual devices starts to seem very inviting, and that’s just what Trend Micro Home Network Security aims to do. In testing, though, it failed to impress.
The list price for this device is $149.95, less expensive than F-Secure Sense and Bitdefender Box, both of which go for $199.99. However, there’s more to the story. With Bitdefender Box, you pay $99 per year after the first year, and that gets you Bitdefender Total Security protection for all your devices. That’s a nice deal, given that a standalone subscription to Total Security (an Editors’ Choice) costs $99 for 10 licenses.
F-Secure Sense is now called F-Secure Sense Router, with the old name applied to security software embedded in third-party routers. In another twist, the product is no longer available for sale in the US. Those living in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, or the UK can pay to add an F-Secure Sense device to their F-Secure Total installation (Total is a bundle including the F-Secure Safe security suite, Freedome VPN, and F-Secure Key password manager). Sorry, here in America we no longer have Sense.
Firewalla goes for a one-time price of $109. There’s no associated software, and hence no reason for an ongoing subscription. Home Network Security likewise doesn’t come with associated software, but to keep it going you must pay $59.95 per year after the first year. My company contact explained that this fee covers “ongoing security updates (intrusion prevention patterns, website reputation service, vulnerability scans)” and also supports development of new features such as the recently added parental control component.
Dimensions and Specifications
The simple black security box measures 1.3 by 5.3 by 4.3 inches (HWD). That’s decidedly smaller than the Bitdefender Box 2 or the F-Secure Sense. However, it is not remotely as tiny as the Firewalla. You could arrange six Firewallas in a rectangle and set the Home Network Security box on top, covering them all.
That said, Home Network Security is simpler than Firewalla when it comes to connections. It has a gigabit Ethernet port, a power port, a recessed Reset button, and a single status light. Firewalla has all that, plus a USB port and a slot for a micro-SD card.
Unlike F-Secure Sense and the now-discontinued Norton Core, this device doesn’t attempt to replace your router. Like Firewalla, it joins the network and does its security work without taking on all the tasks of a router. Bitdefender recommends installing the Box in the same way, though it can also function as a router.
As is common, you use an Android app or iOS app to communicate with and control the Home Network Security device. The main dashboard shows the number of protected devices at the top, on a background that’s green if all is well, orange-red if items need your attention. Scrolling down you see a summary of recent activity, a list of family members, the devices suffering the most attacks, and a chart of network usage. A three-line hamburger menu at top left offers access to all features.
The Home Network Security device aims to provide security for any user, including those with minimal tech skills. A card inside the box offers simple instructions: plug in the power, plug in an Ethernet cable, and wait for the blinking red light to turn green. That’s step one finished.
Now you install the Home Network Security app on your Apple or Android device. It asks for a pairing code, which is printed on the instruction card. Don’t lose that card! To complete the pairing, you use the app to snap a QR code on the bottom of the device. Create or log into your Trend Micro account and you’re done setting up. Home Network Security immediately starts scanning the network.
Once the scan finishes, you get a list of devices found on the network. I found that some had useful names, things like PhysicalTest and Neil’s iPad, while others showed up with more generic descriptions. This is common for network scanning devices, and for network software such as Bitdefender Home Scanner. Most scanning products require you to laboriously figure out the IP or MAC address of a device, match it to an unknown on the list, and enter a friendly name.
Trend Micro’s solution is much better for the non-techie user. You simply go to the device in question and enter a short, simple URL, then type in the name you want to use for that device. Within 30 seconds, the app should pick up the name you chose.
At this point I started to have some trouble with Wi-Fi communication. For example, the friendly names I entered didn’t reach the app, and the ticker for bandwidth used remained at zero. But the trouble also affected all my devices with a Wi-Fi only connection. Some apps and websites worked, most didn’t. And the connection showed up as strong, but with no internet.
Given I had only had this network for a week, I contacted the ISP and made an appointment for troubleshooting. Devices using Ethernet weren’t affected, so I shifted gears to perform tests that didn’t require Wi-Fi.
Poor Malicious Web Page Blocking
Your antivirus can check the websites you visit and steer your browser away from those that may be dangerous. However, it naturally only works on devices where it’s installed. With Home Network Security hooked up, that protection extends to all devices on the network. I didn’t have to install anything to test this feature—I simply fired up a test system and got to work.
For this test I use a feed of malware-hosting URLs recently discovered by researchers at MRG-Effitas. I launch each URL, discard any that return errors, and record how the product under test reacted. Products get equal credit for blocking access to the URL or for eliminating the malware right after download. In the case of Home Network Security, of course, there’s no local antivirus to wipe out malware.
The results proved seriously disappointing. Home Network Security detected and blocked just 61 percent of the malware-hosting URLs, identifying them with descriptions like “Adware,” “Disease Vector,” and “Malware Accomplice.” Three-quarters of recent security products scored higher. McAfee, Sophos, and Vipre Antivirus Plus all topped the field with 100 percent protection. Trend Micro’s standalone antivirus managed 99 percent, almost all of them by blocking all access to the dangerous page. So, what happened?
My Trend Micro contact explained that while the antivirus and Home Network Security both use Trend Micro’s Web Reputation Services system, the antivirus has a serious advantage. As a local program running on the endpoint, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security can get the full URL even for HTTPS sites, while the network box only gets the domain. That does make sense, but it also means that you can’t really rely on Home Network Security to identify dangerous pages. In my latest set of real-world malware-hosting URLs, more than half used HTTPS.
Poor Phishing Detection
Home Network Security also aims to keep you from being fooled by phishing sites, frauds that try to steal your login credentials for sensitive websites. These sites pop up, hoodwink a few unwary web surfers, and vanish quickly, either by design or because they got caught and blacklisted.
To test phishing detection, I start by scraping hundreds of recently reported fraudulent pages, including both those that have been verified as phishing and those too new to have been checked. I launch each page in a browser protected by the product under test, and simultaneously launch the same page in instances of Chrome, Edge, and Firefox protected only by the built-in phishing detection.
Home Network Security detected 87 percent of the frauds. That’s better than it scored against malware-hosting URLs, but still not good. More than half of recent products scored better, including Trend Micro’s own standalone antivirus, which, along with Kaspersky Anti-Virus, earned a perfect 100 percent.
Normally I also compare the product’s detection rate with that of the three browsers, but this time doing so proved difficult. Home Network Security manages all connected devices, including the virtual machines hosting the three browsers. In some cases, I saw a notification from Home Network Security in one of the VMs that was supposed to only rely on protection built into the browser. I had no way to tell whether that meant the browser failed to catch the fraud, or Trend Micro simply got to it first. That being the case, I’m not attempting the usual phishing protection comparison chart. Suffice it to say that the hardware-based detection system scored poorly compared to most competitors, including Trend Micro’s own antivirus.
For more on how to protect yourself from this kind of threat, you can read my piece on how to avoid phishing scams.
Just Not Compatible
Not long after I finished those tests, my ISP dropped off a new, higher-end cable modem. I unplugged the older router and the Home Network Security box and hooked up the new one. After the usual handshake and settling-in process, the new router seemed to work perfectly.
With the Wi-Fi troubles out of the way, I hooked the Home Network Security device back up…and the problems came right back. As before, all Wi-Fi-only devices reported a strong connection but no internet. Some apps and websites worked, but most didn’t. After several rounds of connecting and disconnecting the Home Network Security box, I could only conclude that rather than being the victim of a Wi-Fi problem, it was the source of that problem.
My Trend Micro contacts confirmed that the device is not compatible with every router, though the list of compatible routers is very long. I must admit feeling surprised that the product’s compatibility did not extend to the proprietary router supplied by one of the biggest ISPs in the US. Absolutely do not purchase this product without first checking your router against that list.
With that problem solved, I plugged in a second router downstream, a compatible one, and moved enough devices to the new, separate network to make testing possible. Even that didn’t work initially, because I connected the device through a network switch rather than using one of the router’s own ports. Eventually it all worked, but I can’t imagine a non-techie user would have succeeded.
Scanning for Network Trouble
Home Network Security keeps track of just what devices are on your network and lets you view all devices that have connected or just those currently online. Separately, you can tell it to scan the online devices for possible security problems. Bitdefender’s software-based Home Scanner does something similar, as does Avira Home Guard.
On my test network the scan took just short of 10 minutes. Specifically, it looked for default passwords and network vulnerabilities. Not surprisingly, it didn’t find any.
You can optionally turn on New Device Approval, meaning that no new devices can connect until you approve them. Use this feature cautiously, as you may incur the wrath of others in your household if you don’t respond quickly enough to new device notifications.
Simple Parental Controls
If your household includes children, you can use Home Network Security as a simple parental control system. You start by adding a profile for each child in the app. After that, just connect the devices that family member uses to the corresponding profile.
As expected, this system lets you block any profile’s access to sites matching inappropriate categories. You can choose from presets for Child, Pre-Teen, and Teen, or make a custom selection of sites. The system offers to block over 30 categories, organized into: Adult or Sexual; Communication or Media; Controversial; and Shopping and Entertainment.
In testing, I quickly discovered that the content filter only displays a warning when it blocks non-secure HTTP pages. For pages that are both secure and inappropriate, your child just sees a browser error. I also found that I could get around all restrictions by finding a secure anonymizing proxy that slipped past the Hacking / Proxy Avoidance blocking category. Separately, you can configure the device to block use of apps in seven categories: Games; Adult; Social Network or Chat; Shopping or Advertisement; Media / Streaming; Dating; and VPN.
Many parents worry that their kids spend too much time online. By creating rules in Home Network Security, you can put a cap on daily internet use, define when going online is permitted, or both. For each rule, you start by identifying the days it applies. You can cap internet use in 15-minute increments, up to eight hours, and separately limit use of YouTube. And you can elect to get a notification when your child has run out of time.
You can also add one or more time periods when internet access is permitted. It’s not the simple grid schedule that many parental control systems use, but this method does lend itself to use on mobile devices. As with the daily cap, you can choose to get a notification of use outside the scheduled hours, or just block access at those times.
There’s a separate setting to simply alert you if the child’s devices connect to the internet during a specified time, such as bedtime. And right from the program’s main screen you can pause any child’s network access with a quick tap.
I’m not sure how much effort you should put into configuring parental control. Your child can completely evade all control and monitoring by switching to a cellular-only connection, or by connecting to a different Wi-Fi network. When the kid leaves the house, all bets are off. If you truly need a cross-platform parental control and monitoring system, consider using our Editors’ Choice, Qustodio.
Early on I mentioned the menu that gets you access to all app features. One of those is Timeline, which simply logs all events, things like a new device joining the network, or a child trying to visit a blocked website. You can view the whole long list or filter on Security, Parental Controls, Connections, Action Required, or System. It’s probably a good idea to check regularly for any outstanding Action Required items.
At the bottom of the main dashboard you’ll find network usage stats, along with a graph. Choosing Network from the menu gives you this information in more detail. In particular, it breaks out bandwidth usage by device. If someone in your household is using up all the data from a metered connection, you’ve got the evidence right in your hand.
Finally, there’s Voice Control. This is just an elaborate walkthrough of things you can do if you give your Alexa or Google Assistant device the Trend Micro skill. You can launch a scan by voice, for example, or pause the internet for a misbehaving child. That is, if you’re not worried about the privacy implications of having a smart speaker listening to your every word.
Think Outside the Box
Trend Micro Home Network Security is a pricey security box, with an ongoing yearly subscription but no corresponding local protection for your devices. It’s designed to be so simple that even the non-techie user can get it working. However, compatibility problems foiled our initial attempts to test it, causing network-wide problems. Even when we used a compatible router, a simple matter of plugging it into a network switch brought back those network-wide problems.
Some of its features aren’t affected by those compatibility woes, such as its ability to keep all devices from connecting with malicious or fraudulent websites. However, the network-level nature of the web-based protection necessarily makes it less effective than a local antivirus or security suite.
So, what should you get instead? Maybe not a security box at all. The category is troubled; Norton discontinued its Norton Core router, and F-Secure Sense is no longer sold in the US. While they don’t cover Internet of Things devices, powerful cross-platform security suites like Bitdefender Total Security and Kaspersky Security Cloud do a vastly better job protecting your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
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