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Cisco, Trend Micro put security in home routers

Through a partnership announced Tuesday, two models of Linksys by Cisco Wireless-N routers will come with software for the Home Network Defender service. The service will also be available for some other Wireless-N routers. Customers will be able to try the service free for 30 days and then sign up for an annual subscription.

Home Network Defender evaluates security risks in real time as users surf the Web. When it detects malicious Web sites, or legitimate sites that contain threats, the service blocks them. There are three levels of protection to choose from, and parents can set rules for their children, even detailing the settings based on the time of day.

The companies claim that locating Web security on the router both saves the trouble of installing software on each PC and prevents children from hacking into policy settings. Cisco's move with Trend Micro continues the company's overall push to build more functions into network infrastructure, a theme it is extending all the way up to power management and multimedia conversion in enterprise and carrier networks.

The announcement came as Symantec's Norton division announced a free beta version of Norton Online Family, a software product for parents to monitor their children's online activities and generate reports that highlight questionable behavior. Online Family can analyze chat and social-networking activity as well as Web surfing, and is expected to ship in the second quarter for Windows and Macintosh.

Operating on a router, Home Network Defender can protect a variety of devices on a home wireless network, including connected game consoles, Wi-Fi-capable phones and personal media players, according to Cisco and Trend Micro. It can detect and prevent a wide variety of attacks, including online fraud, phishing schemes, viruses and online predators, they said. In addition to keeping users from going to dangerous sites, it can prevent them inadvertently giving up valuable information to scammers.

Parents or network administrators can manage the software and set policies through a graphical interface in the Linksys Easy Link Advisor software. The service can also help to detect intruding devices and keep them off the network, as well as provide reports on violations of parental policies, Cisco and Trend Micro said.

There are about 200,000 known Web sites with malicious content, not counting phishing sites, which try to get users to disclose personal information such as passwords, said Maxim Weinstein, manager of the nonprofit organization StopBadware.org. Those figures come from research by Google and probably underestimate the true number, Weinstein said.

Consumers want to be protected from malware and are even willing to pay for it, as long as it's effective and doesn't annoy them, Weinstein said.

“They want the turnkey solution,” Weinstein said.

Theoretically, Trend Micro and Cisco's approach is safer than PC software, because it's generally harder for a child to break into a router and change settings than to shut down Internet protection software on the PC, he said. It's also harder for malware to affect a router, he said. But it can happen, particularly when users don't bother to change the router's default password, which some malicious programs exploit.

The setup software for the Cisco routers forcefully tells users to replace the default password and then reminds them to do so, said Spencer Huang, a Cisco product manager.

Netgear, a rival to Linksys in home and small-business networking, says it will begin including an Internet security service by OpenDNS in all its routers beginning later this year, probably in early July. The OpenDNS service blocks objectionable sites using the system for resolving IP addresses. OpenDNS uses a lighter-weight protocol for faster performance, said CEO Nand Mulchandani. But the key factor for consumers is cost, Mulchandani said. OpenDNS is free, because the company collects its revenue mainly from ads that it presents whenever users type in an incorrect Web address, he said. The company has also made deals with other home router makers, including 2Wire and Meraki.

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