Big Interview: Symantec on Norton products and future plans

Norton by Symantec is a household name synonymous with security software, but now the company is making the leap into the physical realm. Jonathan Easton speaks to Gareth Lockwood, EMEA consumer product specialist, Homayoun Sarkechik, senior manager of Partner Activation and Neil Smith, partner sales manager about the company’s evolving strategy – both in products and Channel services

Talk us through the thinking behind Norton Core

Gareth: We’d been thinking about the Norton Core product and how it fits into our strategy for a number of years. We decided that we needed to develop protection for the consumer as smart devices are starting to proliferate among our homes. We needed a wireless router to protect our homes at the point of contact with the outside world and with the internet. 

We effectively said that we want to allow Norton to further secure our consumers’ digital lives while still delivering the high level of performance you expect from a router today. Our consumers are familiar with Norton’s software that protects your PC and smartphone from hackers, but when you look at today’s connected homes it requires something more. You can’t just go and install endpoint protection on a baby monitor for instance. 

All it takes is one compromised device for bad guys to infiltrate your home network and reach all your data. Core discovers all your smart devices, identifies any vulnerabilities and helps to secure all the smart devices within your home network. If it does detect a breach it can quarantine that threat at a network level. 

There’s a lot of enterprise-grade technology under the hood such as deep packet inspection, intrusion prevention and a lot of other things as well that allow us to defend your home network. 

Do you think that there’s more the vendors can do to ensure that connected products are secure?

G: With the smart connected device industry it’s a race to get products out there as quickly as possible. What we’re often seeing is that security is second, third or even lower down the priority list when it comes to releasing an innovative product. 

There are some basic things that should be done. Not having the same default password on every device, for example. When you go to an onboarding process with a user when they first put it in their home is another. Make sure that they’re changing the password and allowing that to be done in an easy manner. 

We did some tests a little while ago where we put an IoT device out on the internet and it took about two minutes for it to be attacked. As we know from the recent botnets for things like Mirai, all it takes is a vulnerable IoT device to have a significant impact 

From a business perspective, have there been any surprises or strategy changes when it comes to hardware vs software?

G: It’s fitted fairly well into our strategy. The hardware is one component of this. We’ve partnered with some very key hardware component manufacturers to create the best hardware platform that allows us to run our security stack and deliver our expertise in software to end consumers. 

It’s about partnerships, but along the way we think it’s a great design as well and that’s something we’ve noticed from other routers on the market. They’re not necessarily the most attractive looking devices with all the antennas poking out, so we decided that we had to look at this from the ground up and ask what can we design and develop that not only protects the consumer using our expertise in software, but also looks fantastic and delivers what you’d expect from a high-performance router at the same time.

Performance was a key factor that we took on board. At the time of hardware specification we said that it needs to be a performance powerhouse. We looked at the 830.11ac Wi-Fi spec, it’s 4×4 MIMO. All the latest Wi-Fi technology is in there. We designed it to not only secure the devices on the network, but also achieve what we think are pretty impressive throughput speeds and unbelievable coverage and range not only for your average user.

Another aspect of the product that is at the fore is the Security Score. Talk us through that

G: Security Score is the cornerstone to the UI. What we wanted to do with this was give the user a very easy to understand guide to the health of their network. The level of security, any vulnerabilities that are known when you add a new smart device. It gives you instant knowledge that wherever you are in the world you can log on to your mobile app and see the current health of your network at home. It’s a very simple scoring system and it all wraps it in a simple interface. 

Your interactions with Norton Core are wholly driven through this mobile interface so no longer will you have to go through the process of opening a web browser, typing in an awkward IP address and going through what is not necessarily the most intuitive of interfaces. We tied it all to a mobile app that allows you to not only on board and configure the router itself but also look at some of the more advanced features as well. 

A key component of Norton Core as well is for parents to manage their kids’ time on the internet. We’re taking the expertise from our Norton family products and we’ve integrated that into Norton Core itself. Rather than installing Norton Family on each individual end-point, when they’re in the house you can monitor your kids’ time on the internet from within this mobile interface. It’s a pretty powerful tool to allow parents to monitor and manage screen time and find the right balance between family and screen time. 

Speaking of childen; we inherently think that viruses are brought into the house by children, but a lot of the time it’s mum or dad clicking on a link in their emails without about knowing the consequences

G: Absolutely, Wannacry and Petya have both raised some big concerns. It leads into having an understanding of what the best practices are when it’s specific to things like ransomware or phishing attacks. 

We know certainly that ransomware has increased significantly. In 2016 we saw just over 463,000 attacks. More than 70 per cent of attacks on healthcare, for example, are ransomware. It’s not necessarily the home user, it’s anybody who is online. It’s having the understanding that not everything you see in an email is necessarily true. 

Anything that is posted as a Microsoft Office attachment that advises you to enable macros should make you very wary. When it comes to a lot of these threats we’ve seen recently it’s very basic things that you need to be aware of. Keeping your security software up to date is a key thing. Keeping your operating system updated as well. 

There are a lot of relatively simple things that you can do and as we look more closely into ransomware it’s things like backing up data. Having a backup is probably the single most effective way of combatting ransomware. Attackers have leverage over their victims because they’ve taken their files and encrypted their data so if you as a victim have a backup then you can go and restore your system. It’s relatively basic stuff, but things that everyone needs to think about.

How big an impact did the Wannacry ransomware have on Norton customers?

G: It was significant, but we didn’t really see many infections at all from a Norton perspective. Both Norton and Symantec customers effectively had 0-day protection against Wannacry, Petya and anything else using the EternalBlue exploit. 

It’s not just about having this ‘anti-virus’ definition anymore. We have this multi-layered approach to protection with things like intrusion prevention – where we’re looking at this from a network level and using our sonar behavioural detection technology that prevents Wannacry and Petya from getting onto the system itself.

As of May, we’ve blocked something like 47 million infection attempts across over a million and a half endpoints this year.

Norton recently launched Norton Wi-Fi Privacy. What does it do and who is it catering to?

G: We launched Wi-Fi Privacy a few months back and the rationale behind that was pretty simple. What we saw was that there is a huge gap between what people perceive to be ‘risky’ and the reality when using public Wi-Fi. We think consumers still lack awareness when it comes to the risk of using public Wi-Fi. 

We did a Wi-Fi risk report recently and it was quite a revelation to us. It showed that nearly nine in 10 consumers are putting their data and privacy at risk when using public Wi-Fi. In the UK it was something like 65 per cent of consumers who think that their personal information is safe when on public Wi-Fi, yet more than half of them can’t tell actually whether the network that they’re on is secure. 

So as a result we developed Norton Wi-Fi Privacy as a VPN that protects the data that you’re sending and receiving when you’re on public Wi-Fi, though it works just as well on whatever network technology you’re using. Your location is shielded from view from advertisers and from the bad guys snooping on your traffic so you can’t be tracked. 

What we’re saying to our consumers is that you can now go online without thinking twice about privacy or security. What the product offers is bank-grade encryption that makes the information that you send and receive completely unreadable and offers you true anonymity, to mask your online activities and location. 

Tell us a bit about PartnerNet and the POS kits

Homayoun: Reaching out to partners in all markets we have specific teams, but we see that it’s important to offer a platform to our partners so they can go there and learn more and know more about our products. 

And also preparing and proposing specific programmes to them and giving them the possibility to get support on products and services that we offer. Once a product is sold to a customer and they might have some problems the first thing they do is to go back to the shop where they bought the product. Giving special support to our partners via the PartnerNet platform, FAQs case studies, hotline and web chat means that they have the facility to help their customers. We help to give our partners a lot of the security knowledge that they will need to be a successful business. 

We really want partners to be supported with the product and services. We want to help them to be successful with Norton because their success is our success as well.

How can interested resellers get involved?

H: Anyone interested can go to and easily apply for partnership. We encourage them to do that! Especially in the UK where our partners are very active which makes us very happy. 

That’s important because these days it’s easy for vendors to sell software directly to consumers that partners and retailers and resellers need to have that unique service that they can provide as well

H: Absolutely. We have seen this with Norton partners for a long time. Special support for partners is absolutely key for mutual success.

Neil: I think the key thing that has been beneficial with PartnerNet is that it’s a great tool for covering everything that Norton is doing as standard. So like how Gareth mentioned with the launch of Wi-Fi Privacy, we were able to offer an introduction to that product and its benefits to our partners. 

Homayoun and the team will enable us to add details of promotions monthly and quarterly so our partners can hear about anything happening and take advantage of them as soon as possible. What we also offer are these bespoke POS kits which are, certainly for resellers looking to work with Norton, the best tools they can possibly get. 

We have these kits available at UK distributors that allow retailers and resellers to put them into their shops or showrooms to showcase that they sell Norton. 

Roughly, how many partners do you have in the UK?

H: It depends on how you’re looking at it. On the PartnerNet portal it’s growing. We are at about 400 for the UK, but the guys who do business with Norton are much, much more. We are really encouraging our partners to come to Norton PartnerNet and they are very active in the UK. We only launched it a few months ago so it’s quite new and it is growing. 

We also have a programme called NFR for partners to get the product, install it on their system, try it and play with it. We want our partners to really know the product and it’s very important. The more they know the product then the more they will be able to advise their customers. That’s our objective. That they really keep their customers loyal because they give good service and have good knowledge about security in general. 

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Security – in association with BullGuard – is running throughout September 2017 – click here for more articles

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