Bitdefender Box 2 full review
If you're reading this, then you probably have at least some clue as to what the Bitdefender Box 2 is. If not, then in a nutshell it's a Wi-Fi router aimed at anyone who wants better security than a traditional router.
The Box 2, despite being a second-generation product, is still an entirely new concept to most people. It monitors everything coming into and going out of your network, offering protection for your smart home, while a companion app keeps you apprised of anything and everything going on that you need to know about.
Bitdefender Box 2: Price and availability
The Box 2 costs $179.99 from Amazon US. It's about to launch in the UK, but its expected release in January 2019 has been a little delayed. However, we do know that it costs £179. After the first year there's a $99 / £99 annual subscription to pay.
That's roughly the same price as the similar F-Secure Sense, once you add on the 12-month subscription to F-Secure Total, F-Secure's antivirus software.
Bitdefender doesn't separate the cost of the hardware and software, but if you were to buy an equivalent mid-range 802.11ac router and subscribe to a security suite for a year, you'd pay about the same price - or more.
It is, however, important to note that you're tying yourself into using Bitdefender Total Security for as long as you own the Box 2 as it won't work without a subscription. The same is true for F-Secure's Sense, though and other rivals such as the Norton Core.
Bitdefender Box 2: Features & design
As routers go, the Box 2 looks good. Its three sides are curved and the two-tone black/white glossy/matt finish should be stylish enough for most people. A glowing circle on the front tells you if everything is ok or not, and that's it as far as indicators go.
It isn't as good-looking as F-Secure's Sense, though, which has a clock and doesn't really look like a router at all. However, where the Sense wants to replace your existing router, the Box 2 wants to work alongside it.
Aside from the power socket there are just two Ethernet ports, one for WAN and one for LAN. That's so it can connect to you router and - if need be - sit in the middle between your router and some other networking gear. For most people in the UK there won't be the option of ditching an existing router as the Box 2 doesn't have an ADSL or VDSL modem in it, something necessary if your broadband arrives via your phone line.
Inside is a combination of a mid-range 802.11ac Wi-Fi router and a network security appliance, something you'd usually only find in a business setting. It behaves like a bodyguard, stopping incoming attacks and preventing sensitive details leaving your network unencrypted.
Setup can be complicated. The quick-start guide presents three different options and it may not be clear which one you should use with your existing router or network kit. That goes even for those who'd consider they know a thing or two about home networks.
In our case, we installed the Box 2 in line between our BT router and mesh Wi-Fi system, which is a fourth scenario that Bitdefender should consider adding to the quick-start guide. Be aware that the Box 2 isn't compatible with some mesh Wi-Fi (Google Wi-Fi for example) and some ISP routers, but as long as they can be put into bridge mode, they should work just fine. Check the list of incompatible devices before you buy.
In our case we didn't need the Box 2's own Wi-Fi but did need to put the mesh network into bridge mode so the Box 2 could act as a DHCP server and essentially run and manage the devices connecting via Wi-Fi.
Setup is only supported on iOS and Android using the Bitdefender Central app, so that's something to bear in mind if you don't have an iPhone or Android phone - you can't use a PC or mac.
Once the setup wizard is finished, you might need to restart all your devices so they can reconnect to the network (they'll need to get a new IP address from the Box 2) and be scanned for vulnerabilities. We found the simplest way to achieve this was to turn off the mesh Wi-Fi network and then restart it, at which point everything reconnected automatically since the SSID and password hadn't changed.
If you do set up the Box 2 as a Wi-Fi router alongside your existing one, the setup wizard will advise you to disable its Wi-Fi and offer instructions for common models. But it is relatively simple to do that even if your router isn't listed.
So what does the Box 2 actually do that your old router couldn't? Ordinary routers don't monitor network to stop malware attacks, nor do they usually watch outgoing traffic to prevent you inadvertently sending your payment details and other private information to a website that isn't using HTTPS.
As well as acting live antivirus software running on your router, it blocks hacking attempts, identity theft and will protect IoT devices that can't run antivirus software or don't automatically apply security updates. In terms of hacking attempts the Box will detect and shut down brute-force attacks. It will warn you of any suspicious behaviour, as well as when a new device connects to the network (and it will scan it for any known vulnerabilities).
Note that it doesn't perform 'deep packet inspection' as the Norton Core does, instead relying on a combination of local and cloud monitoring, plus using the known reputation of websites to provide its protection.
As well as incoming threats, every device that accesses the internet through Wi-Fi or a wired connection will be protected from dangerous outgoing behaviour. It will prevent sensitive information such as credit card details being sent over an unencrypted connection and there's also web filtering. So if anyone tries to visit a website on the blacklist, they'll see a warning explaining that the Box has stopped their attempt, and the event will be listed in the app's activity log.
Recently Bitdefender added an anti-bullying which watches out for aggressive language, requests for photos, verbal attacks and more in your kids' conversations in Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Instagram. You'll get an alert if anything is detected, but you don't see the messages themselves.
Testing these features is straightforward, and the box does a great job at ensuring no device is able to access a malicious site even if it isn't running antivirus software. And if you're sure a blocked site is safe, it's easy to add it to the whitelist so you can use it.
We also found that the information protection feature worked as advertised and wouldn't allow passwords to be submitted over an unsecure connection. More than that, the Box stops you accessing sensitive data in documents over a remote connection, so if you were using Join.me remotely and tried to copy and paste identity data from a local machine inside your home network, you'll find it won't work.
Similarly, the Box 2 successfully prevented a brute-force hacking attempt when we tried to guess the password of a protected file remotely, and it also stopped us downloading the EICAR malware testfile.
Other features are more difficult to test, such as trying to hack one of our security cameras - we're not professional hackers! In the few months we've been testing the Box 2, we've seen no device flagged as having any vulnerabilities, and that's with almost 100 devices connected.
The app's home screen, though, makes it clear if you have any 'at risk' devices and how many threats have been blocked in the past week. Should you be alerted of a device needing attention, there's not a great deal you can do beyond updating its firmware (if an update is available) or unplugging it and not using it. The point is that you're informed of any risks, which you wouldn't be if you had a standard router.
The app also lets you install Bitdefender's apps on iOS and Android and send a download link to Total Security for Windows and macOS devices. With Total Security installed they're protected even if you take them out of your home and use them on another network, or while on mobile data if it's a phone or tablet. And Bitdefender Total Security happens to be our top-rated antivirus software, which is a bonus.
Returning to the Central app, in the Devices tab you can see what's connected to the network, devices that were previously connected but are currently disconnected and - usefully - pause the internet connection to individual devices.
Most will be recognised, named and categorised automatically, but you can edit the name and type so that you can easily see what is what. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify a device, but a trial-and-error process of switching things on and off usually sorts that out.
You can assign devices to different people - users can be guests, adults or children. For kids, you can apply screen time restrictions, but this isn't particularly intuitive. You can set multiple time periods, but only in whole hours - you can't adjust minutes. It's also unclear whether you're setting those as periods where they can use devices assigned to them or can't use them.
Total Security adds more options, such as the ability to block certain categories of website to prevent your kids looking at stuff you consider inappropriate.
You might decide that with antivirus software installed on all your computers, phones and tablets that you don't need a device like the Box 2. But its ability to protect smart gadget that can't run AV software, plus the fact that it keeps your personal and payment details secure means that it's a valuable asset if you can afford it.
Bitdefender Box 2: Specs
- Processor: Dual-core Cortex A9 @1.2 GHz
- RAM: 1GB of DDR3
- Storage: 4GB internal
- Wi-Fi: 802.11ac dual-band 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz with MU-MIMO 3x3 antenna (Wave-2 @ AC1900)
- Connectivity: 1 x Gigabit LAN port, 1 x Gigabit WAN port