Security Suites: Big Protection, Little Fuss

Norman Security Suite

Oslo, Norway-based Norman ASA is well known in Europe for its security products and has started to get recognition in the U.S. with its straightforward, easy-to-use software. Case in point is Norman Security Suite, a comprehensive Internet protection offering. While it doesn't stand out against its competition, it is a competent product that adequately does what it's supposed to do -- protect PCs from Internet-borne threats.

Internet protection

The product offers real-time, on-demand and scheduled virus scans. During on-demand scans, the product is very informative, displaying a progress graph that offers interesting tidbits of information, such as what has been found and what is being scanned. While most security products offer that capability, Norman's is more descriptive, offering file names and a running status of problems found.

Software can be configured to automatically scan and shows a progress report in the form of a graph. The antivirus and antispyware program offers protection from instant-messaging attachments, viruses and other forms of malware. Scheduled scans can be performed in "screen saver" mode, which, during periods of inactivity, launches a screen saver that also executes a scan of the files on the PC.

Norman's firewall offers professional-level logging that can be used to identify any activity detected by the firewall, which is useful for tracking down suspicious activity. I found the firewall pretty easy to set up and the management console quite detailed.

Although the firewall is geared toward more technically savvy users, most people should be able to figure out how to use it. I found the integrated tools, such as the port monitor and real-time packet logs, a real bonus. Those tools give you a real feel for what is exactly happening on a PC when it's connected to the Internet.

However, neophyte users might find a few of the features a little complicated. For example, Norman offers a "digital sandbox" -- questionable code is placed in a sandbox for further testing, and ideally that code (if infected) will activate in the sandbox, before entering the actual operating system. It's an important feature, but Norman's sandbox requires more end-user interaction than those of competing products, such as McAfee, ZoneAlarm and Trend Micro.

I found Norman's parental controls easy to set up, thanks to a wizard that guides you through the process. You can set it for multiple users, time limitations and password-protected access. However, users looking for more granular control over parental settings will find Norman's choices more limited; it lets you select only generalized settings such as "child" and "teenager."

The same can be said for Norman's antispam tool. It works with both POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts and supports all of the popular e-mail clients. However, while it is easy to set up and configure, it doesn't stand out among its competitors -- for example, customization is limited to a few "block" or "deny" rules for e-mail messages that fall outside of the normal spam/not spam calculations.

The link scanner, Surf-Shield, worked for the most part, blocking access to scam sites and links that were known to be infected. However, the warnings were somewhat vague, offering little information on why a specific site was a problem.

The firewall also suffered from a lack of descriptiveness: It was able to block unauthorized programs but did not provide much follow-up information. It would have been nice if the firewall offered a little more guidance than just reporting that an application was trying to access the Internet.

In short, Norman lacks some of the bells and whistles found on other products -- features such as extensive reporting and customizable warning screens.

Usability

Installation of Norman Security Suite is straightforward. During the install process, you will have to enter a key code and reboot your system at least one time (pretty standard fare with a security suite).

Product specs

Norman Security Suite

Company: Norman ASA

Price: $59.95 for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, Linux (antivirus)

One interesting thing Norman does during the installation is ask for the user's "experience level." You can choose experienced or inexperienced -- I chose the latter, just to see what would happen. For an inexperienced user, the setup is mostly automated and only asks simple questions, such as what browser you primarily use and whether or not you are on a network. The installation for experienced users was initially more time-consuming; however, having the ability to set defaults during the installation saved time later on, because I didn't have to go back into the configuration settings to make changes to meet my specific needs.

Once installed, Norman is fairly simple to use. The main screen, which acts as the main menu interface, offers a view of the various categories or modules that make up Norman, including the status of each (for example, whether any malware has been intercepted).

Categories include Virus & Spyware Protection, Personal Firewall, Parental Controls, Install and Update and Support Center. Each selection sports submenus that avoid technobabble, making it simple to make minor changes and understand what is going on with the product.

Virus scans were very processor-intensive -- when running a scan, even on my Intel i7-powered Toshiba, there was a noticeable lag in system performance, with processor utilization spiking to near 100%. I wouldn't recommend using this product on a netbook or an older, less-powerful PC.

Coming soon

There's a lot of room for improvement in this product, and although Norman wouldn't release any details about the next version, the company did tell me that it will address some of these concerns in the near future.

Conclusion

Norman Security Suite does an adequate job of protecting a PC from the ills of the Internet. The Pro version ($75.95) adds intrusion detection and prevention and may be a better choice for those looking for a more robust firewall. However, potential buyers might want to wait and see what the next version has to offer.

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