Security Suites: Big Protection, Little Fuss

Norton Internet Security 2010

Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2010 is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, simply because Norton-branded security products have been the ones to beat for several years.

Of course, name recognition doesn't always mean a product is the best. Symantec strives to keep competitors at bay and is constantly improving its offerings. Norton Internet Security 2010 is no exception.

Internet protection

Norton's firewall is very easy to set up and controls Internet access for known good programs. In other words, if a program needs to access the Internet to function and is on the "good" list, the firewall will allow that access without any user intervention. Examples include programs that check for version updates, patches or need to retrieve data to function. The product also deletes known malware, such as rootkits, adware and any application that has been blacklisted. What's more, the firewall keeps an eye on the behavior of unknowns, all without pestering the user with cryptic security questions.

One interesting feature is Symantec's Quorum reputation index. Here all known files are assigned a reputation level, which is based upon continually updated data from Symantec's customers. Files that have given no one any problems have a high reputation, while files that have been easily infected or compromised have a low reputation. If a program being downloaded has a low reputation, the user is informed and can abort the download or decide not to execute the application.

Norton also utilizes its SONAR2 engine, which, according to Symantec, uses all sources of information, including the reputation index, to judge whether a file should be classified as suspicious and subjected to more in-depth testing.

Parents will like how easy it is to set up parental controls and keep a tab on what little Billy and Janie can access. The product integrates with an online offering called OnlineFamily.Norton, a Web service that is free for Norton customers.

Norton Internet Security 2010 uses technology from Symantec's enterprise-level spam protection system. The product filters all POP3 e-mail for spam and viruses and integrates with Outlook and Outlook Express. IMAP integration is missing and would be welcome.

Usability

The last time I looked at Norton Internet Security, in 2008, the suite was a resource hog -- it protected systems very well, but noticeably impacted performance. Symantec has redesigned the product to improve performance and limit its use of system resources. This latest version shows those efforts were worthwhile.

Product specs

Norton Internet Security 2010

Company: Symantec Corp.

Price: $69.99 for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher, Symbian 9.2 or higher, Windows Mobile 5.0 or higher, Android 2.0 or higher, netbook version

I found Norton Internet Security 2010 to be one of the easiest packages to install. The installation is wizard-driven, all of the prompts are in plain English, and the default settings do an excellent job of protecting the system.

One thing to be aware of is the time it takes to install the package -- although the hands-on portion of the installation is rather quick, you will have to wait through an update process that can take as long as 20 minutes. Immediately after the installation completes, the product "phones home" to download all of the latest updates, and that can take some time. In my testing, almost every other security product went through the same process in a few minutes, but Norton took 20 minutes.

Using Norton Internet Security 2010 is straightforward. The interface is laid out in a logical fashion using an index-card-style layout. All of the major capabilities are accessed from a central menu that has controls that look like index cards and are populated with pertinent information. One click delivers additional information and other options.

As a testament to the product's performance increases, the interface offers a summary screen showing CPU utilization and resource use in real time. I watched it while Norton Internet Security 2010 went through its chores, and found that it kept to a very low percentage of CPU utilization (as low as 5% for some scans).

Symantec backs the product with 24/7 tech support, an online help community, real-time chat and comprehensive context-sensitive help.

Coming soon

Symantec released a public beta of Norton Internet Security 2011 in early April. The beta sports many enhancements, especially when it comes to speed. While there is no official release date for the final product, availability before the fourth quarter of 2010 is expected.

Symantec claims that the new version will improve or maintain key performance benchmarks in installation times, scan times and memory usage. In addition, the product will include System Insight 2.0, which goes beyond security and alerts users when applications are significantly impacting their system resources. Other enhancements include improved reputation filters, support for social networking sights and better browser integration.

Conclusion

Norton Internet Security 2010 is an excellent security product and still remains the one to beat. Symantec has done a good job of improving it over time to keep it one step ahead of the competition. Perhaps the only downside is Norton Internet Security's price, which is higher than those of many competing offerings.

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