Symantec Norton Internet Security 2011
At a Glance
A solid solution, Symantec's venerable Norton Internet Security ($70 for a one-year, three-PC license, as of 12/27/2010) continues to incrementally update and advance both its interface and detection rates.
If you haven't looked at Norton in the last few years, you're in for a surprise. No longer the bloated, slow, and crash-prone monstrosity of yore, Norton Internet Security (NIS) is now a streamlined and extremely effective anti-malware application that demands consideration.
Delving into the Norton command center at first feels a bit like wandering into a jumbo jet's flight deck, with all manner of toggles that let you control what's up and running. And just like trying to fly that airliner, this interface can initially be quite overwhelming. "Insight Protection," "SONAR Protection," "Download Intelligence"? Why, NIS is filled with enough buzzwords and acronyms to keep a middle manager happy for weeks.
Hovering over each item gives you some clues as to what each one is, but frankly, you needn't bother yourself with much of it. NIS turns just about everything on by default, and under default settings it's remarkably effective--one of the most secure antimalware apps we tested.
The numbers are solid across the board: It fully blocked 24 out of 25 real-world attacks--tied for the best of the pack--and detected 98.7 percent of samples of known malware--also a very good result. False positives were next to nothing, and overall speed, while not exemplary, was not overwhelmingly behind the rest of the pack. And it tied for the top score in removing active malware components 80 percent of the time. In no single technical area did Norton show anything other than very good results, and its overall combined rating for security and performance put it at the very top of all the products we reviewed.
For casual users, Norton can still be a bit much. The "activity map"--which shows where computer infections are taking place worldwide in real-time--is neat to look at, but it adds little for the user who just wants to make sure he can continue tending his FarmVille crops. For power users, however, all these bells and whistles can offer an immense amount of insight into the operation of your PC. Curious how your PC's performance is being impacted by Norton's operation? A detailed graph will show you what's happening to your CPU and memory when it's actively scanning and when it's idle.
Another great add-on is Norton's Identity Safe password manager--part of NIS's Web browser toolbar, installed by default. It's a small thing, but it becomes one of those utilities that you can't live without once you start using it. (It even remembers passwords when your browser won't.)
Are you also curious as to what the riskiest apps on your computer are? Norton shows you, in alphabetical order, how many vulnerabilities each program on your PC has--and which attacks NIS is protecting you against. It's features like this that can take you down the tech rabbit hole to the point where you might forget you should probably be doing actual work. It's also number one on our Top 10 chart of security suites.