Norton AntiVirus 2003 review: Norton AntiVirus 2003

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Norton AntiVirus 2003

(Part #: 10021186)
See all prices
4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Scans and cleans instant-messenger attachments; includes helpful wizards for novices; interface is easy to use; solid track record against viruses.

The Bad Makes only minor improvements over 2002 version; scans ZIP files after they download; provides limited protection for AOL users.

The Bottom Line For zapping viruses, worms, and other malicious code, you can't go wrong with Norton AntiVirus 2003. But current AntiVirus users need not upgrade.

8.0 Overall

There's a lot to love in Norton AntiVirus 2003. Its interface is simple enough for beginners yet offers plenty of flexibility for discerning geeks. It scans and cleans attachments from popular instant messengers--a first for Norton AntiVirus (NAV)--and automatically repairs infected files without troubling you. Plus, its script- and worm-blocking technologies stop e-mail viruses, including SirCam and Klez. If you use the Net on a Windows machine and are looking for your first antivirus program, this $49.95 package will serve you well. Current NAV users, however, should stick with NAV 2002--version 2003 doesn't justify the $29.95 upgrade price. There's a lot to love in Norton AntiVirus 2003. Its interface is simple enough for beginners yet offers plenty of flexibility for discerning geeks. It scans and cleans attachments from popular instant messengers--a first for Norton AntiVirus (NAV)--and automatically repairs infected files without troubling you. Plus, its script- and worm-blocking technologies stop e-mail viruses, including SirCam and Klez. If you use the Net on a Windows machine and are looking for your first antivirus program, this $49.95 package will serve you well. Current NAV users, however, should stick with NAV 2002--version 2003 doesn't justify the $29.95 upgrade price.

Installation and interface
We found only one noticeable glitch in NAV 2003's otherwise easy installation. Although NAV 2003 includes an automated installation wizard, MSN Instant Messenger users must reboot their PCs after NAV 2003's setup; otherwise, NAV won't automatically scan IM attachments. Except for that, this version's smooth setup is an improvement over last year's.

Out of the box, NAV's default settings provide solid protection against e-mail-borne viruses, SMTP-based worms (which bypass e-mail clients such as Outlook to send copies of themselves on the Internet directly), and Trojan horses by scanning incoming and outgoing e-mail, then automatically repairing infected files. NAV scans file downloads in AOL, MSN, and Yahoo IM applications. (Note: NAV works with only AOL's Internet IM program, not with the IM feature that comes with AOL's standard online program.)

In terms of interface, NAV 2003's main screen lists its primary features--Auto-Protect, E-mail Scanning, Script Blocking, and so on--and shows the date of your most recent virus definition update. On the left, a list of scanning options allows you to scan individual drives, removable or floppy disks, folders, or even individual files by simply clicking the appropriate menu item. NAV sets its default system scans to run weekly at 8 p.m. on Friday. Let's hope you're not online socializing then because the full system scan ties up the CPU and renders your PC useless. In fact, we wish NAV gave an estimated completion time for these lengthy system scans; on our test 1.3GHz Athlon PC with a 20GB hard drive, a full scan took 33 minutes.

Feature set
NAV boots with Windows and runs in the background, sniffing out rogue code while you work, and downloads current virus definitions from the Net automatically. And like version 2002, NAV 2003 scans both inbound and outbound e-mail in POP3 clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora. (Sorry, AOL mail users, you're out of luck.)

NAV 2003 offers few notable enhancements over last year's model. In addition to scanning downloads from IM programs, it now blocks worms in outgoing e-mail. The company claims that NAV 2003's virus definitions are smaller and, hence, faster to download, but we haven't noticed a significant improvement in update transfer speeds.

Unfortunately, unlike its major competitor, McAfee VirusScan, NAV 2003 scans ZIP files during the extraction process--after you've downloaded them. We'd feel safer if NAV inspected ZIP files during the download.

Performance
To measure system performance with NAV 2003 active, CNET Labs used BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. The Internet Content Creation portion of SysMark measures a desktop's performance running off-the-shelf applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder, and Macromedia Dreamweaver. (We did not run the Office Productivity portion of the benchmark because it incorporates McAfee VirusScan 5.13.)

Our test system was a Compaq Evo W4000 with a P4 2.4GHz processor and 512MB DDR RAM, running Windows XP Professional. An Internet-content-creation score of 100 represents the performance of our test system without any extraneous software installed or running. With NAV 2003 installed and running, our test system scored a 95--a 5 percent reduction in overall system speed, which is reasonable and should not be noticed by most users. We plan to compare this result with that of other products in the near future.

To determine whether NAV effectively blocks viruses, we compared its performance in a number of independent antivirus-testing laboratories. Previous versions of NAV have been certified by the independent antivirus-testing laboratories at West Coast Checkmark, ICSA Labs, and AV-Test.org. In Virus Bulletin's tests with live viruses, NAV earned the coveted VB 100 percent rating in each of the three most recent Windows tests. We plan to measure NAV against these independent sites and compare NAV's results against those of other antivirus products in the near future.

Technical support
The program's built-in help provides good information on the arcane terminology of virus protection. The help menu also includes links to Symantec's support site, where you'll find a wizardlike tool that steps you through common problems, including software bugs and virus definitions. Unfortunately, Symantec's phone support is expensive at $2.95 per minute (up to $300 maximum) or $29.95 per call. And if you hit a snag at night or on weekends, forget it; the phones are staffed only Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT.

Norton AntiVirus 2003 is a top-notch virus buster. If you love to exchange files with your instant-messenger pals, NAV 2003 is worth the $29.95 upgrade fee. And if you're looking for your first antivirus app, NAV is a good buy at $49.95.

Norton AntiVirus 2003 is the first product to scan for viruses downloaded through popular instant messengers.

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