Far be it from NIS to rest on its laurels. Year after year, this utility suite continues to beef up its security intelligence. Last year, NIS debuted a feature that kept rogue programs from masquerading as trusted apps. The 2003 version not only autoblocks port scanners, which it has always done, it also scans each packet of data that leaves or enters your PC. If these scans spot suspicious data exchanges, which it finds by comparing them to a frequently updated database, NIS 2003 automatically severs the link to the offending computer. Using this technique, NIS can detect advanced worms, such as Nimda and Code Red.
As before, NIS 2003's Personal Firewall passed all of our probing tests with an A grade. In our ShieldsUp and Port Scanner tests, NIS successfully blocked every attempt to gain entry to our test PC, and it cloaked every port on our test PCs with such stealth that hackers wouldn't even know that those machines existed.
Symantec's support hasn't changed, which is both good and bad. The easy-to-navigate help file links to the Symantec site, allowing you to click through a series of forms to find a solution to common problems. But prepare to pay a small fortune for phone support: it still costs $30 per question or $3 per minute.
The suite itself, however, is reasonably priced. Though NIS 2003's sticker price remains $70, the $30 rebate for upgraders--from both NIS and competitive programs such as McAfee Internet Security 5.0--means that the bottom line could be just $40.
For the money, you can't beat NIS. With its improved interface, added features, and--most importantly--its intrusion detection, NIS 2003 is a steal at its after-rebate $40. However, we wish Symantec's technical-support fees were more in line with those of other software vendors.