We were definitely not wowed this year by Symantec's Internet security offering; in fact, it feels a like a step backward to products the company offered years ago. Norton Internet Security 2008 offers top-notch security tools for today's threats, but its tools do not always integrate well, nor are they adequately explained. In at least one scenario, we were able to turn off one security feature only to have another security feature prompt us to provide personal information to a fraudulent Web site--while Symantec declined to call it a flaw, we differ. Also, with Norton Internet Security 2008, we experienced more than one system slowdown associated with the Symantec LiveUpdate process, further dampening our enthusiasm for the product. And we were very disappointed to see paid services once again promoted within the technical support section. Norton Internet Security 2008 falls well short of our high expectations for a market leader and only manages a "good" recommendation from CNET.
Norton Internet Security 2008 currently costs $69.95 for a three-user license. By comparison, McAfee Internet Security 2008 currently protects three users for $69.95 and includes protection for mobile devices (something Norton does not). Kaspersky Internet Security offers its three-user license for $79.95.
Norton Internet Security 2008 only on Windows XP and Windows Vista. McAfee and Kaspersky both run on Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. Norton Internet Security 2008 requires at least 256MB of RAM and a whopping 350MB hard drive. Symantec does offer a full function 15-day trail of Norton Internet Security 2008.
LiveUpdate, which used to be a separate process, is now integrated into Norton Internet Security 2008--and about time. Once the product is installed and you're asked to update, everything--program files and signature files--arrive on your desktop together, making the experience smoother and easier. Symantec says this year's LiveUpdate packets are more compressed. Unfortunately, you'll be asked to reboot our machine with each new update but we experienced other problems with the new LiveUpdate process.
Over the years we'd heard from people who'd had performance issues with Norton products but we hadn't recently experienced any performance issues ourselves--until now. More than once while reviewing Norton Internet Security 2008, our Dell XPS machine running Windows XP froze. During the freeze events, our Windows Task Manager revealed that aupdate.exe (Symantec's LiveUpdate service) was stuck, consuming more than 50 percent of our system resources. After waiting a few minutes--assuming the update would complete on its own--we were still unable to use the desktop and, worse, were unable to shut down the system without a hard reboot. Symantec says they haven't heard any consumer complaints like ours.
Should you decide to uninstall Norton Internet Security 2008, there is an uninstall option on the All Programs listing, but we found it wasn't perfect. The uninstall option, according to Symantec, is no more effect ive than the Windows Add/Remove option. In other words, it won't necessarily remove all traces of Norton Internet Security 2008 from your PC. To do so, says Symantec, you will need to use the Norton Removal Tool. According to Symantec, this Norton Removal Tool "uninstalls all Norton 2008/2007/2006/2005/2004/2003 products and Norton 360 from your computer." The difference, we were told, is that "the removal tool will remove shared components, like LiveUpdate, even if other Norton products that depend on the shared component are installed." Symantec does not recommend this removal tool if you have other Symantec products installed. In the end, however, ever after using both the uninstall application and the Norton Removal Tool, we still found registry keys and program file folders on our test machine. These we had to remove manually before installing our next text Internet Security package.
If first impressions are everything, Norton Internet Security 2008 loses us at "Hello." The new interface, shared among all 2008 Norton security products except Norton 360, is dark and garish, almost a perverse joke on those seeking reassuring security for their desktop. The use of ominous thick black borders and bright yellow/orange graphics suggests Halloween, a look that could get old by March. Unlike with Kaspersky, you can't change the look and feel of Norton Internet Security 2008. Unlike McAfee Internet Security 2008, Norton's interface isn't very intuitive or pleasing to the eye.
Our central problem is that while Norton Internet Security 2008 offers some useful features, we had no way of tweaking or learning more about any of the features. Drilling down into the configuration settings, we see "Turn on Suspicious Activity Monitoring" or "Turn on Bloodhound heuristics"--but do we really need these features? Symantec provides us with very little additional information (for example, the built-in Help file says only "Turn on Bloodhound heuristics," not what it does), continuing with a practice adopted long ago by Symantec of making decisions for the user rather than presenting the user with options. Then there's my favorite "Turn on Advanced Mode" under the Suspicious Activity Monitor--it's not on by default, so should we turn it on? (Apparently the only difference between regular and Advance Mode is that the Suspicious Activity Monitor will log it in regular and alert you in Advanced mode.) Again, you have to accept that Norton has your best interests in mind.
Kaspersky Internet Security also uses similar enable/disable options--that's really not at issue here. The difference between these products is that Kaspersky offers a thorough PDF user's manual explaining your choices. Norton does not. Unless you are fluent in Symantec speak, configuration options such as Bloodhound, Browser Defender, and SONAR are meaningless. Nor can you truly customize these in any meaningful way, with few options to provide unique rules. Symantec limits (if not removes) a user's ability to customize and tweak individual settings throughout Norton Internet Security 2008; for example, there's no quick way to set Norton to only scan new or recently modified files. Head-to-head, Kaspersky and McAfee both give users more enable/disable options.
We're also not keen on Symantec's use of a large yellow block in the task tray that says Norton all the time. While other vendors have discrete icons, even icons that rotate or blink, we found the constant advertisement in the lower-right-hand corner visually distracting and unnecessary. Norton Internet Security 2008's pop-up alerts were no bigger or smaller than its competitors.
Norton Internet Security 2008 includes all the basic features within Norton Antivirus 2008. Additional features include wireless protection and transaction security. What Norton Internet Security doesn't include is backup and restore protection or PC maintenance--both of which are provided in McAfee Internet Security 2008. For the Norton version of these, you'll have to purchase additional Symantec products.
Within Norton Internet Security, we really didn't like the antiphishing feature. It's not that it doesn't work--the antiphishing feature within Norton Internet Security 2008 works very well. It's when you turn it off (as we did from time to time during our testing), that we found it's harder to turn back on than other antiphishing tools on the market today. And, more ominously, without Norton antiphishing turned on, Norton Transaction Security features remain active, allowing us to provide personal information to various phishing sites.