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Norton security 2008 review: Norton security 2008

Norton security 2008

Robert Vamosi Former Editor
As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.
Robert Vamosi
10 min read

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 security 2008

The Good

Norton Internet Security 2008 offers solid protection for your desktop.

The Bad

The Norton Internet Security 2008 interface is ghastly, the suite itself can slow your computer to a crawl, its feature set doesn't integrate well, and Symantec is once again offering fee-based services under the guise of technical support.

The Bottom Line

While Symantec's protection is solid, the overall user experience within Norton Internet Security 2008 could be much, much better. Not all the features work together, and the program could use fewer system resources. We can also do without the addition of paid services within the technical support section.

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.

Heavy black borders with orange/yellow graphics with blue text on white background is a mess to look at, let alone use.

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.

When we turned off antiphishing protection within the Norton Internet Security 2008, a dialog box stated that the feature will be enabled again after 15 minutes. Fine. However, the fine print is that while Norton Internet Security re-enables the antiphishing feature 15 minutes later, your browser does not. You have to restart the browser. Had we forgotten that 15 minutes was up, we might have merrily continued to surf the Web without any antiphishing protection. McAfee's SiteAdvisor allows you to enable and disable the feature within the browser, avoiding this problem entirely.

While Norton Phishing Protection was turned off, we further discovered another, more serious scenario. When Norton Phishing Protection is turned off, the Identity Safe feature remains enabled--in fact, we couldn't figure out how to disable Identity Safe (apparently there's no configuration option for it). Shortly after disabling Norton Phishing Protection, we accessed a fraudulent banking site. Norton, perhaps seeing that it was a banking site, asked if we wanted to use the ID card's personal information to populate the Web form on the page. Suppose we were sleepy; supplying the password would be a mindless click. Suddenly our phishing site is filled in with our personal information.

With Norton Phishing Protection turned off, we were still able to surf to a fraudulent site. We were even prompted to use Norton Identity Safe to fill in the Web form on the fraudulent page with personal information (in green).

When we contacted Symantec about this issue, we received the e-mail response: "Although we strongly recommend that our customers use the Phishing Protection and Identity Safe features together, we don't penalize users who prefer not to use our toolbar by preventing them from using Identity Safe. Again, we recommend that our customers use the features together, but we won't limit their choice of toolbars by penalizing customers if they don't use ours." Yes, that's great that I can use the native antiphishing tools within Firefox or Internet Explorer, but Norton Identity Safe will still ask me if I want to use stored personal information on a fraudulent site. Apparently, that's not a problem for Symantec.

Another feature that's important today keeps malware sent via IM from infecting your PC. Norton Internet Security 2008 does that, but only if you have Microsoft (6.0 or higher) or Trillian (3.1 or higher). If you use older versions of the most popular IMs, AOL (4.7 to 5.9), Yahoo (5.x and 6.x), you're golden, but both of these products have updated significantly in recent months, and Norton just hasn't kept up. To test this, we installed Yahoo Instant Messenger 8.1 and sure enough, Norton Internet Security 2008 reported that we did not have any instant messengers installed. Given that both AOL and Yahoo have suffered large-scale attacks in recent months, it's odd that Norton doesn't yet support the latest versions of these.

What Norton Internet Security doesn't include is backup and restore protection or PC maintenance--both of which are provided in the less expensive McAfee Internet Security 2008. For the Norton version of these, you'll have to purchase additional Symantec products. Symantec did beta test another product this summer, however, Norton Anti-Bot is not available in any of the traditional 2008 Norton security products. For Norton Anti-Bot, which simply provides signature and heuristic protection against botnets taking residence on your desktop computer, you'll also have to pay $29.99, almost the same price as the standalone Norton AntiVirus 2008. As such, Anti-bot is simply not worth it a standalone product. We look forward to Symantec adding PC utilities (such as backup) and including its antibot technology to next year's release of Norton Internet Security.

For antivirus protection, Norton Internet Security 2008 scored well in both our CNET Labs' Windows XP performance tests and in third-party, independent antivirus tests using live viruses. On our iTunes test, Norton AntiVirus 2008 was in the middle of the pack, just 3 seconds above our test system. On our Microsoft Office test, Norton AntiVirus 2008 came in near the middle at 1,459 seconds. For scanning a single folder with files, Norton AntiVirus 2008 came in near the middle with 173 seconds. And in boot speed, Norton AntiVirus 2008 came in last place, with a sluggish 40 seconds. To find out how we test, see CNET Labs' How we test: software: antivirus page.

In terms of protecting your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, for on-demand scans the previous version Norton AntiVirus 2007 earned an Advanced + (the highest) rating, catching 98 percent of all malware tested; and for the Retrospective/Proactive test, the previous version of Norton AntiVirus 2007 earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating, detecting almost half the backdoors, Trojans, and other malware sampled. Norton AntiVirus 2007 received a Standard rating from CheckVir.com, meaning only the virus searching capability was examined.

For antispyware protection, Norton fell from last year's heights but remained solidly in the middle of the pack in our CNET antispyware tests. CNET labs conducts three separate tests using spyware found to be bundled within free applications rejected by CNET Download.com (as a policy, Download.com does not host any applications containing known spyware). In the first test, active detection, Norton discovered about 60 percent of the spyware; in the second, on demand test, Norton detected about 55 percent of the spyware; and in the final, removal test, Norton removed all traces of about half the spyware placed on our infected machine.

While Symantec continues to improve its technical support experience, Norton Internet Security 2008 also reverts to its old ways. Symantec provides a fairly light 13-page user's manual that mostly addresses how to install the product, not use it. Like last year, Symantec's support options include an automatic diagnostic tool for the program. It's worth noting that one of the comments it made is: "Your computer runs slowly after installing Norton Internet Security 2008," which leads us to believe that many people have like us experienced this condition. There's also free chat, free e-mail, and telephone service.

But after an absence of one or two years, advertising once again creeps back into the Symantec's technical support section in the guise of "Expert Services" and "PC Tune Up." Both are paid consulting services that, if you're not careful, could cost you up to $69.95 (that's a flat fee) per call. In the PC Tune Up scenario, you call up, are charged, and a Symantec technician remotely accesses your PC to resolve any problems you might be having at that time. Some might find that comforting, but at $70 you can probably find free help by doing a Google search for your specific error message or problem. Unlike Kaspersky, Symantec doesn't yet maintain its own users forum.

Because of its dominant place in the market, we hold Symantec to higher standards. We were disappointed this year. Norton Internet Security 2008, despite Symantec's efforts, still feels heavy, largely burdened by its own corporate legacy and dependency on other Symantec products. The return of paid services under technical support seems unfair, given the lack of a free users forum. In a strictly Norton versus McAfee universe, we give the nod to McAfee this year; beyond these two products, however, we feel there are other suites that provide equivalent security protection and integrate their tools much better for much less money than Norton Internet Security 2008.


Norton security 2008

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 8Performance 6Support 7