Symantec’s completely revamped Norton Internet Security 2009 is a breath of fresh air for users frustrated by intrusive and CPU-hogging security software—including the last version of Norton. It installs in a flash, keeps mostly out of the way, updates itself without bothering you, and scans faster than any other suite we tested.
Yet it still manages to plug more security holes than the competition. In addition to the usual antivirus/malware checking and firewall protection, Norton Internet Security 2009 covers everything from password management and phishing protection to antispam software and parental control, moving it straight to the head of the class.
Installation and Setup
The first time we installed Norton 2009, the process was over so quickly we assumed something had gone wrong, so we installed it again, but it truly takes only a minute or two until the program launches. At that point you’re prompted to download the latest updates, which takes another few minutes, and then you are off and running. No reboots needed.
Even though Norton’s interface is clear, and it’s easy to drill down to the settings for any of the features, the sheer number of settings (many that are not turned on by default) force you to spend quite some time going through each section, learning how all the features work, and deciding how you want to configure them to get the most out of the program.
Most users won’t go to such trouble, in which case they’ll lose out on parental controls (an add-on installation), the Identity Safe password and Web-form information manager, the antispam filter, and more. That you have to click dozens of buttons just to expand each set of configuration settings doesn’t help. A week after installing the program, we were still discovering new options. A wizard that leads you through setting up each feature you want to use (and that explains in clear English exactly what it does) is sorely needed. To be fair, none of the other suites we’ve tested recently has this deep a setup wizard either, but none of the others needs it so badly.
Once you start diving into the program, you’ll be impressed. While Norton has top-shelf virus and spyware detection, as rated by Virus Bulletin (http://www.virusbtn.com/news/2008/09_02), their real power lies in their unobtrusiveness. Micro-updates automatically and invisibly push the latest malware definitions out to your system several times per hour, full system scans run during CPU idle time so as not to compete with your work, and you can enter a silent mode for alerts. In silent mode, you can give a presentation or watch a movie uninterrupted, without having to turn off protection. We could go an entire day without a single reminder (either an alert or a noticeable slowdown) that Norton was even running; that translates directly to increased productivity.
Mobile users will also appreciate the network security features, which conceal you from other computers at a Wi-Fi hotspot and tell you if your wireless network is secure. And we quickly became addicted to Identity Safe, a Web password- and form-filling tool that also guards against phishing and keyloggers; you simply enter a master password each time you start a browsing session. If you lose your laptop on the road, you won’t need to worry about thieves gaining access to your e-commerce or webmail accounts.
Even when running a full system scan in the background, we noticed no slowdown while surfing, e-mailing, or using a word processor. The full scan finished in less than 30 minutes—a very fast time, likely helped along by new Norton Insight technology that white-lists known good files so they don’t need to be scanned over and over; this also speeds startup and application launch times. You can only tell a scan is running when running more intensive tasks, such as downloading or installing new software. Any malware is automatically quarantined or deleted for you, according to your preferences.
Norton’s two-way firewall blows away the pesky Windows firewall. It puts all ports in stealth mode to protect from outside intrusions, as well as automatically deciding whether connection requests from programs on your machine should be put through or not. Not once did we have to dismiss a pop-up asking whether we wanted to allow a particular operation. At the same time, we were not blocked from using any of our usual programs, a pretty amazing feat (using a white list of known good programs).
Norton Internet Security 2009 is far and away the best overall security suite. At $69.99 for three computers, it’s neither the priciest nor the cheapest software suite, but it offers top-notch protection that is nearly invisible, the bottom line for any such program. Our only complaint is that it needs a better setup tool to help users get the most out of the security.