Finally, anti-spyware comes to Norton

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Security suite upgrade keeps malware off your system, but others do it better

It's about time Symantec Corp. releases a version of Norton Internet Security with anti-spyware features built in. Spyware has become a growing problem for agencies, and the best defense against this security threat, until recently, had been a free online download.

But now, anti-spyware functionality is spreading into major software products, from patch management solutions to operating systems. With several vendors claiming to have the definitive anti-spyware solution, is Norton too late to the party? The truth is, they have no choice but to add this important feature.

Norton Internet Security AntiSpyware Edition en- tered a public beta-testing phase last month and recently started shipping. The company says it will be priced at around $80, with upgrades going for around $50. The AntiSpyware Edition includes all the other modules in Norton's security suite and run on Windows 2000 and XP machines using Internet Explorer 5.5 and higher.

Nicely integrated, but slow

GCN Lab received an early CD copy to compare with other anti-spyware products.

The new Norton product has an anti-spyware search engine that's tightly woven with the Norton AntiVirus scanning engine and quarantines suspected spyware in a similar manner to its AV counterpart. In fact, during our first spyware scan, we hardly noticed the anti-spyware element was running at all.

Symantec recommends you perform a scan once a week, but depending upon how often you use the Internet you may want to check for spyware once a day and for viruses once a week, especially if you frequently transmit secure files over the Internet.

We compared the Norton AntiSpyware to Microsoft Antispyware (still in beta, but widely used already) and Ad-Aware SE Personal by Lavasoft AG. Our goal was to find out which software engine caught the most bugs, how long each took to scan a system, and how many files and objects each engine examined.

Norton AntiSpyware took the longest, averaging 12 minutes and 13 seconds to scan about 29,808 objects. In three separate test scans, the Norton product found no suspicious or malicious objects.

Microsoft Antispyware, which is a free download, was the fastest performer, scanning our computer in an average of one minute and 44 seconds and examining an average of 26,842 objects. Like Norton, the Microsoft program found no bugs.

Speedwise, Ad-Aware was in between, but much faster than Norton, averaging two minutes and 56 seconds. But Ad-Aware was far more thorough and analyzed a whopping 76,397 objects. It turned up one critical spyware infection and 16 suspicious files. Not surprisingly, we still use Ad-Aware on our own systems.

We also found that the Norton program doesn't give the user much feedback on the scanning process. For example, it doesn't include scan time or categorize suspected files as either viruses or spyware applications. Norton also requires the user to click on another button to get more information about quarantined files as opposed to providing the information at the end of the search.

Ad-Aware, on the other hand, provides details on the length of time it takes to perform a scan, plus in-depth information about the type of suspicious elements it finds, including the location of the files.

During our tests, Ad-Aware told us the critical flaw it found was a tracking cookie titled 'preferred customer' and was cataloged as a data miner variant. We were able to quarantine and remove the bug without difficulty.

On the plus side, Norton AntiSpyware is tightly integrated into an effective security suite that includes a robust firewall, effective antivirus, anti-spam and other protections. Symantec will also update its anti-spyware engine through the company's Automatic LiveUpdate service, which is among the best in the business.

Free is better

In short, based on our test of the preview software, Norton AntiSpyware will be a welcome addition to the Internet Security Suite, but not yet among the best anti-spyware tools available. You might not want to run right out and upgrade your Norton Internet Security 2005, for instance. Continue using a free tool such as Ad-Aware SE Personal and eventually you'll get Norton's engine built into your future security suites.

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