GCN Lab Review: Norton Internet Security 2009

Norton Internet Security 2009 makes life a beach for Web surfers



Norton Internet Security 2009 puts an effective safety net between Web surfers and the rogue waves'malware, phishing attempts, viruses'that lurk under the glassy surface of the Internet. Speedier than previous editions, this Norton stays unobtrusively in the background, making itself known only when you want it to be.

[IMGCAP(1)]Taking up 10.99M on my hard drive, Norton Internet Security was pretty sleek, with a smaller footprint than some screen savers. It works a little like a screen saver too. It schedules security tasks and scans for when it detects idle times or periods when a user isn't actively using the computer. It also detects when a computer is running on battery power and won't initiate automatic scanning tasks then.

Norton Internet Security 2009 offers one year of protection to three PCs per household, so I could put it on a notebook PC, my cubicle desktop PC and my home office PC.
I installed it on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion zd7000 laptop PC with a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512M of RAM running Microsoft Windows XP. First I had to uninstall some other Internet security I had previously installed.

The installation process was the fastest of any Internet security product I've encountered. It took 1 minute, 48 seconds to install Norton, from entering the registration code to launching the dashboard on your desktop. The initial scan for viruses, malware and other malicious files scanned 238,748 files in 40 minutes, definitely faster than some of its competitors. It was really thorough, scanning every Internet cookie and .dll file.

It found two tracking cookies that it destroyed with my approval. When it found a potential danger, you could click on a button that instructed Norton to fix, ignore or exclude it. A big green check mark then pops up that says, 'All detected security risks have been resolved.' You can also set your system to remove tracking cookies automatically.

[IMGCAP(2)]Subsequent scans were faster. One reason for this is that Norton has a special feature called Norton Insight, which gives you a list of trusted files that don't require scanning.
Using a travel analogy, it was as if these files were passengers who had been pre-screened, so the lines could move faster through the security checkpoint. A subsequent full scan took seven minutes.

Norton Insight said that 75 percent of the files on the HP Pavilion were trusted, and 25 percent needed scanning. It gave the trusted files a rating of stars, with five stars being the most trusted. QuickTime, for example, had four stars and was listed as a 'Community Trusted' level file. Community Trusted files are recognized as safe by a large population of Norton customers.

Some other files were listed as 'Norton Trusted.' These were files of well-known programs that are recognized by Norton as safe and threat-free. Files such as winlogon.exe, the Windows log-in file, were listed as 'Norton Trusted.' Fifty-five of these trusted files were listed on my HP Pavilion.

Norton also lets you set up a password manager, Norton Identity Safe. You create a master password for all your Internet log-ins. Norton rates your password strength from poor to strong. After fiddling around with this a bit, I came up with a password that had an initial cap, five letters, two numbers and a symbol, that Norton rated as 'strong.'

Norton Internet Security also offers phishing protection. If it identifies a fraudulent site, the toolbar will turn red and block access to the site.

I went on a phishing expedition of my own, visiting several sites that were reportedly purveyors of malware. I tried to download a few nefarious files and sure, enough, Norton wouldn't let me. It blocked every security risk I threw at it. It also provided details on what it was blocking and how high the risk was.

One thing I really liked about the 2009 Norton edition is how it could stay in the background, barely noticeable. A small window in the lower right had corner of the screen would occasionally let you know that 'Norton Internet Security is currently performing background tasks.' Unlike so many things Internet-related, Norton 2009 was almost polite.

Norton Internet Security 2009 offers a highly detailed Security History. This is a chart that shows risk level, activity, status, date and time of every possible Internet threat that has attempted to breach the security of my computer. With my computer on for just a few hours, the Security History revealed 93 different security risks had been attempted, ranging from things like software updates to attempts to breach the firewall.

It just scans Web sites for viruses and malware; Norton doesn't make aesthetic judgments. I went to what I thought was a disreputable freeware site to download some screen savers, thinking if anything would be infected, it would be one of these hideous nature scenes with cartoon wildlife. But no, the bunny-filled autumnal glen screen saver was completely free of threats. It was just ugly, so Norton allowed it. Ugliness might hurt your soul, but it can't hurt your computer.

Norton can't make moral judgments, either, but it can abide by the rules you give it through the Settings dashboard, which lets you set parent and privacy controls. For $69.99, Norton Internet Security 2009 will give you the safety and security you need to keep your computer'and identity'from wiping out on the Web.

Symantec, 800-745-6054, www.norton.com

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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