I have been around computers, almost from the start. My first computer was the wildly successful Apple II+ (does anyone else remember the Bank Street Writer,) which was my main computer for close to ten years (including all of high school.) In the time since those early days, one thing has always been apparent: no matter what level of sophistication computers may reach, someone is always going to be waiting to exploit the technology and cause harm in some way or another. Back in those early days, most of the threats amounted to blunt objects, hurled at your disconnected desktop like a club. As computers and their networks have become more sophisticated, however, so too have the dangers lurking all around us…and I am not referring to a Nigerian prince offering you a fortune. Fortunately, through it all, there has been Symantec, and their flagship line of Norton tools. For as long as I can remember, Norton has been available to protect you and your computer from dangers of all kind. Today, we are going to take a look at their latest offering, Norton Internet Security 2009.
The first thing I noticed about this latest offering from Norton was the speed of the program and the resources it required (or didn’t require). I have been using Norton Internet Security pretty consistently for the last couple of years. One thing I have noticed is that each version has been larger and slower than the last. It got to where I had to stop using Norton altogether, because it was slowing down my machine to such an extent.
All of that changed with the latest version of Internet Security. The folks at Symantec overhauled the whole program from top to bottom, tightening every screw, and tying off every loose end. The result is a sleek and fast program which uses a barely perceptible amount of your computer’s resources. Finally, Norton Internet Security works exactly as it was originally intended: it runs quietly in the background, without significantly affecting or conflicting with any other programs.
In order to perform such an overhaul, Norton also completely reworked the user interface. This was another welcome change. Previous versions of Norton Intenet Security had become a cluttered and confusing mess, with almost no rhyme or reason to the controls. Changing settings had become an exercise in frustration.
The new interface simplifies the entire process, without sacrificing any functionality. On the left is a resource monitor, which shows your computer’s resources, including the CPU usage, and Norton Insight. The main portion of the screen consists of three tabs:
We’ll take a closer look at each of these tabs.
CPU Usage: Let’s get started with the CPU Usage box there on the left hand side. There are two meters here. The first shows how many of your system resources are currently being used; the second one shows how many resources are being used by Norton. This may just be a clever way for Symantec to show off the level of improvement in this program, but really, I can’t say I blame them at all. It really is quite impressive to see how far this program has come and the extent of the improvements that have been made. I was very impressed to find that unless it was actively scanning for viruses, Norton rarely rose above 5-10%.
If you want a little more detail about your system resources, just click on the CPU Usage link. This will open up a new screen that displays a line graph showing your CPU and memory usage history, and compares the overall numbers to Norton. From here, you can also tweak your computer’s idle settings and idle timeout. Finally, there is a list of all programs running in the background. I was a bit frustrated here that all you could do was view the list of programs (and sort the list if that makes you feel better.) You cannot end any programs, or view any additional information. Nonetheless, this screen provides a some fantastic information for any user.
The final option from this screen is called Norton Insight. This is a new feature, and one of the biggest factors helping to speed up the program. Norton Insight allows you to scan files and mark those which are trusted. One of the factors which can slow down a computer is the repeated scanning of known files. By marking files as trusted, they will not be routinely scanned.
This is a lot like issuing ID cards to employees in an office building. It would really slow down everyone’s day if all of these people had to pass through security every day. So, you conduct a background check on the employees who come in every day and issue them cards, essentially showing that they are trusted to enter the building. Only those individuals who have not been preapproved need to pass through security. This streamlines the process by only requiring potential threats to be stopped at the front desk. Norton Insight works the same way. Preapproved trusted files no longer need to pass through security, ensuring that only those files which could contain a potential threat are scanned.
Computer Protection: The computer tab protects your files and data from external threats. This is where you are going to find your antivirus, anytispyware, and other advanced protection options.
The nice thing here is that all of this works with absolutely no need for interaction from you. Just load the program and it is all set. The antivirus and antispyware will both run in the background and monitor all of the files on your computer. Threats are eliminated in real time as they are detected, leaving little to no opportunity for serious harm to your system.
Of course, antivirus programs are only as good as the information they contain; and new viruses are being manufactured every day. For that, Norton includes its Live Update. Not much has changed here from previous versions. It will run automatically (or you can run it manually at any time) and download all of the most current virus definitions. In the past, Live Update has interfered significantly with other running programs, which served as a real deterrent for me to run it. The result, of course, was a critically unprotected computer. I have Live Update running right now, and I am extremely impressed by how unobtrusive it is. It is not causing any lag on my computer or interfering with any other running programs. This is great, because Live Update is critical to ensuring that your antivirus is able to protect you from all of the latest threats.
Internet protection: This module protects all of the connections your computer makes to the outside world. In other words, this is your firewall. Again, this protects your network by running in the background while you work. It scans any files you download, emails, and any other connections your computer might make.
From here, you can also monitor your network security. One of the really cool features here is the remote monitoring feature, which allows you to scan the status of any other Norton products running on other computers connected to your network. This is one of my favorite new features, because it allows me to run Live Update on every computer, without getting off the couch. Now that is my kind of a program.
Identity Protection: Finally, Norton has incorporated an identity protection module. Identity Theft has been around almost as long as computers have been using telephone lines to connect and talk with one another. I still remember when I was in high school, and friends of mine used the primitive modems to steal credit card numbers from bank mainframes. Since then, the tactics used by identity thieves have only gotten more sophisticated, with such well known email scams as the wealthy Nigerian prince, countless bank emails, and more. These phishing scams are elaborate, and can catch even the most vigilant of readers (OK, maybe not…but they do obviously catch someone.) Norton Internet Security includes a full antiphishing tool, designed to protect you from these emails before you send anyone your password, social security number, or bank account.
The other nice feature you will find here is a login password manager. This offers two features to help protect you while your are online. First, it will password protect your browser, meaning that no one will be able to access the Internet from your computer without the password. This can be a critical feature if multiple users access the same computer. The other feature is a fantastic password wallet, which can remember and store all of your passwords and other critical information. The really nice thing with this one is that once you have entered your information, Norton will be able to automatically complete online forms on your frequently accessed websites.
Settings: Of course, although you do not need to do a thing for this all to work fine, Everything is configurable. I was really impressed, again, by what a fantastic job Symantec did with the user interface. All of the settings are controlled with checkboxes and toggle switches. Although there are quite a few options to choose from, they are all relatively self explanatory, and well categorized and organized, making it extremely user friendly.
Conclusion: I have been using Norton internet Security for several years, and have gone through more than a few iterations of it. To be honest, I was really not expecting much. The program had been getting consistently larger and slower with each iteration, and I was worried by what this latest version might hold. I should not have worried. Symantec did an amazing job, practically rebuilding the whole program from the ground up. The interface is clean, simple, and easy to use; and the program itself uses almost no resources as it runs in the background. I have no idea how they did it, but Symantec took one of the most notorious resource hogs, and turned it into a lean, mean, protection machine. If you have been disappointed by Norton in the past, now is the time to give them a new look. You will not regret it.
What I Liked: Fantastic new user interface, easy to use customization controls, automatically updates on the fly, protects all aspects of your computer
What Needs Improvement: Well, a kitchen sink might have been nice…
where to Buy: Symantec website
Price: $69.99 for one year or $114.99 for two.