Security as a service is the latest trend to trickle down from the enterprise sector into the affordable realm of the home consumer. We’ve already witnessed Microsoft doing spectacularly badly with its Windows Live OneCare offering for Vista, failing to pass the Virus Bulletin VB100 certification tests and then coming an embarrassing last, by some margin, in the well-respected AV-comparatives.org test of 17 apps. With many security applications not yet even compatible with Vista, can Symantec make a better impression with its brand-new Norton 360?
First impressions are certainly good, with the coded-from-scratch suite not only installing more quickly, but consuming far less in the way of system resources than Norton Internet Security 2007. This is thanks to the improved background scheduler that monitors user input, CPU usage and disk activity, throttling tasks accordingly; initiating remaining scans, backups or system tuning only when idle time parameters are met. Even LiveUpdate, much maligned for its clunky update mechanism, is tamed. Both require less in the way of resources and are much better integrated – to the point that most of the time we didn’t know they were running: exactly how it should be. At 300MB, the suite also takes up less disk space than OneCare, although the same 256MB of RAM is required. Thankfully, on the systems we tested (both XP and Vista), uninstallation was just as painless.
What really stands out, however, is the interface, taking the silent firewall concept that first appeared with NIS2007 and applying it to the back-to-basics GUI. An at-a-glance display reveals the state of play with regards to PC security, transactional security, data backup and system performance. Big green ticks mean everything is okay, red crosses not okay; in the latter case, the solution only a click or two away within the relevant module. The integration of each component is very good, but also clearly aimed at the novice user. This isn’t a bad thing, as it keeps sensible defaults in play and prevents accidental weakening of the security model. However, if you want to dig deeper and configure firewall settings, the Advanced Options dialog is buried only a couple of layers beneath. This simplicity for the masses, configurability for the experts approach is well implemented.
We also approve of the pared-down components that have made it into Norton 360. The downloadable Anti Spam and Parental Control add-in pack weren’t yet available for us to test, but given that they’ll retain the same basic features of the NIS2007 add-in pack, it’s no great loss. When it comes to sheer effectiveness, the silent firewall and Anti Virus/Anti Spyware perform just as well as they did when we tested NIS2007. Both do the job quietly and efficiently, with no false positives, no nagging alerts and dialogs, and protection from every threat we threw at them. And that includes the patent-pending VxMS rootkit protection technology acquired from Veritas, as well as the SONAR behavioural malware detection system for real-time threat protection. There’s also transactional security (for Internet Explorer users, at least), combining blacklist and heuristic phishing protection techniques with website authentication to ensure at-a-glance identification of dangerous websites. Norton 360 will even automatically check if your system passwords are weak and recommend you replace them.
Also, the backup and restore feature brings something to the party that Microsoft’s OneCare doesn’t, and that’s online storage. Unfortunately, there’s only 2GB of it, although you can buy additional bundles at $50 for 5GB, $80 for 10GB and $120 for 25GB – not the most cost-efficient option.
We have no complaints about the licence cost of Norton 360, though: covering three installations on separate PCs, it represents great value for money.
For those happy with their existing system, the cost and inconvenience of switching to another suite makes it best to stick with what you’ve got. The ZoneAlarm Suite also covers a broader security and privacy remit. But if you’ve upgraded to Vista and your chosen security suite isn’t yet Vista compatible, or you simply want the basics without fanfare, Norton 360 makes for a compelling and recommended purchase.
By Davey Winder
Jul 12, 2007 10:04AM
Jul 12, 2007 10:04AM