by Larry Magid
I’ve been using anti-virus, anti-spyware and other security software for almost two decades but far too often, I have wondered whether the cure was worse than the disease.
Symantec is a case in point. Older versions of its Norton Anti-Virus and Norton Internet Security programs have slowed down my machine and interrupted my work flow by asking me to decide what to do with every suspicious file or email it ran across.
I’m happy to report that the company reformed its ways. Its newest product, Norton 360, has no noticeable impact on system performance and has left me blissfully almost unaware of its presence.
That doesn’t mean it’s not doing its job. It’s just being quiet about it. The software, which costs $69.99 per year for up to 3 household PCs, is designed to protect users from viruses, spyware, phishing attacks and other security threats.
It also has a two-way firewall that blocks incoming threats and outbound threats – malicious software that “phones home” to send personal information to a rogue server. There is also a “PC Tuneup” feature that removes temporary files left behind by Windows or your browser and defragments your disks to speed up drive access.
In addition, there is now a backup feature that allows you to automatically backup to an external drive or to an online server run by Symantec (you get two gigabytes of online backup free and can purchase additional space). I’m a big fan of online and other off-premise backup strategies because they protect you even if the unspeakable happens such as fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake or worse.
Unlike some backup software, this product doesn’t try to compress or otherwise alter your files. That leaves you with a backup that you can access from any PC even if it’s not running Norton 360.
Because Norton 360 is so unobtrusive, I was wondering if it was even working until I discovered its view statistics option that told me that it had detected and blocked two viruses and one piece of spyware. It also informed me that it had automatically completed 53 security and program updates to make sure my protection isn’t out of date.
For Internet Explorer users, the program is able to help protect you from malicious websites by checking against a database of known bad sites and analyzing sites on the fly to see if they contain code that could lead to “drive-by downloads” of malicious software that could jeopardize your security or harm your PC. Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t work with Firefox, Opera and other browsers besides Internet Explorer.
I also used the program to defragment my disk drive, which puts all of your files in contiguous areas of the drive so that the drive heads can access your data more quickly. Earlier versions of Norton products used to give you feedback as they defragmented your drives but in the spirit of leaving you alone, this one doesn’t tell you anything other than that it did a defrag. Personally, I wouldn’t mind having a little more reassurance that it’s doing its job as long as that didn’t slow down my PC.
Unlike some competitive products from ZoneLabs and TrendMicro, the new Norton product doesn’t have wireless network protection. It also lacks features to clean up the Windows registry (which can sometimes slow down a PC) as well as other system performance tweaks you’ll find in other packages such as Iolo’s System Mechanic.
Parental controls, ad-blocking and anti-spam tools are not included with the product but you can add them by downloading the Norton Add-on pack. Actually, I think this is a pretty good idea. The company kept the product leaner and faster by leaving out features that a lot of users don’t need while making them available at no cost for people who do need them. Perhaps Microsoft could learn from this example.
Overall, I give Norton 360 good marks for being easy to install and configure, and knowing when to stay out of your way and not slow you down – which is exactly the kind of progress I like to see when it comes to security.