Detection and cleanup, Symantec Norton Internet Security 2009’s strengths

Symantec Norton Internet Security 2009 (US$70 for three users as of 12/24/08) came in as the clear winner in “Paying for Protection,” this year’s roundup of nine security suites.

It pairs excellent malware detection and cleanup with a smooth, intuitive interface and a good range of features. Norton wasn’t tops in every category we tested, and it is pricey–only one rival, the Kaspersky security suite , cost more. But if you want a solid product to protect your PC, Norton Internet Security is a great option, and it’s our top pick.

In’s extensive malware-detection tests, Norton did very well, identifying 98.9 per cent of the 654,914 collected samples of Trojan horses, worms, password-stealers, and other nasties. That finish put it at a close second behind the Avira security suite, which tagged 99.2 per cent of the “zoo.”

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Norton took top honors in cleaning up malware infections, though it wasn’t perfect. It got rid of 80 per cent of the files and Registry changes that malware had put in place, but it failed to scrub all the files from two out of ten test infections. It produced similarly strong numbers for detecting and removing rootkits –stealth malware used to hide infections from PC users and security software alike. It successfully removed nine out of nine active rootkits.

In dealing with adware, Norton was only average with its 96.8 per cent detection rate for the aggravating, but not usually harmful, software–a decent showing, but a bit short of the results from the top performers, which identified over 99 per cent of adware in our testing. (It was still far better than the worst performer of the batch, which detected a paltry 68 per cent of adware.) On the other hand, it was one of only two products (along with the Trend Micro security suite) that didn’t produce a single false positive by misidentifying safe software as harmful.

In proactively identifying unknown malware for which it doesn’t yet have a signature, Norton scored below average. In tests with two-week-old signature files, it identified only 48.2 per cent of samples, which put it at sixth in the rankings (Avira set the pace, detecting a bit over 55 per cent of the samples). But the suite’s new “pulse” update feature, which sends out malware signatures to the program every 5 to 15 minutes, could help offset that lackluster proactive performance. Symantec responds very quickly to new widespread malware attacks, typically in less than 2 hours, according to AV-Test.

Another new feature, Norton Insight, uses Internet-based elements to identify trusted applications that don’t need to be scanned, which Symantec says can help improve scanning speed. The suite did prove the fastest of the group at scheduled or manual on-demand scans that survey entire files, but it was only the sixth fastest at the more-important on-access checks that occur every time your PC opens or accesses a file.

Norton’s antispam feature adds a toolbar to Outlook and Outlook Express, and its firewall will automatically allow known, trusted applications to access the Internet. And its wireless-security feature correctly warned us about a test network that used no encryption.

To use the parental controls and privacy features, you must download and install a free add-on pack from Symantec. Afterward you’ll be able to assign access profiles such as ‘Child’, ‘Teen’, or ‘Unrestricted’ to existing Windows user accounts, or define certain types of information, such as credit card numbers, that you don’t want sent from your PC without your authorization. While

Norton’s default settings and interface were largely correct and well done in our testing, its antiphishing proved a notable exception: The feature turned off Firefox’s built-in antiphishing protection without any notification, a move that Symantec says is to prevent potential duplicative alerts. Other suites had no problems leaving Firefox’s feature on in addition to their own, however, and doing so means you have two opportunities to catch and block a phishing site instead of just one.

Regrettably, Norton’s suite lacks a backup capability, and it can’t scan for missing applications or Windows patches–a function that’s fairly common among its competitors.

Symantec Norton Internet Security 2009 remains a strong, well-balanced security suite–and its upgrades this year make it even better. Users angling for the absolute best malware detection, or people who need backup functions in their suite, might find a better fit elsewhere. But for most shoppers, Norton is a solid choice.

PCWorld US

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