Today we welcome Norton Internet Security 2011 to the Security for Everyone series. When desktop security is considered, the Norton name is not far behind. With a history that dates back more than 25 years, and the claim of being the first antivirus program to perform automatic updates, this is easy to understand. Norton has not been without its problems though. Over time Norton became known not only for its utilities but also for the performance impact it had on systems. The previous review of Norton Internet Security 2010 found performance was not an issue and awarded the first "Buy for Grandma!" badge to Norton. In this review we'll see if Norton stays in Grandma's good graces.
A trial version of Norton Internet Security 2011 can be downloaded from the Norton site via this link. Unfortunately, as cited in the previous review, you will be required to provide credit card information before downloading the trial version. Your credit card will be charged at the end of the trial period if you do not cancel the service. This is simply a poor practice on the part of Norton. I imagine the revenue generated as a result of people that do not cancel their trial is significant enough for them to continue this shadowy tactic. Unfortunate. Thankfully, you can choose to download from sources such as SoftPedia and CNET, without having to provide such information.
Once you download Norton Internet Security 2011 you'll find the install very simple. The only customization option is to choose the install directory. If you don't choose to change the install directory this is really a one click install. Another member of the 7 Tutorials team recently upgraded their 2010 version and found the upgrade as simple as the fresh install. With the upgrade only a single reboot was required and the settings of the uninstalled 2010 version were imported into the 2011 upgrade.
Upon completion of a fresh install you are met with a relatively clean, modern looking interface. An initial update is performed within a few minutes and the scanning is set to run when the system is idle. The latter makes a scheduled scan unnecessary.
A review of Windows security settings and services finds Norton does end the Windows Firewall and Windows Defender applications. I was also pleased to find I could not end the Norton services nor could I cancel the running process. I also reviewed the initial performance impact and found surprisingly little, even while running an initial scan. The team at av-comparatives.org found similar results when they awarded Symantec, Norton's parent company, the Advanced+ rating in the August 2010 Performance test.
Aside from the download process itself, my impression of Norton Internet Security 2011 is positive. The proper system maintenance is performed and the initial interface, while a bit distracting with the worldwide cybercrime activity map, is not intimidating.
Ease of Use and Configuration
The main interface displays a system status in the header of the application. This is followed by links to access settings, performance and a variety of support related links. Within a section titled 'Computer Protection' you'll find a link to perform a scan, access history, manage the quarantine, view application ratings and see when LiveUpdate last performed an update.
The right side of the interface is dedicated to displaying the status of the various security services. The status is indicated by an orange (on) or red (off) toggle switch. This is a good use of real estate and serves as a nice dashboard of enabled services. When you choose to turn off a service Norton displays a prompt warning of the effects of doing so and provides a drop down list where you can choose the duration of time the service should be left off. This is a nice measure which encourages the continued protection of your system.
If you're unsure of what function a service performs you can select the name of the service to see a short description.
Selecting the Settings link in the header will deliver you to the application settings. Here you will find all settings in a paneled or accordion style navigation system. Settings are broken into five categories: Computer Settings, Network Settings, Web Settings, Miscellaneous Settings and Parental controls.
Computer Settings are primarily used to define scan settings. These settings include the default action for specific types of threats, the level of heuristic protection and items to exclude from scans among many others. Firewall and Intrusion Prevention settings are found in the Network Settings category. Settings associated with the browser, antiphishing and malicious pages are found in the Web Settings category.
My initial thought was there are too many settings and they are too loosely defined. After thorough review I don't think the settings are too many and if a setting is confusing each sub category provides access to the help section via the question mark icon on the right side of the interface. It appears the default settings are adequate which should mean wandering into the settings won't be an immediate requirement.
The Norton Internet Security 2011 Firewall provides several options for customization. The firewall settings are found within the Network Settings category of the main application settings. Most of the settings you might be interested in will be in the Smart Firewall section and include the ability to create and modify network rules via advanced settings, set Program Control and configure Trust Control.
Norton appears to do a fine job of identifying which programs are friendly and allows them access to the network. You can modify this list or add programs easily enough with a few clicks.
The Trust Control configuration is interesting as it allows you to choose the devices in your network that should be trusted. This will come in handy if you are the sort that has many network devices such as network storage or streaming media devices. Identifying them as trusted will eliminate many prompts.
When testing a firewall I like to throw a couple of intrusive scans at the device. This provides an opportunity to see just what kind of information is being returned to a would be attacker. Thankfully an intrusive against the Norton Internet Security 2011 firewall provided next to no information and nothing that might of value.
The default firewall configuration provides ample protection for the home user without being intrusive. Norton has done a good job of not requiring any extensive tweaking.
Antivirus and Antispyware Features
You will find the Antivirus and Antispyware settings within the Computer Setting category of the main application settings. The defaults here seem well suited to provide strong protection without being intrusive. Norton puts a lot of weight in their SONAR Protection feature which is built upon the significant strength of their user community. SONAR allows for the isolation of threats based on behavior even before a threat has been formally added to the database. With most threats originating online this is an important feature and one Norton has done well to develop.
A nice feature of the Norton scanner is that it will actively scan your system when it is idle. This prevents the need to bother with a scheduled scan, however it should be noted that while you can choose to schedule a scan doing so will disable the idle scanning.
In my own testing, the scanner responded without flaw and identified each threat. The previous review noted that Norton was less than agile when it came to adding new threats to their database. I did not find this to be the case in the 2011 version. Several of the threats I presented were less than ten days old, each identified and quarantined or removed accordingly. Possibly even more notable as a mark of improvement was my visit to a malicious site that had been identified for less than a day. My attempt to visit the site was blocked and the link included in the notification detailed the type of threat that might have been executed had I chosen to continue.
Norton has also received accolades from several independent testing site such as av-comparatives.org and avtest.org. Av-comparatives awared Norton Internet Security 2011 their hightest ranking of Advanced+ and avtest.org found that Norton passed their battery of tests as well. As was previously noted, Norton also fared very well in the av-comparatives performance test conducted in August 2010.
Norton's scanning engine is effective and light on resources. The depth of the database is an asset in this age when numerous new threat strains are identified each day. The idle scanning default and strength of the SONAR feature round out a solid scanning solution.
I wasn't sure what I was going to find as I worked through this review. I spent years avoiding Norton due to its history of poor performance and quite sincerely had no intention of looking back. It has been a pleasure to discover Norton has not forsaken their roots in desktop security and has managed to turn the once heavy and ill informed security beast into an agile and competitive solution. If you have not given Norton a look lately I'd recommend giving them a second chance. You might be surprised.