Everybody with a bit of knowledge about computers and security has heard about Norton. They have great brand recognition and, over the years they have built some great security products. Therefore I was curious to learn if Norton Internet Security 2013 lives up to its name and high expectations. I took it for a test drive and boy... was I surprised by what I learned.
Downloading Norton Internet Security 2013 is a quick and painless process. You don’t have to provide any information to download the 139MB setup file.
The installation process requires a minimal number of clicks and doesn’t allow for any customization of the suite.
In order to activate and use the product, you need to provide your Norton account details or create an account.
No restart is needed and the suite automatically updates after a few minutes. When you launch the suite, you notice that its interface has been changed a bit compared to the previous version. It borrows a bit from the look and feel of Windows 8, which is great.
I was very happy with the first interactions. All went well, without any pesky prompts or lengthy configuration wizards.
Integration with Windows 8 & Windows 8 Apps
The Norton Internet Security 2013 installation automatically disabled Windows Defender and Windows Firewall thus eliminating any performance issues or conflicts caused by having multiple security products running at the same time.
One thing I immediately noticed is that networks are set by default to Protected which means you are not able to fully use all Windows networking features and services. You need to manually change the trust level of a network to Shared in order to be able to connect to the Homegroup and share files, folders and devices over the network. This problem is there at least from two versions ago and I felt disappointed that this approach still has not been improved.
When it comes to networking, Norton Internet Security 2013 has a very specific approach - all network devices are automatically detected, classified and placed into a network security map. The trouble with this security map is that it doesn’t correctly classify network devices. Especially when you have some computers with Linux in your network.
This can cause issues when interacting with devices over the network. The only solution for avoiding problems is manually editing each device on the network and setting the correct category and trust level. Unfortunately users will be turned off by such configurations while novices will have a hard time understanding what they need to do. Symantec could have used a different approach that requires less manual configuration.
Regarding the performance impact of Norton Internet Security 2013, things are looking great. The suite uses only 19MB of RAM memory, if nothing special is going on. When making scans, the memory consumption goes up to 90MB of RAM but the system never feels slow. To confirm this statement, the NovaBench benchmark did not reveal any hit in its test results. The system performed as well as when there was no security suite installed. Also, the impact on boot timings was minimal - my test system required only 3 seconds more to boot, when Norton Internet Security 2013 was installed. A great result indeed.
When it comes to integration with the major Internet browsers, the situation is rather mixed. In Internet Explorer, Norton Internet Security 2013 provides the most protection and installed three add-ons: Norton Toolbar, Norton Identity Protection and Norton Vulnerability Protection. In Firefox and Chrome it installs only two add-ons (only the toolbar is installed on both) while in Opera no add-ons are installed. I found this very weird. Why are the add-ons installed different on different browsers?
On the positive side, Norton Internet Security 2013 does scan the HTTP traffic indifferent of the browser you are using. Therefore some threats are identified and blocked even if you are using Opera.
Unlike the installation, the uninstall of the suite is very lengthy, verbose and requires a reboot. Also, some updates which patch the security suite take a long time to get applied and they kill and restart several Windows services, including File Explorer. This is not a very elegant approach.
Unfortunately I have also discovered a very negative integration aspect. Unlike other security suites, Norton Internet Security 2013 does not protect its services from termination. Therefore, disabling the security suite is very easy and malware will have no trouble in killing it. To add to the hurt, once its services are terminated, accessing the network or the web is no longer possible. You need to restart the computer in order for everything to work well.
Even though the performance impact of Norton Internet Security 2013 is minimal, I was not pleased with the integration issues I discovered. They are not what you would expect from a product with such a big reputation like Norton’s.
Ease of Use & Configuration
When it comes to ease of use and configuration, the core of Norton Internet Security 2013 remains friendly and very easy to use. Novices will love the on and off switches that are found everywhere. Also, help is readily available in the form of online documentation. If you don’t understand something, you can quickly learn about it online.
More advanced users will be able to configure in detail the different modules of the suite, through the advanced settings nicely tucked away behind Configure [+] buttons.
In terms of scanning options, you get the a few pre-configured scanning profiles and you can create your own. However, when it comes to scheduled scans, things are not great. Norton Internet Security 2013 has only a Full System Scan scheduled to run once every 30 days. This is very little in comparison with other products which have more frequent scans scheduled to run at times when your computer is turned on but not in use.
Adding and managing exclusions is very easy, just like accessing the many reports available. Users will appreciate the System Insight graphics which show live data on what is going on with the system, both from a performance and security perspective.
Also there are detailed logs available and a monthly activity report.
When it comes to support options, Norton doesn’t do a great job. You can only access the existing online documentation and the support forums for free. But, you cannot create a ticket or talk to a support agent without paying extra. This is less than what other security products offer.
When it comes to alerts, you won’t see anything related to the firewall. I have received alerts only when malware was processed or when malicious websites were identified.
Overall, Norton Internet Security 2013 doesn’t display alerts unless there is something you should know.
From a usability perspective, things get tricky when trying to use additional features like the Norton Management Agent, Online Family or Norton Safe Web. These products are not part of the security suite. They are additional products that are installed separately and managed differently. Working with these products is not a breeze like you would expect and there are some usability issues I will detail in a later section.
When using the core of the suite, everything is easy. There’s nothing you cannot do with just a few clicks. However, complexity rises as soon as you try any of the additional products bundled with Norton Internet Security 2013. Also, the support options available are average and offer less than what other vendors do.
Default Settings You Might Want to Improve
When it comes to default settings, the picture is again mixed:
- If you want a good networking experience, and receive the appropriate protection, you should always set the Trust Level manually when connecting to a new network.
- You should configure the network devices listed in the network security map. They should be appropriately classified and their trust level correctly assigned, if you want to avoid issues when interacting with them over the network.
- If you want Norton Internet Security 2013 to automatically remove infected “folders”, you should set it to do so, instead of asking you every time. Also, the Microsoft Office Automatic Scan should be enabled, so that your documents are scanned when working with them.
- You should enable the Boot Time Protection (found in Settings -> Computer -> Real Time Protection) so that the Norton Internet Security 2013 is not killed during the boot, in case of an infection with a nasty rootkit or virus. However, this will add a few seconds to your boot timings.
When testing Norton Internet Security 2013, I felt that I needed to configure more things than when using other security suites. I wish some of its default settings were configured in a better way, to make the configuration exercise shorter and lighter on users.
I also ran my usual scans with Nessus and Nmap. When the network trust level is set to Shared, there are 8 open ports with a low impact on security. Also, the MAC address and the operating system are identified.
If a network is set to Protected seven ports are still found open. If you want to be completely protected, you must set the trust level to Restricted. When doing this, only the MAC address is identified and there are no open ports. This is an average result which doesn’t place Norton in the list of suites with top firewall protection.
What’s very annoying about the Norton firewall is that it ignores the profile you assign to a network connection in Windows and you must manually configure the trust level for each network connection. Not only this, but you also have to edit the security map to make sure your interaction with network devices goes smoothly.
Unfortunately, Norton Internet Security 2013 provides average firewall protection which requires more manual configuration than other security suites.
Antivirus and Antispyware
When it comes to antivirus and antispyware protection, I expected great results. Boy was I in for a bad surprise.
First of all, the scanning time was an average 14 minutes for a 30GB partition with 21GB of files. Other security products ran the same scan in less than 10 minutes. Then, I scanned several removable drives with infected files. In one instance, the scan got stuck and never finished. Also, Norton Internet Security 2013 did not detect that I finally ran out of patience and unplugged that drive. It kept “scanning” it while my computer’s resource consumption was up and I could not use any apps. They simply refused to work. Only a restart fixed things and I was able to use my computer normally.
This wasn’t a good start. And the bad experience did not stop here.
Then, I noticed that, each time I plug an infected memory stick, Norton takes some time to scan it automatically. This is not a tragedy, as it detected some of the infected files. However, it did not detect all of them. Then, I ran a full scan of that drive and it detected a few more malware samples. But still.. some remained. Once the full scan was done, I kept using that drive and browsed through its contents. Only then Norton did detect the remaining malware samples. Why did it require three scans (one manual and two automatic) to identify and remove all malware? I was very puzzled.
Another test I run is to infect a Windows 8 installation and then install the security suite I am testing to see if it is able to protect its installation and eliminate the virus I planted.
First, things seemed to go well. Norton Internet Security 2013 identified the threat and removed it. But then it updated itself and tried to apply the latest available patch. The installation of the patch took forever and failed with a big red error message.
I rebooted the computer and surprise... Norton Internet Security 2013 continued to malfunction. I could not launch its user interface and I could not access the Internet or any networking services. Also, the uninstallation refused to work. I was stuck with a malfunctioning computer. I had to download the Norton Removal Tool on another computer and transfer it with a memory stick, in order to remove the suite and use my test computer without issues.
Unfortunately other independent security organizations have not tested the 2013 version of Norton Internet Security, so that I can confirm the poor results I experienced. However, the test results obtained by the 2012 version were good, which is a stark contrast with my experience of the 2013 version.
Unfortunately I haven’t had such a bad testing experience in a long time. I was very disappointed to discover so many issues with the antimalware protection provided by Norton Internet Security 2013.
Norton Internet Security 2013 seems to provide quite a few additional features, like: Norton Management Agent, a free trial for Norton Mobile Security for Android, the basic version of Online Family, the Norton Studio app for Windows 8, Norton Safe Web and a free trial for Norton Online Backup.
There are some issues with these additional “features”:
- Many of them are not free or included in the price of Norton Internet Security 2013. They are separate products for which you need to pay additional licenses.
- Only Norton Management Agent, Online Family, Norton Studio and Norton Safe Web are free.
- The functionality of these free products is limited and they provide little value when compared to what other security vendors bundle with similar products.
- These products are not well integrated with the core of the suite, nor between them. You need to download and install each, configure and use separately. Norton Internet Security 2013 only provides some shortcuts from where you can download and purchase these products.
While I did not test in detail all these additional features, two of them grabbed my attention in a negative manner: Norton Studio and Online Family.
Norton Studio simply provides the status of the security suite and adds more shortcuts for products to buy from Symantec. There is no touch friendly interface that you can use to configure and use the security suite. Nothing really useful!
Then, Online Family product proved to be a nightmare. First of all, if you want to use all its features you need to pay more money.
I downloaded, installed and used only the free version. I haven’t seen such a mess in terms of marketing and naming for a long time. Initially, I was told that the product is named Norton Online Family. But then, I was prompted to download the Norton Safety Minder. “What is that?” I asked and continued. Then, the Norton Download Manager was downloaded which, in turn, downloaded Norton Online Family. Once that was over, I was asked to set up Norton Safety Minder. When configuring it, the Norton Online Framework was installed. Finally, I was asked to sign in and use into the Norton Safety Minder.
Are you confused? At this point I had no idea what was going on and what was installed on my computer.
I continued and I tried to test the product. Apparently, a new browser add-on was installed as well, named Norton Safety Minder. I set a test account for a child whose activities are supposed to be monitored and logged. The first things that browsers did was to ask the child if he or she wants this add-on installed and enabled. If the child chooses not to install this add-on, then no parental monitoring and control is done. :) I chose to enable this add-on anyway and proceeded to visiting some well known adult websites. Guess what? The add-on did nothing. I was able to access everything without being blocked or warned.
I was very disappointed by the little value and the bad experience provided by the free additional features bundled with Norton Internet Security 2013. Also, many features are actually paid products which bring additional cost. This will turn off many users.
Wow! I really did not expect this testing experience from Norton Internet Security 2013. I knew that previous versions provided good protection and they received quite bit of recognition, including from our team.
Imagine my surprise when having such a negative experience with the 2013 version. Considering the many shortcomings I have found, I really cannot recommend this product to our readers. Norton Internet Security 2013 has many issues and no longer provides effective protection to its users. Also, the additional products bundled with the suite provide little value if you are not willing to pay extra for the more premium features.
The only positive about this version is that it is very light in terms of performance impact. But that’s far from enough, especially from a product with such huge brand recognition and fame. It is a shame to see Symantec getting so complacent with their 2013 edition of products.