Norton 2014: Still a good decision

Norton 2014: Still a good decision

Summary: There are many good Windows security suites on the market. The 2014 editions of Norton Antivirus, Norton Internet Security and Norton 360 are among them.


If you're not running an up-to-date security suite on Windows, it's time to stop kidding yourself. Everyone needs to be running one or they greatly increase their chances of being compromised.

If you're shopping around for one, the 2014 editions of the Norton consumer security suites from Symantec are some of the best options. Security suites don't get much more secure than the Norton 2014 products: Norton Antivirus ($49.99 for one year for one PC), Norton Internet Security ($79.99 for one year for three PCs) and Norton 360 ($89.99 for one year for three PCs or ). But they can never be too mature, because the landscape is always changing.

It's tempting for experts - or those who fancy themselves as experts - to think they don't need such a product, because they know not to go to dangerous web sites. For years, the real problem has been the legitimate web sites, which are frequently hacked through ad banners and vulnerabilities in their own servers, to serve malicious software and redirect the user to unsavory locations on the web.

Norton Internet Security adds many online protections, including parental controls and online identity protection, to the basic antimalware capabilities in Norton Antivirus. To these, Norton 360 adds PC tune-up tools and an online backup with 2GB of storage (you can buy more storage). In the era of Dropbox and other cloud services which give you a lot more than that for free, Norton 360 seems like a hard sell, but the extra features in Norton Internet Security are certainly worthwhile to most users. The company has also added a Norton 360 Multi-Device edition for $99.99 which includes Norton Internet Security for Mac and Norton Mobile Security (a security suite for Android), and which supports up to 5 total devices for one year.

According to Symantec, in the last year the threat landscape hasn't changed all that much. They say they have seen in increase in the sophistication of online scams, particularly as they spread into secondary networks like Pinterest.

The improvements in the protection features of the products (what they call the "Symantec Protection Stack") are also an increase in sophistication. The components in the stack (pictured below from a Symantec presentation) attempt to block threats as they come in from the network, as they touch the file system, based on reputation of the file hash or the location from which it came, and based on the behavior it exhibits in the system.  Symantec includes removal as a component of the protection stack and they have a wide variety of approaches to it with different strengths and potential pitfalls.

Symantec Protection Stack
Symantec keeps different forms of detection capability both on the client and in the cloud.

I won't attempt to test the actual effectiveness of the new Norton products at combating threats. Doing this properly is complicated, time-consuming and controversial. There are organizations that do this well and throw massive resources at the job, such as AV-Test, an independent test lab in Germany.

AV-Test's most recent test of the Norton products was their May/June report on Windows 7. As is almost always the case, Norton Internet Security scored very highly, although several other products did slightly better. I'm not sure the difference in protection scores is enough to direct a buying decision. Other factors are sure to be more important.

I cite the AV-Test scores on Norton Internet Security 2013 to underscore the point that Symantec's detection engines have long had an excellent reputation. If they aren't at the top of any well-designed tests, they're near the top. Symantec is claiming improvements in the protection engines  in these new versions, so perhaps it will do better this year. AV-Test also tests for usability and impact on system performance, but I'll skip them because I suspect it's even less proper to suggest those results indicate how well the new versions will work.

I also won't get into the advanced settings that all these security suites include. Users can do things like exclude files from scanning or block a particular signature, but almost nobody should ever do this.

You really shouldn't have to do a static scan; if the file got past the dynamic protections it's probably too late. But it still feels like a good idea.

Several years ago the Norton product installers were completely rewritten and they are now so fast that it's almost unsettling. I've never understood then effort they put into it, as installing is not something most users do more than once, but Symantec insisted that it is important to users. If so, they did a good job.

After installation and registration I ran a "Quick Scan" which took about 8 minutes. The Quick Scan checks only the directories and registry keys most likely to evince infection. All it found were tracking cookies, all of which it removed. A Full System Scan takes far longer; I ran one later and it found nothing new.

Norton Internet Security includes the ability, from their Norton Safe Web product (a URL reputation service), to scan a Facebook Wall. On my wall it found 99 links in the last 24 hours (even worse than I thought it would be). 63 were rated "Safe" and 36 as "Norton Secured," which means that Symantec certifies that site as having "the best security practices in place".

It also includes Norton Power Eraser, an aggressive threat removal tool which, the program warns, runs a greater risk of false positives than their standard tools. You don't have to buy it though; Norton Power Eraser is available as a free download.

One example of the bonus protections you get with Norton Internet Security as opposed to Norton Antivirus is the ability to have it check your Facebook wall.

There are also a series of tools in NIS (System Insight, Norton Tasks, Norton Insight and Startup Manager) with which to monitor running tasks, system performance and startup programs. These tools approximate the Autoruns and ProcExp (Process Explorer) tools in Microsoft's excellent and free Sysinternals tools.

Both the Norton tools and Sysinternals are excellent first responder tools for problems when a threat is not found by security tools like Norton Antivirus, but it's expert-level work when it gets to the point of using these tools.

There are several good security suites these days providing a high level of protection. Bearing in mind that I haven't compared current versions of products here, it's still safe to say that Norton products are one of many good choices you can make.

Topics: Security, Android, Malware, Symantec, Social Enterprise

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  • Comparison

    I'd like to see comparisons and not just product plugs like this one appears to be. I prefer Avast Antivirus myself. Free for home users, all the same levels of protection and quick response paths have made it the #1 antivirus in the world. I would've like a head to head comparison to see how they stack up against each other. Maybe that might've proven Norton is worth the money it costs against a free alternative and other products as well.
    • I like avast too

      I do not know if it is a smaller memory footprint, but Norton was slowing my machine, avast once installed it was like new again. and I have had no issues with any virus, malware or other infections using it.
      I stopped using Norton back about Norton 6 when they hard coded the root system to be only c:\windows or c:\winnt, if you took advantage of the ability to install to a different folder name, Norton just would not work properly.. when I called support, the indian tech was happy to tell me cheerfully that my computer was broken, not their fault. I got my money back and got Avast.. funny, not a single other piece of software complained because my %rootsystem% was not one of the two defaults..
  • Available MUCH, MUCH cheaper

    The prices quoted above are definitely MSRP. We recently got rid of Symantec Endpoint Protection (would have been $550 for one year for around 15 PC's and a server) and bought multiple copies of 1-user, 3-PC Antivirus from Amazon for WAY less ONE-THIRD of the price quoted above.
    • consumer vs. corporate

      Not saying you're wrong, but you're talking about the corporate product. This is the consumer product. Perhaps it's available for much less if you shop around as well
    • Have fun running around to 15 PCs! :D

      It's nice to be able to manage your whole office from one place. Having spent hundreds of hours on the line with them trying to resolve issues with their antivirus software (randomly breaks and has to be completely removed / reinstalled / reconfigured) has helped me build a healthy hatred for Symantec products. That said, I'd still recommend paying for the enterprise product if that is the brand you want to go with.
    • Enterprise (managed) vs Consumer

      Most major AV providers have a consumer class and an Enterprise class offerings. Enterprise class offerings have capabilities consumers do not normally need.

      The Symantec Endpoint Protection suite is an Enterprise class managed solution. It provides a single console to manage all the systems with centralized reporting. It also has more capabilities for firewall management, definition update control and other items for Enterprise class system protection. One important item is with file sharing and that the AV can check with the remote system to confirm it is protected so it does not double scan files on a remote file share. This has an impact on network and system resources.

      For your 15 client systems, it is probably easy enough for you to physically touch all the systems. The server needs an Enterprise class version because of what it does.
    • Endpoint is not the same

      I don't know where to draw the line between manageable on an individual PC level and requiring a centralized server-based solution but when our small office grew to over 60 'end points' I realized that I couldn't easily walk around applying updates to all the machines and still be responsive to the user's needs for tech support.

      I bought Symantec's corporate solution and, at the time, it was priced pretty competitively with the 'home' version. The ease of applying updates and the ability to know immediately if there's a problem with an individual machine made it well worth the cost.

      The corporate version comes with so much less bloat, I don't know why they can't offer that with their home version.

      I've never met a home computer that didn't get a big performance boost after removing all "Norton" products and applying Avast! or Microsoft Security Essentials.
  • I'm not a fan of Norton...

    but sometimes clients over-ride my recommendations and purchase Norton Internet Security for older XP machines. I was about to use the Norton Removal tool to get it out of the machine on the last of these incidents, when I noticed how much better his PC was running. As bloated as XP has become as it evolved over time with all the service packs and hotfixes; it usually performs poorly on machines that are as new as 2006 or so. In this case it actually seemed to increase performance across the board - networking, application runs, and boot times.

    I still don't trust Norton's ability to fight new malware threats, but it does have a fairly good firewall, and I suppose if it gives the customer peace of mind, maybe this time he will luck out. I still prefer stand alone products - all of them free - my clients that do things that way never have trouble as long as they update some of them that require manual updates for free versions. However - the only one I recommend buying is MBAM. I'd sooner use it than Norton any day - not because it is an anti-virus, but because of its excellent ability to call in forces to clean up rootkits without damaging the MBR, and the prevention of malware attack. Maybe Norton will prove itself in the near future - WE WILL SEE - I'm waiting for the proof, and our honeypot tests in the lab beat AV Comparatives any day.
  • Scanning was only half the problem

    ...the other half was how badly is slowed a machine down, and how it was the most obnoxious software to ever exist if you ever dared let your subscription lapse. They also would do slimy things like auto-renew if you stored a credit card number with them, and make you come up as "unprotected" if you didn't have a credit card number stored with them so they could auto-renew.

    Between all of that, and their discontinuing of Ghost and PartitionMagic, and the existence of Eset and Security Essentials, I see absolutely no reason at all to use any Symantec product.

  • Norton = Must Avoid

    I've used Norton products for years on a number of Windows PCs. I found Norton (Symantec) products to be problematic, resource intensive, and not very good at doing what they're supposed to do.

    My opinion of Norton (Symantec) products is that they're like the AOL of anti-malware software: They present themselves as "everything you need," and are targeted at PC-unskilled folks who don't know any better.
  • I Prefer Linux

    Then I don't have to touch horrible security suites like this one. If you do want to use windows then please avoid this sort of thing like the plague as it will only end in tears.
    Alan Smithie
  • Norton's firewall is bad

    Norton Antivirus is OK; in most tests out there, it's not the best, but among the best, and it also gets good marks for *removal* (meaning there are other antiviruses that may detect more malware, but once detected can't do anything about it). However, Norton's firewall is a sieve. Matousec's test showed the 2013 edition to pass only 9% of their tests. The 2014 version hasn't been tested yet, but considering this result has been consistent for many years, it's unlikely to have improved much.

    So, while Norton Antivirus is a good choice (with the usual warnings about its known problems, like breaking some device drivers and other software, and being close to impossible to fully uninstall without a clean Windows reinstall), one should think twice before dishing out more money for Internet Security or 360. True that Symantec is not alone in that, and most top antivirus vendors also score badly in firewall tests, but if the other security features in those suites are important to you, disable the suite's firewall and install a more effective stand-alone one.
  • Really....

    The security features that come with Windows 8 work great. Bottom line is someone probably paid this author to write this.

    That being said, the real key is to teach proper behavior on the internet. These tools can only do so much to protect you, but they can't protect you from yourself.
  • Honestly

    I haven't read the article coz its seems like a paid advert.
  • It is a paid advert

    Otherwise why would Norton have tested as a mediocre product for years at site like VB100 reports, then Symantec stopped submitting their product for testing (knowing it wasn't making a passing grade). Yet Znet and some magazines continually rate it very high with glowing reviews. Personally as a tech, I have had to fix many virus infected computer running Norton and also found that it was bogging down many more computers. I have rated it as "Not recommended", no matter what these publications say about it. Avast, Avira (even the free version), Trustport, Gdata, Fortinet, Bitdefender etc, are all a much better product.
    Laurentian Enterprises
  • Microsoft Security Essentials - good enough for Paul Thurrott - it's free!

    ...and it's good enough for me. And my customers. But then - we don't go to porn sites or warez sites and are careful about the sites we visit.
    Marc Erickson
    • Norton

      Are Monasteries allowed to have computers?
  • Anti-Spam for outlook 64 is STILL not provided

    They have improved their product I admit... but it still doesn't properly function with 64 bit Outlook after years of working on it.
  • Norton

    When Norton software first came out it was OK, but then it became bloated, and slows the computer down. In simple terms it became superfluous.
    • Very true.

      In many cases, a virus is preferred over this anti-virus. I've yet to see a virus that causes such system slow downs, program crashes, and hi-jacking for paid updates.