Can Norton 360 be trusted?

Symantec is about to launch Norton 360 in Australia but will marketing hype overtake quality features?
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor

Symantec is about to launch Norton 360 in Australia and although the product seems to have some interesting features, it will take more than marketing hype to persuade me that the company has stopped making bloated and unreliable software.

Following Microsoft's lead, Symantec is about to launch an all-in-one security suite designed to protect SOHO users from threats such as Trojans, viruses, spyware and phishing.

The package goes one step further than Microsoft's OneCare Live offering because it provides 2GB of off-site backup space -- allowing very important files to be automatically duplicated on Symantec's servers for safekeeping.

However, over the years I have witnessed Symantec launch umpteen versions of its Norton Antivirus and Internet Security products. Each year the company boasts how it is the most trusted name in security and how its products keep millions of users safe.

The problem is that whenever I write about a Norton product, my e-mail inbox becomes inundated with people sharing their bad experiences and loathing of all products that come in those little yellow boxes.

Symantec has brushed off these complaints by saying I only get such a reaction because of the sheer number of people that use Norton products. In actual fact, I am told, the vast majority of Symantec's customers are very satisfied.

Unfortunately for Symantec, I have years of experience using its security products and have spent a significant proportion of my time helping people try and rid their systems of the dreaded software. Virtually everyone I know that came into contact with Norton Antivirus or one of its counterparts would complain about the user interface, massive resource requirements and lack of actual protection.

So the big question is: has Symantec learned from its mistakes -- will Norton 360 be any different from its predecessors? Will it actually protect your computer and most valuable files or is it simply a massive marketing campaign?

In October 2005, I spoke with Mark Bergman, CTO of Symantec's global operations. He explained that the company had a vision where users' computers would be automatically backed up to secure their most valuable data.

At the time, he said: "We are talking about how to create a system whereby the nature of my having put [the files] on my machine ... they are protected".

Soon, that product (Norton 360) will be available locally. I thought I would try and find out just how reliable those automatic backup systems are. In case of disaster, how sure is Symantec that the data automatically backed-up onto its own servers is safe? Does it provide any guarantees?

Symantec's e-mailed response actually made me laugh out loud.

"Symantec recommends consumers take a layered approach to backup. For example, using the backup functionality of Norton 360, as well as using an external hard-drive or other data protection option," a company spokesperson told ZDNet Australia in an e-mail statement.

It seems Symantec doesn't trust its own infrastructure enough to guarantee the safety of its customers' backup files.

Microsoft has already shown that its security products can't be trusted to protect the company's own operating system. Just look at the recent example where a flaw in Windows Defender put anyone using the so called security product at risk of a highly critical worm attack -- this included Vista users. In the same batch of patches, Microsoft also plugged a critical gap in OneCare.

These developments do not exactly fill me with optimism when looking forward to the rest of 2007.

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