In light of the fact that the Internet has many more threats other than viruses, responsible companies protect their networks with firewall software. Symantec Corp. has released Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2000 ($53.95 downloadable), a "personal firewall" product that mixes these functions with parental monitoring and Web ad blocking. The product usually works well but, at times, it blocks information that you might want to see.
Although NIS looks like a new product, it is based on AtGuard, a personal firewall product that Symantec licensed from WRQ. NIS retains the advanced configuration feature as an option but has simplified the main interface, letting users choose low, medium, or high levels of protection.
The firewall lets you block ActiveX controls and Java applets, as well as more primitive TCP/IP attacks, and has special built-in rules designed to block hack attacks from notorious programs such as BackOrifice. The list of safeguards is adequate, but NIS could better describe what happens when it blocks something—all the user gets are numbers summarizing how many blocks have occurred.
The ad blocker monitors Web page loading, determines which graphics are advertisements, and stops them from downloading. But we found some Web pages in our own ZDNet Community for which the feature blocked nonadvertising graphics, rendering the pages unnavigable. We were able to adjust the ad blocker's advanced properties to correct the problem, but this was a complicated process.
The Parental Control feature has bigger holes, although it will certainly block access to most objectionable content. A database of such sites, categorized with such terms as Crime and Drugs/Advocacy, lets the system administrator select which categories to block. Another option is to block all sites by default and then create an exception list of acceptable sites. This scheme doesn't block objectionable content that arrives via e-mail.
The Norton LiveUpdate feature updates the Parental Control database as well as the software itself. A copy of NIS includes a one-year subscription to updates, with renewals costing $19.95 a year.
As expected in Version 1.0, NIS has some minor bugs. But in general Symantec Corp. has done a fine job of taking the advanced technology in AtGuard and giving it a friendlier face.
Norton Internet Security 2000 Direct price: Downloadable version, $53.95; CD version, $59.95. Requires: 24MB RAM (32MB recommended), 60MB disk space, Microsoft Windows 95 or 98. Symantec Corp., Cupertino, CA; 408-253-9600; www.symantecstore.com. PC Magazine Rating:Average