The last few years have been particularly rough for Windows users. The Windows platform has been attacked, hacked and cracked so many times, that the whole concept of security has become a joke. Windows is often described as being as porous as sandpaper, with the number of vulnerabilities that are discovered every week. At first we only had to deal with Virii... now there are separate categories like malware, spyware, Trojans, root-kits. The list just goes on...
This has lead to a new problem for most users. Just how many security programs does one need to keep installed on our machines, to make sure our desktops remain clean? Also another problem arises here. While power users will be able to easily maintain a clean machine, the rest of us unaware of the severity of the problem will sooner or later get ambushed. It's virtually game over then… it takes a lot of effort to “unclog” your machine and in some cases may even require a format and full re-install to get a functional system. In such a case what happens to a user’s data?
Fortunately for all these vexing questions there is now a very simple answer. Looking to tap the requirement for a comprehensive program that can not only protect your data but back it up too, security majors like Symantec, MacAfee and in a not too surprising move Microsoft itself, have started offering security suites that look to combine an Antivirus/spyware/ Trojan scanner, a stateful inspection firewall, a comprehensive backup utility that can even backup your data online and a whole set of disk optimization software that can help you keep your PC in top shape.
One such application suite is Norton360, Symantec effort at the features that we have listed above and is the product we are reviewing today. Is it able to deliver on so many fronts? Read on to find out.
Norton360 comes in a nice attractive package with a standard CD installer, a skimpy manual and a single sheet with your license key on it. The installation was a breeze. All one has to do is the pop-in the CD, wait for the install to startup, put in your CD-key and let the installer finish. Once it is done that, it runs an update to get the latest viral database and runs a preliminary scan to eliminate any virii or spyware that the base machine maybe infected with.
Now while the operation above sounds like any typical install that you have probably done before a million times over, It is what comes in the post install steps that sets this software package apart. Post install, the software program offers an option to sign-up for a “Norton Account”. This account has the capacity to backup not only your settings, but it can store your CD-key in a safe online account. This is an excellent move that allows you to easily recover your CD-key in case the original is unavailable, if the product needs a reinstall.
In a good move Norton has taken and re-designed this app from the ground up, as it seeks to integrate so many security features within a single application. As compared to the much cluttered and often confusing menu systems Norton has used in the past, the new interface is logically grouped with related items placed under the correct menu. There are overall 4 sections and they are as follows:
Under this section all the options which are related to desktop security are placed. These include automatic protection options, status of firewall, browser vulnerability, status of virus and spyware scan and Intrusion prevention.
This section is a unique introduction in the sense that 360 is among the handful of security software that have a dedicated Anti-phishing module. Keeping in mind the increasing dependence on online transactions, for payment of routine bills and shopping the presence of a separate and dedicated “online transaction security” safety net is a very welcome move.
Backup and Restore
This is another welcome and much needed addition to a security package. Though there are several excellent backup solutions like the Acronis range of products available, they are often too complex for average users and can cause problems. Symantec looks to simplify this by introducing a simple module that not only allows you to backup your data to external media or another HDD, it offers a 2 GB off-site account as part of its subscription package which can be utilized for storing your data.
This section is exclusively dedicated to utilities, which are designed to keep your PC running in an optimized state. There are separate modules provided for defragmentation, cleaning out temporary internet files and surfing history.
One section which we have chosen to keep separately is the Norton360 “My account” tab. Recognizing that a lot of households are increasingly getting more than one PCs, Norton allows you to purchase more licenses at fairly discounted rates. Under this section one can easily input a new serial key for installation on a separate machine, buy more online storage for backup purposes and monitor the number of days left in the subscription. This increases the utility of the software, as with a single CD it is possible to equip multiple home PCs with the software, have separate licenses for each and yet manage them under a single common account. This is a good touch and will be highly appreciated by anyone looking for a comprehensive solution.
For this section we decided to simply put the security suite, on what we call our “Testbed” machine. This is a standard machine which is used in the Tech2 labs to test software, download driver updates, gaming, reviewing products etc. It fulfills a variety of roles and hence despite being formatted regularly, is often in a messy state. Finding it choked with spyware, Trojans and other strange crapware is a foregone conclusion. By using this machine we fulfill multiple testing conditions. We wanted to check the effectiveness of the antivirus/spyware modules, see if the firewall was able to effectively block/ control traffic, how comprehensive the backup options are and finally using all these tools can we restore the system to a usable state? Also another important question that needs to be answered is... just how much strain does such a product put on the system?
For answering these questions, we have divided our performance evaluation of this product into 3 sections. In our first section we will examine the AV/Spyware removal capabilities of 360. In our second section we will evaluate just how effective the firewall is and in our final section we will check out the impact of the product on system resources.
For testing the effectiveness of the AV/Spyware modules we simply ran what Norton describes as “Comprehensive check” which scans a machine for virii, spyware and security vulnerabilities. There were no surprises here, as each of the modules of 360 functioned as advertised. It found several virii and several persistent spywares including the infamous “Vundo” and a whole boatload of security vulnerabilities. In each case it was able to successfully remove the virii and spyware and allow us to surf without embarrassing pop-up straying up from all over the place.
The firewall on this suite is another well designed app. It allows a user to either individually define an applications traffic inflow/outflow of traffic, i.e. what service it is accessing and on what port. It also automatically defines rules for commonly used applications and blocks common exploits. To test just how effective this firewall is, we decided to use the infamous “GRC Leak Test” and an independent 3rd party tool (GFI Languard) which is available as a free trial download. Both these tests are pretty comprehensive and can expose a firewall‘s problems quite effectively. The results we got were very positive. In the case of both tests, the machine was displayed as very effectively “stealthed”. This is a very good result, as it means that it would take a very determined hacker to get past this firewall. The strength of the firewall will allow most users, to effectively carry on their work without having to worry about getting exploited by a “drive-by” Trojan or a virus that spreads itself over a network.
For the final part of our tests, we examined the impact of 360 on system resources. To effectively check system performance, we have used PCMark 2005 a comprehensive benchmark utility that is very sensitive to hardware/software changes on a PC. In our first outing, we ran the test without 360 being installed and got a total average score of 2480. The second sets of tests were run after 360 had been installed. Here the score obtained was 2253. As the test results show that despite packing in so many features, 360’s impact on the system resources is very basic and nothing to worry about.
At a cost of Rs. 3,699 this is a sterling effort from Norton. Not only has it effectively managed to combine a lot of important security features into one comprehensive package, it does it in style and without too much impact on system resources. Everything works as advertised and it's price is a small
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