December 13, 2007


Norton Internet Security 2008. Windows Vista or XP. Symantec. $69.99.

Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware. Windows Vista or XP. Symantec. $39.99.

      It has become an old argument, but it is an ongoing one: why pay for computer protection when you can get it for free? Some argue that it gets harder every year to justify spending significant amounts of money to fight viruses and protect yourself when browsing the Web, because there are better and better antivirus programs available every year without cost, and more and more built-in browser features that keep you safe. Symantec, though, keeps upping the ante for the free and built-in products by giving its admittedly not inexpensive protective software more and more features and making its programs work better and better all the time. Where things stand now is that you can get many (but not all) of the features of Symantec’s products for free or for less money than it will cost you to buy the Norton product line. But you cannot get seamless integration of all the functions, along with ease of use and ease of updating, in the freeware world. It is an individual decision how much the functional simplicity and high quality of the Norton products are worth.

      If you do decide to buy Norton Internet Security 2008, you need to know one limitation: it can be installed on a maximum of three computers. As for Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware, it can be installed on only one machine. And while both products include free updates, they remain free for only one year – so the cost of these offerings actually buys you only a single year of protection (although you can, of course, pay extra to continue getting updates in future years).

      During that one year, though, Norton Internet Security 2008 and Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware will keep your computing remarkably safe – and will make you feel safe while working online or offline, which itself is worth something. Note that you do not need to buy both products: Norton Internet Security 2008 includes all the functions of Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware. If you buy only the antivirus program, you get software that is remarkably effective at blocking viruses (including those from E-mail and IM programs), blocking worms and Trojan horses, stopping online tracking software from following you around the Web, preventing spyware from hijacking your computer and turning it into a “zombie” that (without your knowledge) passes along spam and malicious messages, and getting rid of malware contained in downloaded files. That’s a lot of protection, and Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware provides it simply, constantly and in the background. The software has some neat tweaks for 2008, such as “Symantec Threat Interceptor Browser Defender,” an awkwardly named feature that makes sure malicious code cannot reach your computer even if it shows up on a legitimate Web site that has been compromised; and a home-network mapping feature that lets you see all the computers and devices on your network and identify anything unauthorized. Everything works well, installs easily (provided you have 300 megabytes of available hard disk space), and operates more quickly than in earlier years despite the inclusion of additional features.

      All this adds up to quite a lot of safety, but there is even more in Norton Internet Security 2008 (which takes up 350 megs). It includes additional protection that kicks in when using a wireless connection, plus a setup that only allows authorized programs to contact the Internet – thus preventing anything malicious that does somehow get past other defenses from getting back online and causing mischief. The big additional benefit of Norton Internet Security 2008, though, is the protection it provides for online bill-paying, shopping and investing. It inspects Web sites to be sure they are what they claim to be, thus preventing phishing, and its “Identity Safe” feature stores confidential data and lets users decide how much information is shared with which Web sites (it can also automatically fill in Web forms, a timesaver if not exactly a security element). The features, some enhanced and some new, work efficiently and more quickly than in past versions of this software, and provide a level of online confidence that for some families will, in and of itself, be worth the price of the product.

      It is worth repeating that most of the features of Norton Internet Security 2008 and Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware are available elsewhere for less or no money. Grisoft’s AVG Free Edition 7.5, for example, is a very good antivirus program; the Firefox browser and Internet Explorer 7 (to a lesser degree) include anti-phishing features and data protection; banking and investment sites build in their own identity-protection features; and major Web E-mail programs by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! include some protection against malicious message attachments. It is also worth pointing out that no software, Symantec’s included, is or can be guaranteed to be 100% effective (although a neat Symantec feature can actually detect emerging spyware and viruses whose signatures are not yet confirmed). However, as more and more of family life migrates to the computer, as more and more homes have their own networks, as quick and seamless integration of protective functions becomes ever more important (so users do not have to spend their time doing multiple updates and making sure that free programs work properly together), the cost of a one-stop solution becomes increasingly attractive for many home and small-business users. On that basis, the price of Norton Internet Security 2008 or Norton AntiVirus 2008 with Antispyware will quickly seem like money very well spent.

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