Norton Internet Security 2012. Windows 7/Vista/XP 32-bit. Symantec. $69.99.
While dipping its toe gingerly into tablet and smartphone protection – an excellent idea from a corporate perspective – Symantec is not forgetting that the bulk of its Norton business lies in protecting Windows-based PCs. Its new version of Norton Internet Security shows just how seriously the company takes its primary mission: the software suite, which worked very well in its 2011 incarnation, works even better as a 2012 version, with some intelligent redesign and one particularly helpful new feature. And it manages to function without hogging a huge amount of PC resources – an impressive achievement, given all that the suite can do (and a significant improvement in resource friendliness compared with Norton’s products of just a few years ago).
Norton Internet Security 2012 has, as its foundation, Norton AntiVirus 2012, a powerful and highly effective tool that is available on its own for $39.99 – but is not as useful as a standalone as the Norton Internet Security suite. The more-expansive program not only protects against viruses and cleans up malware very effectively, but also has a particularly good firewall – which protects users’ computers quietly and subtly, without getting in the way of everyday tasks. The suite blocks phishing sites and does a particularly good job with its anti-spam technology. Its Identity Safe tool is incrementally improved for 2012: it now synchronizes form-filling and password management with the cloud.
And then there is the new and very useful feature: Startup Manager. To be fair, it is not really new – Norton Internet Security has borrowed it from Norton 360 – but it is new within this application, and very useful for speeding up boot time and informing users of which programs are resource hogs. Startup Manager lists every program that launches at startup, identifying the resources used by each one and allowing users to disable any of them – or set them to launch after a delay. This may be more tinkering than many computer users want to do, but for those looking to maximize performance, it is a very welcome addition to Norton Internet Security. Those intimidated by making adjustments to the startup sequence need not use Startup Manager at all – although working with it is not difficult, and any actions taken with it are completely reversible.
Actually, Norton Internet Security has pretty well reached the set-it-and-forget-it stage, or rather install-it-and-forget-it. This puts its very powerful tools in the hands of far more people than could or would want to use them a few years ago, when all sorts of changes and tweaks were necessary (or at least highly advisable) in order to get the best possible protection for each individual computer. Symantec still offers plenty of attractions for those who enjoy making adjustments, including some really nice visuals. For example, you can (as in earlier years) flip the main window over to see a performance graph – but many users will not care about that. No matter: the performance monitoring feature works whether or not you use the graph – if your system slows down, it will give you a pop-up window telling you what program is making heavy use of system resources.
The ease-of-use element of Norton Internet Security 2012 actually starts with the suite’s main window. There was a lot in that window in the suite’s 2011 version – all of it arguably useful, but some of it of less-than-compelling interest to many users. In fact, for most home and small-business users, launching a scan and checking for updates were the only two matters of concern. Lo and behold, in the suite’s 2012 version, those are the only two activities emphasized on the main screen. Everything else is still there, but now most other features appear on a slide-up panel of advanced settings. This is not only smart design but also evidence of considerable responsiveness to less technically inclined users. It is a refinement, true, but calling it a “mere” refinement would be unfair, since the emphasis on simplicity and ease of use makes a great deal of difference to many people deciding whether to spend $70 for a single year of protection for up to three computers.
Refinements are all over the place in Norton Internet Security 2012. The behavior-based detection system, which Symantec calls SONAR, tracks more behaviors and uses that tracking to find malicious or risky processes. Since malware changes so quickly, this is extremely useful: it gets ahead of all databases of malicious programs, including Symantec’s own. Speaking of databases, Norton Insight observes how often programs crash on the millions of computers that make up the community of users of Norton products – and the database assigns a reliability rating (at one of four levels) to each program. Necessary, no; helpful, yes.
Everything that Norton Internet Security 2012 does, it does well. It blocks malware very effectively; makes all a system’s ports invisible to outside attack through its integrated firewall; has a fast and very accurate spam filter; blocks known phishing sites and, because those sites change so often, uses real-time analysis to find characteristics of potential but unlisted phishing sites and marks them “suspicious”; and stores passwords and allows automatic fill-in of Web forms through its Identity Safe feature. This part of the suite is one of those with a small but significant refinement for 2012: instead of the previous popup notice offering to save credentials for a Web site, the program simply slides in a much less intrusive information bar at the top of the browser window. Then, when you revisit the site, it fills in the stored credentials automatically. You can even store multiple credentials for a single site – it uses the same information bar to ask you which ones to use.
What about the price? This is always an issue with Symantec’s software, because you can, with some searching and persistence, get most if not all the functionality of a program such as Norton Internet Security 2012 for much lower cost, or even for free. In fact, some free programs that accomplish specific tasks have more features than the ones in this suite – such as LastPass for password storage and form filling. But do you have the time and inclination to search for programs fulfilling all the functions of Symantec’s suite, to keep the software updated, and – of particular importance – to troubleshoot any possible conflicts that the programs may create among themselves? If the objective of security software is to provide peace of mind without requiring a significant use of human or computer resources, it is hard to argue that assembling your own package of protective services is better than buying Symantec’s. At this stage of its development, Norton Internet Security is simple to install, runs highly effectively in the background without compromising everyday computer functionality, makes surprisingly light use of system resources, and integrates all its elements seamlessly – including updates of every portion of its software. It is very hard to argue with the combination of effectiveness and smoothness that Norton Internet Security 2012 represents. For anyone who wants to spend most of his or her computing time doing business, working on home-focused and family-focused projects, or doing anything other than computer maintenance and protection, Norton Internet Security 2012 is simply the best choice, at any price, among current products of its kind.