December 22, 2005


Norton Internet Security 2006. Windows 2000 Professional with SP3 or higher, or Windows XP. Symantec. $69.95.

Norton AntiVirus 2006. Windows 98, Me, 2000 Professional, or XP. Symantec. $39.95.

     The coming new year is sure to bring surprises both pleasant and unpleasant.  One way to avoid the most unpleasant computer-related surprises is to use Norton Internet Security 2006.  Like an insurance policy, this product is designed to help you sleep better at night, knowing that an important part of your life is safe and secure.  Unlike insurance, though, it works actively to make sure that threats to your electronic well-being are kept away.

     This is not one product but a suite.  Its innards are a good deal more complex than in prior versions, because threats have become more complicated and more difficult to fight.  But its user interface, thankfully, is simpler and easier to use than in previous years – Symantec seems to get better annually at this aspect of design.

     The functions of Norton Internet Security 2006 sound familiar enough: virus protection, spyware removal, firewall, intrusion prevention, privacy protection, spam detection and content filtering.  The last two of these remain only moderately helpful: no spam filter is completely satisfactory, and most parental controls are either too tight or too easy for younger users to outfox.  The rest of the suite, though, is highly useful, and contains some notable improvements over past years’ offerings.

     The greatest enhancements are in the simplicity department.  The new Norton Protection Center uses non-technical language to summarize what a user needs to know about computer defense.  Security Inspector, also new, is a super-easy-to-use, automated way to find and fix security problems.  Norton AntiSpam now has an improved filter for automatically identifying phishing – the growing problem of attempts to divert Web users from legitimate sites to phony ones that extract personal data.  Home Page Hijacking Protection adds to safety by preventing a would-be hijacker from redirecting a user’s home page to a spyware site.  And, at last, the default setting for Norton Personal Firewall is “on,” so users unfamiliar with the technology are automatically protected by this important safety feature.

     All the parts here work well together, and everything can be updated at the same time – a big advantage of this suite over downloadable programs available free or at low cost via the Web, since those programs may or may not work well in concert and are sure to require multiple updates.  Note, though, that updates of Norton Internet Security 2006 are free for only 12 months – an ongoing design and marketing irritation.

     The most basic of all Internet protection components is an antivirus program, and the excellent Norton AntiVirus 2006 not only comes within the security suite but is also available on a standalone basis.  In reality, if you install antivirus software and nothing else, your computer remains at risk; also, if you do want just an antivirus program, there are some excellent free ones available, such as Grisoft’s AVG Anti-Virus.  But if you run an older Windows operating system, you would do well to pay for Norton AntiVirus 2006.  You can’t count on the ability of most new programs to handle virus protection under Windows 98 or Windows Me, but you can depend on Symantec’s product, which in effect grew up under those operating systems and handles them very well indeed.  Most users will do best with Norton Internet Security 2006, especially now that its use has been so well simplified.  But, at minimum, get Norton AntiVirus 2006 if you run an older version of Windows.

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