December 28, 2006


Norton Internet Security 2007. Windows XP – eligible for free Windows Vista compatibility upgrade. Symantec. $69.99.

Own Your Space: Keep Yourself and Your Stuff Safe Online. By Linda McCarthy. Addison-Wesley/Symantec Press. $19.99.

     Don’t go into the new year without all the Internet protection you can marshal – that is the universal message from hardware and software manufacturers alike.  Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to online protection, so you have to pick and choose among available products – whose quality and prices vary considerably.  The most important thing to have is knowledge of what you’re doing online, what threats you face, and what methods are available to protect your computer and your data.

     There is no ideal Internet-protection method, but if you’re looking for something tried-and-true, whose multiple components work seamlessly together most (if not all) of the time, Norton Internet Security 2007 is an excellent choice.  There are four basic elements here: Norton AntiVirus, a well-respected and efficient protective program whose memory hunger has been somewhat tamed for 2007; Norton Personal Firewall, to help block attacks emanating from online sources; and Norton Antispyware and Norton Antiphishing, designed to stop malware downloads and to help prevent you from being taken in by a phony site that looks much like a real one.  Symantec has always done a better job of protection than explanation, and this year is no exception: the idea is “set it and forget it,” except when you have to update it (which usually occurs automatically) or troubleshoot it (which rarely occurs at all, but can be time-consuming if it becomes necessary).

     Symantec has done well this year at improving boot time and scan time while decreasing memory usage.  These are not things a user should have to worry about, but they affect how quickly your system starts and how speedily it goes about searching for and eliminating threats – so even if you lack technical knowledge, you should know that Norton Internet Security 2007 does its job as well as in prior years (if not better), and in less time.  Also important, whether you fully understand it or not, is improved rootkit protection, which guards against threats buried so deeply in Windows that many other programs cannot find them.  Symantec lets you install this security suite on up to three computers – a useful feature for home networks and small businesses, and a big improvement over some competing products, which permit only a single installation.  And you can monitor all functions from a single, centralized page – very helpful for users uninterested in delving into the depths of what Norton Internet Security 2007 is doing.  Can you get this protection for less money?  Certainly.  There’s a $20 rebate if you are upgrading from earlier versions or certain other products, and for even lower cost, there are absolutely free programs available online that do just about everything this suite does.  But you have to download, maintain and update each one separately, depend on yourself for most troubleshooting, and accept the possibility that one free program may not “like” another, so the two may interact in unpredictable ways and compromise your security.  Symantec’s component parts work together easily and well, and provide peace of mind that makes Norton Internet Security 2007 well worth the price for many computer users.

     What the suite does not do is explain in detail what it’s doing and why.  For that information – for a deeper understanding of what’s out there on the Internet and what you can do to surf safely – you can turn to Own Your Space.  Author Linda McCarthy is a security architect in the office of the chief technology officer at Symantec, and an expert at breaking into supposedly secure systems – to help programmers figure out how to protect them better.  Her book is targeted at teenagers and filled with rather unnecessary anime-style illustrations, but it’s valuable reading for anyone concerned about online protection – and it does not promote Symantec’s products, simply mentioning them in lists that also discuss competing products and free downloads.  McCarthy really knows her stuff, and after spending a few hours with this book – that’s the minimum time commitment you’ll need – you too will have a much better understanding of bad code, data grabbers, spam generation, phishing (including examples of amazingly realistic phony sites), and much more.  There are chapters on blogging, on understanding the difference between public and private postings (this should be especially useful for teenagers), on the pluses and minuses of wireless connectivity, and on ways to tweak and patch and update your system to keep it as safe as you can, as much of the time as possible.  A first read-through of this book may make the subject seem overwhelming for the non-technically inclined, but a second will show that while McCarthy has no choice but to discuss some technical elements (they are what will attack you and what you will use to defend yourself), she keeps her writing as simple as possible – without minimizing the underlying complexity of her subject.  No matter what form of Internet protection you choose to use, McCarthy’s book will help you understand why you need that protection – and what you’ll need to keep watching for even when you think you have plugged every possible hole in your system’s security.

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