As Windows goes touch, Norton goes social

Symantec responds to the Windows 8 gauntlet with new features in Norton designed to plug holes that Microsoft has left unattended.

Norton 2013's new interface, optimized for Windows 8.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Symantec's annual Norton security suite delivers an interface optimized for Windows 8, but its new features address the mobile and social implications of the era arriving with the new operating system at the end of October.

The new features in Norton Anti-Virus 2013 (download), Norton Internet Security 2013 (download), and Norton 360 2013 (download), aim squarely to cut down on social engineering threats like scams and phishing attacks.

Windows 8 is already gaining a reputation as the safest version of Windows to date, but this doesn't surprise Gerry Egan, Norton's senior product manager. "Each time Microsoft updates Windows, it has raised the bar on security features," he said, but added, "We don't see anything obvious in Windows 8 that decreases the attack surface. Out of the starting gate, we're not seeing a lot in terms of the impact of the changes made to make it more secure."

Symantec's efforts, he said, have been focused on reducing the ways that the bad guys can get to you. The new Scam Insight takes browsing data from Norton's Insight network of anonymous user-contributed data to warn the Norton community when a Web site is potentially risky. Sites that are new or do not have an established reputation will be flagged. It can be overridden, but it's also a good way to help judge when a site that looks like your bank's site actually isn't.

Norton 2013's apps for Windows 8.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The Insight network now tracks IP addresses, too, for determining when a new threat is coming from a repeated source.

Improvements made to the Norton Intrusion Prevention System (just don't think of it as an acronym) and the Norton Safe Web for Facebook app keep an eye out for threats such as likejacking and posts with links to malicious sites.

"We think that social engineering is a bigger way for malware to get on the system. If you can somehow con the user to do something they wouldn't normally do, then the malware can get in," said Egan.

Norton 2013 also integrates with Windows 8's ELAM, the Early Launch of Anti-Malware hook that allows security software to boot earlier than on Windows 7. This prevents certain kinds of rootkits from infecting your computer. Also for Windows 8, there's a new memory heap manager to minimize the vulnerability to memory exploits.

That said, Egan pointed out that the ELAM is not a panacea. "There's a danger that it might not help that much. It could be very aggressive, or it won't move the needle a whole lot," because the security software won't have loaded its full database of signatures. "If the malicious drivers its supposed to stop are using polymorphic techniques, [ELAM] won't be much good."

Third-party testing over the past few years has consistently placed Norton at or near the top of the efficacy charts. One test by AV-Test.org found Norton 2013 to be 100 percent effective at stopping threats missed by Windows 8's Windows Defender. Passmark found Norton 2013 to make Windows 8 50 percent faster.

It's true that Norton's impact on your system benchmarks have improved from its mid-2000s nadir, but it still takes a noticeable toll, according to CNET Labs. On a Windows 7 computer, it added more than 40 seconds to boot and almost 10 seconds to shutdown. Tests to determine how Norton affected the system while other heavy-duty programs were running found it to have a much gentler touch. If you don't mind the hit at startup, Norton could be an excellent security choice.

Norton AntiVirus 2013 provides 12 months of protection on one computer for $39.99. Norton Internet Security will cover three computers for a year, for $79.99, and Norton 360 offers the same deal as Norton Internet Security, with more features, for $89.99.

CNET's full review of Norton 2013 will be available later today.

Correction: This story originally transposed the Passmark and AV-Test.org test results.

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