by: Seth Rosenblatt on February 28, 2011
The bottom line: Norton 360 version 5 maintains the Norton brand's recent strong performance record and introduces some useful new features, bringing recent improvements to Norton Internet Security 2011 to the more expensive 360 while also improving the program's feature set. Symantec believes Norton is the premiere security product around, so don't be surprised at Norton 360's price tag.
Editors' note: Portions of this review are based on CNET's review for Norton Internet Security 2011.
Over the past few years, Symantec has completed a course reversal for its Norton consumer Internet security suites. The massive package of security tools works better than it ever has before, with an impressive set of features, some useful new tools including the free Power Eraser, and third-party security efficacy benchmarks that are nothing short of remarkable. Meanwhile, CNET Labs' performance benchmarks indicate that though Norton doesn't leave the smallest footprint on your system, users should see a minimal impact overall.
Version 5 of Norton 360 includes the real-time threat map that debuted in Norton's 2011 consumer suites, along with all the features that were introduced in Norton's 2011 consumer suites last fall. These include updates to Norton's Insight engine, which instantly checks a file's origins and how long it's existed to determine how safe it is. The new version of System Insight also profiles your programs to determine if any of them are slowing down system performance, and automatically alerts you when a program is eating up too many resources.
There's also the Norton Bootable Recovery Tool, which will clean heavily infected systems enough to get Norton 360 installed, and can create a rescue tool on disc or USB so that your computer can be resuscitated. The backup features in Norton 360 have been improved, too, adding in automatic file encryption to the backup process. Lastly, Norton Safe Web's social-media scanner has been imported from Norton Internet Security 2011. Currently, it still only supports Facebook, though that's a good start: it will check your Facebook wall and news feeds from within Norton. There's also a link in the threat map to Norton's new Cybercrime Index, a free online service which summarizes the real-time threatscape in a Body Mass Index-style number and provides a lot of threat-related data.
For the second year in a row, Norton's former sluggish beast now offers a smooth and fast installation operation. Once you run the installer, the program is ready to operate in about a minute--impressively fast, and doubly so considering past performance. The installation process is also the first time that you will interact with Quorum, Norton's behavior-based detection engine. You'll be asked to participate by sending anonymous data to Symantec's cloud. Opting out of the data submission, according to Symantec, will not affect your security.
Running the trial of Norton also requires registering the program. Like many programs, Norton used to force your default browser to open and take you to the company's registration Web site. One of the new features in Norton 360 v5 is that the program comes with a Web interface for your desktop. You first encounter this when registering, but it pops up in regular program usage as well, so you don't need to open your browser to manage certain Web-based features. Uninstalling the software left about 10 Registry entries behind, but no other traces were detectable. Overall, Norton's installation experience was fast and hassle-free, with a minimum of configuration options, which all appeared necessary.
Norton 360 contains some changes to its interface, although the design is heavily reminiscent of the previous version. It keeps the dark theme, punctuated by yellow text, but moves the large graphic security status indicator from the main interface window up to the taskbar and system tray icons. As long as you don't mind the lack of empty space in the interface, it works quite well.
Security controls have been condensed into three sections in the main window: computer protection, network protection, and Web protection. To the right of each category is a series of controls, which by default are all active. Click on one, and its gold indicator moves to the right and changes color to red to show that it's been deactivated. A window then pops up, asking for how long you'd like to deactivate the service. This cleverly resembles Windows 7's "postpone reboot" option for system updates, so even novice users should find it recognizable. Click on the name of a control, such as Antivirus, and a pop-up appears summarizing what the feature does.
Below each category are several controls specific to that area of protection. So, under computer protection there are text buttons for instantly initiating a scan, for forcing a virus database update, for accessing your History or Quarantine, and for viewing Application Ratings.
At the bottom of the interface is a wide, short map of the world covered with blinking yellow dots. Each one, according to Symantec, represents a threat to one of its users that has been successfully blocked. The visual is cute but completely irrelevant to your personal safety. More interesting is that below the map there are a series of mobile-app-style buttons. From there you can access Norton Online Family, Norton Online Backup, and Norton Safe Web without having to jump into your browser.
Features and support
There aren't many new features in Norton 360, or even new major features. What's changed is how Norton presents its features--across the board the program is easier to navigate--and how the features operate.
The reputation-based security checks where your programs were installed from and when they were installed, and compares that data against the 58 million users participating in the crowdsourced Norton Community Watch to see if any of your programs should be red-flagged. Norton's System Insight component has been bumped up to version 2.0, which is the proprietary internal network that warns you when your programs unnecessarily hog system resources. This gives some extra heft to the system performance map, where you can click on any spike and see what caused it.
The second iteration of Download Insight applies the same reputation-based logic to new downloads, and the third version of Norton SONAR (Symantec Online Network for Automatic Response) looks for suspicious software behavior and automatically chooses protective actions. You can toggle how aggressive SONAR is in the Settings window.
Along with the quick scan, full system scan, and custom scan for viruses and malware, you can now have Norton scan your Facebook wall for malicious links. There are also on-demand reputation-based quick scans, full scans, and custom scans for those who want Norton to immediately scan their installed programs. After completing a scan, Norton provides you with a summary report. More detailed information, including scan duration and a deeper dive into threats discovered, can be read under the History option from the main window. There's also a link you can follow in case you believe that Norton missed something in its scan, although as reputation-based protection matures, on-demand scanning is becoming less necessary when compared with the "always-on" protection offered here.
The bootable recovery tool isn't new, but it now comes with a feature that automatically creates a CD-, DVD-, or USB-based bootable device. The USB component is especially important on systems that don't have optical drives, such as Netbooks.
Norton continues to dabble in free security offerings, including the Norton Online Family parental controls, the "lite" version of Norton Safe Web, and the new Norton Power Eraser. Power Eraser is a tool that will aggressively clean your computer of fake antivirus programs and other malware that prevents legitimate security tools from being installed.
What separates Norton 360 from Norton Internet Security 2011 are the backup/restore tools and the PC tuneup tools. The backup and restore features create automatic backups, and the suite comes with 2GB of free storage at the $79.99 level. Buying the $99.99 version bumps you up to 25GB of online storage, which compares nicely against Mozy's new limited plans, but doesn't look good against Carbonite, which still offered unlimited plans at the time this review was written. The feature also includes sharing files via links, like YouSendIt.
The tune-up options are fairly boilerplate, although they do work well. You get hard-drive cleaning, Registry cleaning, Windows start-up tweaks, and on-the-fly RAM management.
As with the rest of the program, the support options have been streamlined behind a drop-down menu in the top right of the interface. Help opens local support, Tutorials takes you to a Web site with extensive how-tos, and the Get Support link accesses the breadth of Norton's customer support in a new window. Here, you can chat with tech support 24-7, explore the user manual, and check out the Norton FAQ and knowledge base. Phone support is also available, although Symantec takes part in the trend of making phone support harder to access by funneling users to online resources.
Norton's fast installation and comprehensive feature set would be useless without solid performance. While Norton 360 delivers high third-party efficacy benchmarks and strong performance benchmarks, it appears to be a touch slower in the area of computer performance than Norton Internet Security 2011.
In a real-world test, Norton 2011 completed a Quick Scan in 47 seconds; the Full Scan took 1 hour 47 minutes and 13 seconds. Norton 360 (N360) v5 actually finished its Quick Scan slightly faster, in 45 seconds, while the full scan took about 1 hour and 50 minutes. That these times are so close indicates that the engines that power the programs are practically identical. CNET Labs' benchmarks found both Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2011 and Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011 to have performed well, although not as strongly as some of their competitors. NIS 2011 slowed down the Labs' computer boot time by about 6.5 seconds, N360 added about 7.5 seconds, whereas NAV 2011 added a shocking 12.5 seconds.
However, all three had a very small impact on the computer's shutdown time, with shutdown times between .5 second and 2.5 seconds slower. Scan times for both were reasonably fast in the Labs, although N360 took about 20 seconds longer than its siblings. In our other tests, N360 was a touch slower in the iTunes decoding test; significantly faster in the media multitasking test; somewhat faster in the Cinebench test; and somewhat slower in the MS Office performance test. Overall, that leaves us with a decidedly mixed set of results, although all the of the results were above average.
In independent threat detection and removal tests, Norton is a top performer. Dennis Technology Labs, a member of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO), found in January 2011 that Norton 360/Internet Security 2011 defended users against all 50 out of 50 threats sent to defeat it, the top result in the Dennis "Overall Accuracy" test.
AV-Test.org found that in a test on Windows 7 from the second quarter of 2010, Norton Internet Security 2010 scored 16 out of 18, with a 5.5 out of 6 rating in Protection and Usability, and a 5 out of 6 rating in Repair. In a third-quarter 2010 test on a Windows XP computer, Norton Internet Security 2010 and 2011 notched a 16 out of 18, with a 5 in Protection, and a 5.5 in Repair and Usability. The fourth-quarter test of Norton Internet Security 2011 on Windows Vista saw a 15.5 out of 18, with a 5 in Protection and Usability, and a 5.5 in Repair. Norton's scores were consistently at or near the top of AV-Test's results.
|Security program||Boot time||Shutdown time||Scan time||MS Office performance||iTunes decoding||Media multitasking||Cinebench|
|Norton AntiVirus 2011||55||13.6||892||1,045||198||948||4,780|
|Norton Internet Security 2011||48.91||11.78||890||1,028||199||861||4,780|
|Norton 360 v5||49.80||12.10||908||1,066||202||716||4,789|
*All tests measures in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better.
The most recent AV-Comparatives.org tests indicate a very strong 2010 for Norton. Norton earned an Advanced+ rating, the highest that AV-Comparatives awards, for its dynamic test conducted monthly between August and November 2010. Only Kaspersky, F-Secure, and Avira shared that ranking. Norton also earned Advanced+ for all but one of AV Comparatives 2010 tests.
It's clear that following the path blazed by Norton 2009 and 2010, Symantec continues to build a strong performance record based on excellent detection, fast scan times, and low numbers of false positives.
Symantec positions Norton 360 as one of the best paid-license security suites available. The tighter integration of behavioral detection, the easier access to Web-based premium features, and the impressive benchmarks make it a comprehensive, robust security option that users can put their trust in, although there's way too much firepower here for a single-computer environment.
What's new in this version:
- Improved performance
- Improved protection
- Easier and faster backups
- Safe Web Scanner checks your Facebook Wall and News Feed for bad links and other threats right from your Norton Control Center.
- Exclusive Norton Insight Technology protects you from download dangers no matter which browser, instant messenger or file sharing program you use.
- Norton Recovery Tools can help when PCs become infected with difficult to remove "scareware" program... See all new features »