on 21 March 2010
I have always maintained that the most important piece of software you will ever buy will be a virus checker. Now, in these days where computers are pretty much connected to the internet all the time they switched on, a virus checker simply isn't enough. Firewalls and identity protection are now just as important. All these utilities are available as stand alone products but for piece of mind, I believe all products of this nature should come from one source to minimize the chances of conflict between them.
All in one security suites are now extremely common with offerings from companies such as McAfee, Kaspersky and Bullguard all vying for your hard earned cash. Having used all of these in the past, I have to say I have issues with them all in terms of slowing down the performance of the system and behaving in an erratic manner. For this reason, for the past 8 years, I have always decided to go for the Symantec solution, or to use its more common name, Norton. Norton's latest security suite, 360 came bundled with my daughters laptop and has it had a 3 user licence, I decided to upgrade from my earlier version. This version provided support and protection for 1 year with the opportunity of buying a further year's support after this had expired.
To install Norton 360, you need to place the CD into your CD drive and allow the autorun to begin. If you already have any antivirus software or a security suite installed, Norton will ask you for permission to uninstall this before it begins its own setup. It is recommended that you accept this request but I would also recommend disconnecting from the internet at the same time as for a few minutes, you will have no protection from any threats which might be lurking in cyberspace.
Once your previous solution has been removed, Norton will happily install with the only user interaction being the need to enter the 25 character product key which can be found on the inside of the box. Once the installation has completed, your computer will reboot and the latest updates will be downloaded and applied. This can take upto 20 minutes the first time but subsequent updates are done without the user even knowing meaning that your computer is automatically protected to the highest degree as soon as a new update is available.
===Norton 360 Interface===
The Norton 360 interface is something in all honesty, you don't want to become too familiar with. The product is designed to run seamlessly in the background and the only time you need to use the interface is when you want to tweak a setting or if you have a security breech.
The interface is split into four sections, namely Security, Identity Protection, Backup, and PC Tuneup. Hovering the mouse over each of these sections gives additional menu items which allow for simple navigation through the system.
There are also two other pieces of key information on the menu. In the bottom left hand corner, you are able to see the last time the virus definitions were updated. This information is vitally important as if this is reporting its been a few days since the last update, you need to act as typically this updates every few minutes, ensuring you are always up to date. In the bottom right hand corner, you can see how many days of your subscription remain. It is important to renew this subscription before it expires to ensure that you have unbroken protection.
The security section in Norton 360 is without doubt the most important section and you should spend a bit of time in this section immediately after set up so that you know exactly what virus protection you have and how your firewall is configured as there will be traffic that you need to allow through but at the same time, you don't want gaping holes in your defence.
Antivirus software has always been Norton's flagship product. Going back to the 1990's Norton has always been leading the way in combating the most common threats to modern computing. As virus software has become more intelligent in detecting and distinguishing threats, virus writers are constantly changing their methods to try and stay one step ahead of the game. This is why it is imperative to ensure you are running the very latest version of your virus software. Norton 360 scans for viruses each time a files is read by your computer system, you will never know this is happening unless Norton discovers an issue and will then bring this to your attention. You will then have several options available to you, namely, quarantine the file (isolate it away from your normal working files until you are able to establish its use), delete it (this is normally the preferred response if you are not familiar with the file) or ignore it (this is the most dangerous response if you don't recognise the file).
Along with the on-access scanning, Norton will let you schedule or run on demand system scans. There are three types of scan available to you :-
Quick scan - This type of scan will only scan the files and areas of your hard disk where viruses normally attack (such as the Windows directory). This scan only takes a matter of minutes and in my opinion is worth running at least once a week, just for peace of mind.
Comprehensive scan - This scan will check every single file on your PC and can literally take hours to run. I would only recommend running this type of scan if you suspect your security has been compromised in any way. If you do need to run this scan, I wouldn't attempt to use the computer at the same time otherwise you will slow the scan down even more. I would go and do something else but keep revisiting the computer every quarter of an hour or so to check on progress and see if anything sinister has been found.
If you are unsure when you last did a full system scan, Norton offers you some comprehensive reports which will detail when it ran, how long it took, how many files were scanned and how many threats were foumd.
A feature I like about the antivirus software in Norton 360 is that if you leave your machine idle (unattended for a short while), a quick system scan will take place. As someone who doesn't like to schedule a scan at a particular time, I find this feature really helps me as I quite often leave my PC on whilst going to do other things. By the time I return to my PC, Norton would have finished its scan and would report any results back to me if there were issues.
As well as checking files on your desktop, antivirus also checks incoming and outgoing mail and attachments for viruses. This works with any windows based mail client such as Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express.
With computer hacking on the increase, a good firewall is imperative to keep intruders out. I find the Norton 360 firewall to be very intelligent. By default, all ports on your computer that are typically used by hackers are locked shut by the software. If you require any of these to be opened, you can do this easily.
When you install a new piece of software, the first time you use it, the 360 firewall creates its own set of rules for this particular application. If you do not wish an application to venture out onto the net, you can prohibit it with a few clicks of the mouse button. As well as creating application rules, you can also create traffic rules. What this means in general terms is that, you have full control over what ports can receive traffic and what ports can send traffic. In my experience, I have found I can leave these settings to Norton 360 itself as you would only need to evaluate these if you were under attack and you needed to tighten up your security.
As previously mentioned, new viruses and intrusion methods are being discovered all the time. With this in mind, it is imperative to always have the latest protection installed. This is where Liveupdate comes in. Liveupdate is constantly polling the Norton servers to see if there are any new virus definitions for it to download. If there are, these are installed in the background and you can carry on working quite happily whilst this is happening.
Liveupdate can also be run manually although, if you have the automatic updates switched on, there is not really any need to do this. I am perfectly happy with the job that Liveupdate does. Although this appears to be constantly in contact with the Norton servers, there is no impact on system performance whatsoever and you won't even know it is running as it is that light on resources.
Norton Insight increases computer performance by identifying trusted files which do not need scanning. You can fully monitor which of your files are set to trusted and unmark them if you would prefer them to be scanned each time they are accessed. Norton uses its own library to classify many of the main system files meaning that human involvement here is very small. My advice would be to leave this section well alone and let the software manage itself.
As well as making sure your computer is safe to use, Norton 360 also allows you to manage your identity in a safe and secure manner. With Norton Safeweb, every website you visit is checked to make sure it is safe before you enter it. If a site is marked as unsafe, Norton will give you a warning and also give a reason why the site is unsafe. It is then your own decision as to whether you choose to access this page or not. In my experience, I have only ever attempted to go to one site that was deemed unsafe. I actually took Norton's advice and decided not to proceed with visiting the site in question.
Almost everyone reading this review would have received an email at some time pretending to be from a bank asking you to supply your account details for validation purposes. We all know these emails are fakes but there could be an occasion where you mistakenly click on one of these or get directed to a bogus site by some other means. Norton 360 can work with your browser to detect these fraudulent sites and prevent you from supplying the information they are trying to steal from you. As yet, I am still to visit one of these types of sites but it is nice to know that I have got some kind of protection should I find myself in the darker site of the net.
One of my favourite features in Norton 360 is Identitysafe. Identitysafe allows me to keep all my personal details and passwords in one safe place. What this means is that once I have logged into Identitysafe, I no longer need to fill in personal forms on websites or remember any password for any site. The identitysafe system does all this for me. All I need to remember is the Identitysafe password. What this means is that I don't need to keep a manual or electronic list of all my passwords as now, all I need to remember is one. It also means that if you are the victim of an attack, then keystroke sniffers (a program that monitors your keystrokes and sends them to a third party) will not be able to detect what your usernames and passwords are as you will no longer be typing them in. All of this information is fully configurable and as soon as you log out of Identitysafe, your information is secure again and another user will not have access to your personal details without supplying the password again.
As your data is precious, it is really important to back up often. Most people however, will not have the facility or spare disk drives to back up their information to. When you buy Norton 360, you are given 2Gb of free online data storage where you can upload your backups to. This storage is secure and nobody else will be able to access it. If 2Gb is not enough for you then you can buy extra space. Personally, I prefer not to use this functionality as I have an external disk on which I backup to. Although the online storage is secure, I like to know exactly where my data is. If you do not wish to use the online backups, they can be turned off with the click of a button.
I have heard a lot of people who simply do not get on with Norton products. As I mentioned earlier, I have never had any problems at all in the 8 years I have used them. I find Norton 360 to be an excellent product. It just goes about its job with the minimum of fuss and most of the time I even forget it is actually there due to its efficient running. The antivirus, firewall and Identitysafe features are the ones that I use the most and I have full confidence in what they do which leaves me to use my computer with very little worry about being a cybercrime victim. It is imperative that you have some kind of virus and firewall protection. If you are currently reading this without any protection or are thinking about a change, I would wholeheartedly recommend Norton 360 to you.