- Review Date: 02/16/2012
- Bottom line:
Norton 360 Version 6.0 gives you all the same protective features as Norton Internet Security 2012, with a friendlier face. You also get flexible backup, including 2GB of online storage. Tuneup features are also useful, especially the diagnostic report. This full-featured suite is definitely a good choice.
Remote Management. Self-healing. Very good antivirus. Intelligent firewall. Accurate antispam. Excellent antiphishing. Password management and form-filling now portable, Web-accessible. 2GB online backup; local backup too. Useful tuneup features.
Premier parental control features cost extra.
New versions of Norton Antivirus and Norton Internet Security appear in the fall each year, along with the majority of antivirus and security suite tools. Not so Norton 360. The latest version, Norton 360 Version 6.0 ($89.99/year direct for three licenses), is just out now. On the one hand, this offset schedule means that Norton 360 users sometimes have to wait a few months for features already present in the suite and antivirus. On the other hand, Symantec gets an opportunity to release even newer features without waiting a whole year.
The most obvious difference between Norton 360 and Norton Internet Security is the user interface. Symantec has made it clear that Norton 360 is aimed at the average user who just wants protection while Norton Internet Security lets expert users dig deeper. In truth, these days they're not so very different. If the added backup and tuneup features found in Norton 360 appeal to you, choose it over Norton Internet Security.
Malware can easily interfere with security installations that rely on the standard Windows installer. Like other Norton products, Norton 360 uses Symantec's "self-healing" installer. It can take steps to counter malware that tries to block installation. Once installed, if something goes wrong with the product it sends a coded message to Symantec central and, in most cases, gets back a script that will fix the problem automatically.
I've had occasions to see this feature in action. On one test system, the installer ran a quick virus scan, requested a reboot, and proceeded without incident. Another sent an error query and apparently received a fix.
Collin Davis, Senior Director of Engineering for Symantec, called this automated system "an opportunity to delight customers." Because so many routine little problems are handled automatically, said Davis, support agents have more time to spend with customers whose problems go beyond the usual.
Norton Management, introduced with the 2012 Norton products, expands on the existing Norton Account concept to allow management of all your protected computers online. With the latest release Norton 360 now connects to Norton Management as well.
From the Norton Management console you can manage licenses for all your Norton products including Norton Internet Security, Norton AntiVirus, Norton Anti-Theft, and Norton Mobile Security. You can update licenses with new keys, uninstall products remotely (so as to re-use the key), and even correct configuration problems remotely.
The features offered by Norton Management are similar to the online management portion of McAfee All Access ($99.95 direct for licenses, 4.5 stars), except that you purchase your licenses separately.
Norton's firewall does everything a firewall should, and then some. It stealths all ports, making the PC invisible from outside the local network. My attempts to disable its protection in ways a malware coder might manage had no effect. And its control over internet access permissions for programs on your system is more intelligent than most.
Aggregated information from the millions of Norton users feeds into the Norton Insight database. The firewall automatically configures permissions for hundreds of millions of known good files, and the suite automatically terminates known bad files. When the firewall encounters an unknown program attempting Internet access, it applies extra behavioral scrutiny and smacks down the program if it tries anything nasty.
I very much approve of security tools that take responsibility for their own decisions. Asking the user whether to allow or deny a particular network connection just doesn't make sense.
As usual, I found that Norton ignores most leak tests. These demonstration programs attempt to connect with the Internet without being caught by program control, but since they're not actually harmful Norton leaves them alone. I did notice that the SONAR behavior-tracking technology silently whacked one of the leak tests when it made its connection attempt.
Norton is also extremely effective at identifying and blocking Web-based attacks on potential system vulnerabilities. I attacked a test system with 30 exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration tool. After the first attack, Norton put the penetration-testing system's IP address on a blacklist; I had to turn off intrusion auto-blocking in order to complete the test. Norton blocked every single exploit and identified most of them by name.
The online Norton Insight database helps this suite's firewall identify known good programs. It also comes into play when you download files—a file that might be trouble gets flagged. If you wish, you can actively scan all the programs on your system and see what Norton Insight thinks of them.
For each application, Norton reports a trust level, prevalence (number of users) and whether it's a resource hog. New in this edition is a stability rating. Systems whose owners have opted in to Norton Community Watch send a notification any time a program crashes. Aggregating these crash reports the database assigns each program a stability rating.
Effective Malware Cleanup
Norton 360's malware cleanup component is the same as that of Norton Internet Security 2012 ($69.99 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars) and Norton AntiVirus 2012 ($39.99 direct, 4.5 stars). However, it's had a few months to evolve since earlier testing, so Norton 360 scored better than the other two.
Norton 360 detected 88 percent of malware threats on my infested test systems. That's not the highest detection rate. Comodo Internet Security Pro 2012 ($4.99/year direct, 4 stars) exhibited the highest detection rate, with 97 percent, and Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete ($79.95 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars) detected 94 percent.
However, Norton 360 did a very good job of cleaning up the threats it found, which earned it an overall malware removal score of 7.4 points. Comodo came close, with 7.3 points. Norton Internet Security, tested several months ago, scored 7.1.
Norton 360 detected 100 percent of the threats that use rootkit technology, as did quite a few of the competition. It shares the top rootkit removal score of 8.9 points with Norton Internet Security. Here again Comodo came in next, with 8.6 points.
Almost all of the current products detected 100 percent of my scareware (fake antivirus) samples, but only the two Norton products removed them completely, scoring a perfect 10 points. To review just how I perform the malware removal test and derive these scores, see How We Test Malware Removal.
Good Malware Blocking, Too
Detection rates in my malware blocking test are generally higher than in the malware removal test. Webroot and Comodo detected all of the threats, and quite a few products detected 94 percent. Norton Internet Security detected 91 percent, as did Norton Internet Security. In fact, the two Norton products achieved exactly the same score in the blocking tests.
Webroot scored a perfect 10, completely blocking every threat. Comodo scored 9.1 points, but I had to downgrade it a bit in the overall score due to significant false positives. Norton's 8.9 point score is quite respectable, and it scored a perfect 10 against both rootkit and scareware samples. The article How We Test Malware Blocking explains how I test and rate malware blocking.
Good Lab Results
Norton's antivirus technology gets generally good marks from the independent labs. However, Symantec has reservations about certain specific tests. A product can detect every single threat in Virus Bulletin's VB100 test but fail if it identifies a single valid file as malicious. Symantec would like to see false positive testing weighted, as they claim their Norton Insight technology should ensure no false positives for any important files.
In a similar vein, they don't approve of the retrospective test by AV-Comparatives, which attempts to test a product's ability to catch zero-day threats by forcing it to use outdated malware definitions. They're not alone: AVG, K7, McAfee, PC Tools, Sophos, Symantec, Trend Micro, and Webroot all opted out of the latest retrospective test.
Norton took the top rating in the whole product dynamic test by AV-Comparatives, and also scored well in certification tests by AV-Test. Its scores are decent, but Kaspersky in particular scored higher, receiving "Product of the Year" recognition from AV-Comparatives and "Best Repair Award 2011" from AV-Test. For more background on the independent labs, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.
Straightforward Spam Filtering
Norton 360's spam filter automatically integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. If you use Thunderbird or another email client you'll need to define a message rule to sort out spam messages. Right out of the box, with no configuration tweaking or training, it did a very good job distinguishing spam from valid mail.
The process of downloading over 7,000 real-world messages wasn't slowed appreciably by the spam filter. Norton 360 didn't erroneously throw away any newsletters or valid bulk mail, and only identified 0.1 percent of valid personal mail as spam. As for undeniable spam, only 6.1 percent got past the filter. These figures are impressively close to those of Norton Internet Security 2012, considering that the actual email messages were completely different.
GFI VIPRE Internet Security 2012 ($49.95 direct, 3 stars) only missed 4.1 percent of spam, and Norman Security Suite PRO 9 ($75.95 direct for three licenses, 2 stars) was the runaway winner for antispam accuracy among suites. With 0.9 percent of personal mail blocked and 2.1 percent of spam missed, it compared favorably with the all-time winner Cloudmark DesktopOne Basic 1.2 (free, 5 stars). Cloudmark didn't block any valid mail at all, but it missed 2.6 percent of the spam.
For information on how I analyze antispam accuracy, read How We Test Antispam.
Blocking Known and Unknown Frauds
Phishing websites try to steal your money or your secrets by pretending to be your bank, PayPal, or another site that requires security. Type your username and password into one of these fakes and you've given the fraudsters access to your account.
I use Norton's antiphishing technology as a touchstone to measure the success of other products. Like many, it will block phishing sites by consulting a database of known frauds. However, it can also identify phishing sties too new for categorization by examining the page's code. The only current product that's beaten Norton at phishing protection is Bitdefender Total Security 2012 ($79.95 direct for three licenses, 4 stars).
Typically in testing I run three browsers, one protected by Norton, one by the product in testing, and one by Internet Explorer 8. Rather than try to put Norton against itself I simply declared its "difference from Norton" score to be zero. For the "difference from IE8" score I took an average from all the other tests. For a full explanation of the way I normally test phishing protection, see the article How We Test Antiphishing.
For some years both Norton 360 and Norton Internet Security have offered a powerful password management and form-filling component called Identity Safe. Identity Safe notices when you log in to a secure site and offers to save your login credentials. Next time you visit that site, it can fill in the username and password automatically. Better yet, your saved logins act as "smart bookmarks" that will navigate to the site and log in.
By defining one or more "identity cards" you can prepare Identity Safe to automatically fill Web forms with personal data, contact information, and credit card details. Given that Identity Safe holds this sensitive information as well as all your passwords, you'll naturally want to protect it all with a very strong master password.
New in this edition, you can store your Identity Safe data online and share it between multiple computers equipped with Norton 360 or Norton Internet Security. Your online account is doubly protected by the fact that you must first log in to your Norton Account and then enter the Identity Safe password.
Here's another new and handy feature. From any Web-equipped computer you can log in to your Identity Safe data online. Clicking a saved login navigates and logs in to the site. Clicking an identity card lets you copy and paste the saved details. You can't save new logins in this mode, though.
With its new-found portability Identity Safe approaches the convenience of LastPass 1.72 (free, 5 stars) or RoboForm Everywhere 7 ($19.95 direct, 4.5 stars), though it doesn't have all the advanced features of these dedicated password managers.
Norton Online Family
Anybody can create a free Norton Online Family account and use it for parental control. If you don't already have an account, clicking an icon will gets you started. If you do have an account, clicking that same icon will put a scrolling feed of alerts across the bottom of the Norton 360 window.
Norton Online Family is completely Web-based. All of the rules and settings are stored with your Norton account. A tiny client program enforces the house rules on computers the kids use. It can block inappropriate websites, record searches and sites visited, manage instant messaging contacts, and track social networking activity. You can also use it to define a weekly schedule of times when computer use is allowed, with an optional daily time-limit.
What you get with the suite is the free edition, which frequently suggest that you upgrade to Norton Online Family Premier ($49.99/year direct, 4 stars). The premier edition adds monitoring of videos watched and applications used, a summary of time spent on the computer, and weekly or monthly emailed reports. It also stored 90 days of activity data, where the free edition stores just seven days. And if your kids use Android smartphones, you can tie in mobile parental control.
My own thought is that if you're going to pay extra for parental control you should go for Editors' Choice AVG Family Safety ($19.95 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars). Like Norton Online Family it's Web-based, and it offers a wider range of features. Not only that, it's cheaper, even with Norton's current $29.99/year promotional price.
With your Norton 360 subscription you get 2GB of hosted online storage for backups, but it can also store backed-up data on local drives, network drives, or removable media. Creating a backup set is a simple matter of defining what to back up, where to store it, and when to perform the task. If you just accept the defaults, Norton will back up a variety of common file types to secure online storage and do the job during the computer's idle time.
With this edition, Symantec streamlined and clarified the way the backup process reports its progress. This is especially important during the big initial backup. After the first time only changed files get backed up, so the process is much quicker.
You can restore backed-up files to your base PC or access them from anywhere through your Norton account. In addition, after logging in to the backup set online you can email a link to any backed-up file. This can be handy for sharing large files.
If you find that you've filled up your 2GB of storage, you can buy more via your Norton Account. Those who know in advance that they'll want a big hunk of online storage can opt for the Premier edition, which costs $99.99 and comes with 25GB.
Norton 360's collection of tuneup features further distinguish it from the straight Norton Internet Security suite. By default Norton 360 runs enabled tuneup tasks during idle time. These include disk optimization (defragging) and removal of unneeded Windows and Internet Explorer temporary files. You can add cleanup of Internet Explorer history and of broken Registry entries to the automated schedule, or run these tasks on demand.
Also included in the tuneup collection is a full-featured startup manager. This tool lists all programs that launch automatically at startup and reports prevalence and resource usage data for each. You can turn off automatic launch of any program, or set it for delayed start to avoid a traffic jam at boot time.
The Diagnostic Report checks your computer's status in many areas, among them the operating system, hardware profile, and network connectivity. It offers help with fixing any found problems. By default full details are hidden, but you can dig in to view any category. By opening the report in your browser you gain the option to print it or save a copy for review.
With its wealth of features, you might expect Norton 360 would use a wealth of system resources. Symantec reports otherwise, stating that this edition impacts real-time activities even less than the previous. My own tests, however, using techniques similar to Symantec's own, seemed to indicate a somewhat larger impact than last time around.
My boot time test measures the time elapsed between the beginning of the boot process (as reported by Windows) and full readiness, defined as ten seconds in a row with CPU usage five percent or less. Years ago when creating the boot-timing script I actually got some syntax help from a Symantec engineer; they use a very similar test. The average of one hundred tests with Norton 360 installed was 13 percent longer than the average with no suite installed.
That's a little more boot slowdown than the average suite, but still not bad. The odd thing is, my test of the previous edition showed no appreciable slowdown. Several recent products including Webroot and Comodo didn't slow down the boot process measurably.
Ascript that measures the time to fully load 100 websites took 17 percent longer under Norton 360. That's well below the average of 24 percent, but once again my test of the previous edition measured no slowdown at all. The file move/copy script and file zip/unzip script took 4 percent and 7 percent longer with Norton 360 installed, both under half the average slowdown for those tests.
For details on how I measure security suite performance see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.
I can't say for sure why version 6 seemed to have a greater performance impact than version 5 in my tests. The most likely explanation is a calibration problem in the earlier test. In any case, there's nothing in these results to suggest you'd ever notice an impact on system performance. Indeed, Symantec rated tops for performance in a test last year by AV-Comparatives.
With Norton 360 Version 6.0 you get the same security protection found in Norton Internet Security 2012, but with a somewhat friendlier face, and with added backup and tuneup features. Both are worthy of the Editor's Choice designation; which you choose depends on your style and your needs.
On the other hand, if both of the Norton products seem like more than you want, in particular if you don't need or want antispam and parental control, you might choose the tiny, lightweight Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete, also an Editors' Choice.