Another year, another version of Norton’s security suite, this time Norton 360 version 6.0 is up for review. First we’ll take a look at the application itself, then jump into its position in the world with an impeding Windows 8 which includes virus and malware protection.
Norton 360 v6.0 has a simple, easy to navigate main application window. The 4 orange buttons provide access to the most common tasks, making it simple to use for beginners. Those more advanced users who want to configure options can do so by accessing the Tasks, Settings and Performance menus at the top.
There is however additional UI elements you’ll see while using Norton 360. After downloading software from the internet, you’ll notice a popup window above the system tray that provides information on that file’s reputation. This reputation information allows you to decide if its safe to run that application or not.
Starting from the left, Norton begins with the typical PC Security applications like virus, spyware and firewall protection. With your files protected, your personal information is up next. After trusting your personal info to Norton, the app is designed to ensure that data never goes out without your consent, keeping your identity safe.
The next step in end-to-end protection is ensure those virus-free files are backed up. There’s a 2GB included with each copy, however 2GB won’t go far given today’s storage amounts. Admittedly this is designed for your most important files, not all your files like other online backup alternatives.
While you can purchase more storage, it is an expensive way to achieve online backup of your data. Microsoft, Google, Box, DropBox and many others have larger free storage available.
The fourth item in the interfaced PC Tuneup is an interesting inclusion. It’s hard to make the connection between Security and PC Maintenance, but Norton are trying. Each edition of Norton software needs to do more than the last to incentivize users to continue upgrading. PC maintenance is a big industry and if Norton can capture some users by adding the cleanup functionality, then they’re going to try.
Disk Optimization works very similar to Disk Defragmenter in Windows, placing the most commonly accessed files in the fastest part of the disk. File Cleanup works essentially the same as Disk Cleanup build into Windows. The Startup manager allows you to trim the list of apps that launch on Windows boot, the same as Windows Defender or Windows Live Essentials does. With every element of PC Tuneup already available for free to Windows users, its hard to see the real value add here.
One of the fears with security software (rightly so) is that it eats system resources like CPU cycles and RAM that could be otherwise allocated to the apps that you’re actually using. Security software is a background task that should keep you safe and let you get on with the business of computing.
Fortunately a few years ago Norton heard consumer calls that their software had become too bloated and resource hungry. As the programmers have been performance conscious, each subsequent version now performs well. Interrogating the task manager, Norton 360 is currently using 10MB of RAM, while a non-playing Spotify is using almost 78MB.
Available from the PC Security button, the Scans page contains an interesting scan option, Scan Facebook Wall. The idea here is that it scans the list of links that your contacts or pages have shared and checks them against a knowledge-base of malicious links. Personally I’m comfortable enough with Facebook’s own detection which already provides this functionality.
Price & Availability
Norton 360 v6.0 costs $99 for 1 year which covers up to 3 PCs. A 2 year license will set you back $219, but given there’s an annual release, this seems like an unlikely choice. The prices include 2GB of online storage for backup of your most important files. A link to purchase additional licenses is available right from inside the app.
As mentioned at the top of the post, Microsoft will controversially include Windows 8 virus and spyware protection out of the box. This leads to questions around the validity of paying for 3rd party security software if Windows 8’s security is available for free.
Symantec has published a white paper on the topic of security in Windows 8: http://www.symantec.com/content/en/us/enterprise/media/security_response/whitepapers/windows_8_security.pdf
Is including Microsoft’s own security solution for all Windows 8 users a territorial move to push security vendors like Symantec out of the market? This is most likely not the case. Microsoft learned that many users simply never installed security software on their Windows 7 machines. Even with a number of free security solutions (including MSE) available, close to a fourth of all Windows 7 machines were left unprotected. So Microsoft’s move to increase Defender’s scope was not an attempt to unseat traditional security vendors, but to protect those that would not even install a free security software package.
You might think, though, that with a more powerful Defender already built-in, users that might have bought a full-featured security solution such as Norton Internet Security will no longer bother. The fact is, though, that users have consistently chosen to pay for a higher level of performance and security, and with good reason. Analysis shows that Windows 8 Defender does not compare well in head-to-head, real-world protection tests against many third-party security software suites such as Norton Internet Security. Internal Symantec tests using Windows 8 developer preview builds from MSDN and those given out at this year’s BUILD conference show that early versions of Windows 8 Defender failed to block over 38 percent of threats, compared to Norton Internet Security blocking 100 percent of threats in a real-world test methodology. In the same tests, Defender’s performance in file copy tests—a pretty common operation—was more than 20 percent slower than Norton’s.
While the quality of Windows Defender may improve over time, the fact that it is included with the OS means that getting around it will be the first priority of the bad guys. Malware authors will make it a priority to elude Windows Defender. Once they have cracked that one security product, they will have millions of machines they can target with confidence of success.
Customers know that you get what you pay for. Free security software is nothing new. Building security software into the OS is nothing new, either. What Microsoft gets with this updated Defender is the assurance that customers who would not have installed security software before, will now at least have something basic protecting their machines. Customers who want complete high-performance protection will continue to turn to products like Norton Internet Security, Norton 360, or Symantec Endpoint Protection to secure their machines..
Despite Norton’s position on Windows 8, I believe all paid-for security vendors will struggle as we move to a future where security is provided for free. Like many other early adopters of Windows 8, I’ve been happily running Windows 8 on multiple machines using just the included security through the updated Windows Defender. After installing Norton 360 v6.0 I ran a full scan and didn’t find any security threats.
While this certainly isn’t evidence that in all situations and with all browsing habits that the outcome would be the same, as an educated online user, I’m comfortable in saving the cash and letting Microsoft do what they should have done years ago and provide free security against inevitable holes in their own software.
More information @ Norton Australia