Norton 360 (2014) review

Norton 360 (2014) takes all the protective power that's packed into Norton Internet Security (2014) and adds a comprehensive local/online backup system plus a collection of effective performance tuneup tools. It's an Editors' Choice security mega-suite.
Photo of Norton 360 (2014)

Most security companies offer an entry-level antivirus program along with a more comprehensive security suite. Quite a few add what I call a “mega-suite” to the product line, with all of the suite’s components plus bonus features like backup, system tuneup, and more. Norton 360 (2014) is Symantec’s entry in this field, and it’s a top-notch product. Note that “(2014)” isn’t actually part of the name; Symantec dropped version and year numbers last year.

Norton Internet Security (2014) uses a predominantly grey background, while Norton 360′s background is mostly white. Four large buttons represent four major product areas. Behind the security button you’ll find all of Norton Internet Security’s features. The Identity button relates to Norton’s Identity Safe password manager tool. Backup and Tuneup round out the collection; these two are the major features that distinguish Norton 360 from Symantec’s other suite.

The user interface as a whole is different from that of Norton Internet Security. You’ll find a different layout on the Settings page, for one thing. A bank of checkboxes lets you toggle often-used features; you can click links to dig in for more fine-grained configuration. The new Tasks pane offers easy access to common tasks like launching a scan, running a backup, or invoking one of the tuneup tools.

Multi-Layered AntiVirus
In addition to its core antivirus protection, Norton AntiVirus (2014) offers phishing protection, password management, and other useful security features. Do please read my review of the entry-level antivirus. I’ll summarize my findings here.

Symantec’s policy is that a valid antivirus test must exercise the whole product, not just one component. They particularly don’t approve of static tests that simply launch a scan and note the percentage of samples detected, and they’re not willing to allocate resources just to passing tests. Norton came out OK in AV-Test’s certification, but didn’t pass the latest from AV-Comparatives. For help interpreting the lab results chart below, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Norton 360 (2014) lab tests chart

My own malware removal test is as real-world as they come. I install the antivirus on twelve malware-riddled systems and challenge it to clean up the mess. Getting Norton installed required help from Norton Power Eraser, the Norton Bootable Recovery Tool, as well as a multi-hour remote-control session with tech support. Once in place, it managed a respectable 6.3 points in this test. Of all the products tested using the same malware collection, only AVG Internet Security 2014 and Bitdefender Total Security (2014) scored higher. The article How We Test Malware Removal offers full background on this test.

Norton 360 (2014) malware removal chart

Symantec’s ideal malware blocking test would cover the whole process starting from the fateful moment when the threat first appeared on the system. Indeed, when I tried downloading from known malware-hosting sites Norton blocked them all. It didn’t do quite as well with samples that were already present on the system, scoring 8.5 points for malware blocking. AVG and Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 share the top score for recent products, 9.4 points. Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security 2014 and McAfee Internet Security 2014 tied for second place with 9.2 points. For details on the way I perform this test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Norton 360 (2014) malware blocking chart

Features Shared with Norton AntiVirus
In addition to blocking malicious websites, Norton also very effectively prevents users from accidentally visiting phishing (fraudulent) sites. It reports known phishing sites as “Fraudulent” and also uses real-time analysis to identify unknowns that are “Suspicious,” blocking both types. I measure the success of other antiphishing solutions by comparing their accuracy with Norton’s. In recent tests, the only suites that beat Norton were Bitdefender and Kaspersky PURE 3.0 Total Security. For an explanation of the results in the chart below, see How We Test Antiphishing.

Norton 360 (2014) antiphishing chart

All three Norton products offer a link to the Norton Identity Safe password manager, which is also available as a free download. You can sync passwords and form-fill data between multiple devices using your Norton Account.

The network map displays all devices on your local network and identifies those with a Norton product installed. After an initial activation process, you can monitor the status of other installations in great detail (but can’t take any action remotely). Norton can also suppress non-essential network traffic if you identify the current network connection as high-cost.

A performance graph tracks resource usage over time, both overall and Norton-specific. You can check the status of background tasks and recent security events. A scan by Norton Insight offers useful information about all of your installed programs, including prevalence, resource usage, and stability. Once again, all of these features are found in Norton AntiVirus as well as in the two suite products.

Shared Suite Features
As noted, Norton 360 includes all features found in Norton Internet Security (2014). For full coverage of those features, please read that review. I’ll summarize them here.

Norton’s firewall is a shining example that others should copy. In testing it resisted direct attack and handled all port scans and other Web-based tests. It configures network permissions for a vast number of known good programs, and puts any unknowns under scrutiny so they can’t misuse the network connection. When I attacked it with over 30 exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration tool, it blocked every single one at the network level. It’s truly impressive.

The suite’s spam filter proved to be quite accurate in testing. It didn’t block any valid personal messages or valid bulk messages (newsletters and such) and it only let 3.9 percent of undeniable spam into the Inbox. Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and AVG all caught slightly more spam than Norton, but all three blocked some valid mail. The article How We Test Antispam explains how I calculate antispam accuracy.

Norton 360 (2014) antispam chart

Parental control for this suite is handled by Norton Family, which is also available as a separate free download. All configuration occurs online; a small client program enforces house rules on each computer or other device. It can block access to inappropriate websites, control when the kids are allowed online, and prevent kids from over-sharing personal information. A $49.99 upgrade to the premium edition adds even more features.

Comprehensive Backup System
Having a full backup of your important files offers its own kind of security, and Norton 360 makes backing up easy. The default backup set comes pre-configured to back up common data file types found in and below your My Documents folder, and by default it runs automatically in the background, backing up new and changed files. All you have to do is perform a one-time activation to enable the 2GB of hosted online backup that comes with your subscription.

If you keep important files in other locations, or consider different file types important, modifying the default backup set or creating a new one is simple. You just choose what to back up, where to store the data, and when to run the process.

Online backup is fine for your most important and volatile files, and you can purchase more storage if you like, but a full backup of your entire computer online would be expensive and slow. Prudent users will make such a backup to some other medium. Norton can back up to any local or remote drive—handy if you’ve purchased one of the now-popular personal NAS devices.

Norton can also back up to optical media, including writeable CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray disks. For this kind of backup, you’ll need to keep feeding new writeable disks as needed, so you can’t set it to run in the background. Just choose the days of the week or of the month you want backup to occur, or set it for manual backup.

Restoring your backed-up files is simple. You can restore an entire backup set, search for a particular file, or browse backup sets to choose a file or folder. You can also restore files to their original locations or elsewhere.

By logging in to your Norton account, you can access files in your secure online backup storage. Search for a file, or browse all backup sets, and download a local copy if you like. You can also share backed-up files. Just specify who should receive a link, add a personal message, and optionally password-protect the file. By default, shared links expire after 14 days, but you can set whatever expiry time you wish.

A surprising number of suites offer a backup component that’s nothing more than a re-branded version of an online backup service you could get for free, like Mozy, or iDrive. Norton’s backup system is full-featured, with local and online options that should handle any backup need.

PC Tuneup
If you install Norton 360 and never touch the PC Tuneup component, you’ll still get your system tuned up, because a number of the tuneup tasks run automatically in the background. In particular, it will defragment your drives and clear outdated Windows and Internet Explorer temporary files. Scheduled clearing of Internet Explorer history is disabled by default.

Norton can scan your system Registry to remove useless or erroneous entries. If you’re curious, you can click a link to see details of what it did afterward. There’s no provision for reversing a cleanup task; it’s assumed that Norton will only delete useless items.

Programs that launch at startup and run in the background can eat up system resources and slow your PC. Startup Manager lists all startup programs along with their prevalence and estimated resource usage. You can reversibly disable any of the items, or set some of them to start up a little while after Windows starts. When first introduced, the Startup Manager tool appeared only in Norton 360; it has since trickled down to Norton Internet Security.

When your PC has a problem and you can’t identify the cause, give the Diagnostic Report a try. It gathers information about your operating system, hardware, installed programs, resource usage, and more. If there’s a problem in any area, Norton will flag it; if not, it will mark the area with a green check.

You may be able to interpret the report and work to a solution. If not, you can save the report as a file and share it with a tech-savvy friend, or with technical support. It’s a lot easier than trying to describe your problem over the phone.

Small Performance Hit
A poorly-written security suite might interfere with other applications by sucking up more than its share of system resources. However, even a very well-written suite necessarily eats up some CPU cycles doing things like on-access scanning for malware. My performance tests measure the time required for some day-to-day actions before and after installing the suite. For testing purposes, I didn’t run any of the tuneup tasks beyond those that work automatically in the background.

It’s important to get security components loaded early in the boot process, to get ahead of rootkits and other devious malware. Doing so naturally lengthens the boot time, but Symantec works hard to keep Norton’s boot time impact down. Averaging 100 tests with no suite and 100 with Norton, I found that the boot time increased by 26 percent, just a little more than the current suite average.

A script that performs cross-disk move and copy operations on a huge collection of files took 8 percent longer with Norton 360 keeping watch, and another script that zips and unzips that file collection took 9 percent longer. Given that the average suite slows those scripts by 20 and 16 percent respectively, Norton looks pretty good.

It’s probably no surprise that all of these figures are within a percent or two of Norton Internet Security’s scores. The two products share a ton of code, and the items unique to Norton 360 apparently don’t slow the system appreciably. The chart below summarizes performance results for recent suites; to learn more about this test, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

Norton 360 (2014) performance chart

Everything But the Kitchen Sink
A three-license subscription for Norton 360 costs $10 more than for Norton Internet Security. You get the same killer firewall, antiphishing, and antispam components, along with everything else that well-rounded suite offers. Norton 360 adds a comprehensive local and online backup system, a handy collection of utilities to tune up your PCs performance, and a somewhat friendlier user interface.

Along with Bitdefender Total Security (2014) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013, Norton 360 is an Editors’ Choice for security mega-suite. Bitdefender is even more feature-packed than Norton; Webroot skips a few less-popular features but is almost impossibly small. One of these three is sure to suit your suite needs.

Virus removal:
Virus blocking:
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Norton 360 (2014) takes all the protective power that's packed into Norton Internet Security (2014) and adds a comprehensive local/online backup system plus a collection of effective performance tuneup tools. It's an Editors' Choice security mega-suite.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc