Symantec is one of the most respected security vendors, and one of the key reasons for this has been the success of its Norton 360 product – a feature-packed suite of tools aimed at home users that offers far more than core protection.
Now at version 5.0, the 2011 suite focuses more on enhancements to key features than on introducing any genuinely new tools, but the comprehensive nature of the software and introduction of key technologies such as Insight and SONAR over the last couple of years suggests that these tweaks will still be enough to keep it at the top of the pile.
Setup and first impressions
The software gets off to a good start by maintaining its ‘one-minute install’ benefit, which requires no reboot and soon pops up with a window to confirm that the computer is now protected. From here, you’re asked to register and are then taken to a clean interface that has seen a bit of a refresh over previous versions. 360 doesn’t bother you with setting up profiles or configuring features at this stage, which underlines its position as a ‘set and forget’-style solution that makes it perfect for beginners and advanced users alike.
The interface splits tools into PC Security, Identity Protection, Backup and Tuneup, with reassuring prompts confirming that a computer is sufficiently protected and components are up to date. Otherwise, information is given on what needs to be done to solve a problem.
Over the last couple of versions, Norton 360 introduced a number of informational resources that give users an idea of what’s going on in the antivirus community, together with helpful advice on how to improve or enhance performance on a particular computer. Things are no different this time round, and the main interface is punctuated by a cybercrime map, which offers information or worldwide activity and the latest threats.
Hotkeys provide access a ‘safe web’ component that can test URLs for malicious content before you risk visiting a site. Parental control summaries are also provided for the sites you’ve sites visited, generating alerts and listing the search terms used.
Hovering your mouse pointer over the suite’s individual components brings up a list of common tasks such as running a scan, managing the firewall, creating a backup set and optimising various areas of a PC. Overall, we think the new interface does a great job of offering access to these components in a straightforward manner.
Security and performance
Symantec made great strides in the field of security last year with the introduction of reputation-based security, SONAR protection to monitor running applications for threats. Insight tools are also provided to check programs before they are run, improving performance by cataloguing files deemed ‘safe’, and omitting them from future scans. All of this contributes towards protection that is class-leading in the current market, underlined by the fact that 360 5.0 recently secured a 100% protection score from an Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation-approved third-party tester.
The other great thing about 360 is that it maintains this high standard of security in record time. We scanned the same test system we used for the previous version in one and a half minutes (improving on the previous two-minute time). Subsequent scans took just 15 seconds to complete. The suite also has very little impact on system performance, rarely straying above 50% CPU during a full scan, and having very little observable impact on a system during this time.
The range of tools backing up traditional threat scanning include anti-spam, anti-phishing, bot protection, browser protection, identity protection and a powerful firewall that is easy to configure, and which does a great job at working silently in the background to block threats. Most of these features are seen as fairly standard in the modern market, but Norton 360 does a great job of offering these benefits in an unobtrusive fashion.
As always, Norton 360 offers a lot more than just system security. You’ll still find automated backup and restore tools, with 2GB of upgradeable online storage that can now be accessed online from another computer.
Tuneup tools include disk optimisation, a file cleaner, registry maintenance and a startup manager. It’s also possible to produce a diagnostic report that summarises various fixes and updates, as well as detailing ways in which a system can be enhanced.
The startup manager is particularly helpful at identifying processes that use the most resources or are important to the smooth running of the system, and offers the opportunity to delay these from starting up to see if they can be disabled altogether. All of this is potentially useful and the automated nature of both these tools and the backup facility offers great peace of mind that a computer is protected and running smoothly.
Finally, System Insight offers helpful information on resource usage and summaries of recent activity that can help to diagnose causes of system slowdown. Parental controls are easily configurable, and offer a nice degree of control over sites that are safe to visit or require blocking.
While most of these features haven’t really been changed with this new version, the suite’s high level of usability has been maintained, along with Symantec’s impressive combination of powerful components, ease of use and watertight protection against the latest threats.
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At just under £60, Norton 360 is more expensive than many rivals, but for many users that little bit extra will be worth paying for unrivalled levels of protection, great usability and an array of useful features.