Symantec's Norton is still the best-known name in Internet security and the most widely sold. The company has fended off many challenges, by continuing to innovate and add extra features to its basic anti-virus proposition. Norton 360 v6 is an extended version of Norton Internet Security 2012 and uses the same AV engine. It adds in PC Tuneup and Backup and Restore to the IS 2012 modules of Virus Protection, Insight, Rescue Tools, Identity Protection and Parental Controls.
Version 6 doesn't have that much completely new, but does have several features that have been overhauled or improved. The new additions come down to Norton Management and Bandwidth Management. Norton Management enables download, installation, transfer, update and renewal of Norton licences from any device, which sounds more useful to Symantec than to customers. Bandwidth Management limits non-critical updates on 3G devices, so you don't use up your data allowance; handy but hardly major.
The improvements are more widespread and provide an overall leg up for the whole package. They include upgrades to Insight, automatic backup, tuneup, behavioural protection, anti-phishing and the firewall. There's also the ability to create a recovery environment, which may be on CD, DVD or USB drive.
Symantec has worked hard on making the interface to Norton 360 as simple and easy to navigate as possible. The main screen has four large panels, labelled PC Security, Identity, Backup and PC Tuneup. Each panel is accompanied by a comforting, green 'Protected' label, so you can see at a glance that things are in order. Click on any panel and its compatriots are squeezed out of the way, so up to five options can be displayed on the selected one, where you can dig down to view status or change parameters.
There are a few extra tools ranged along the bottom of the main window, which flip the display in a band running under the main control panels. By default it shows a largely cosmetic world map of current threats, to maintain paranoia levels, but other options include account management, Norton Mobile Security complete with inevitable QR code, parental control and a quick way to check the safety of a Web site before visiting it, something I'm sure we all do.
Usability test results
Since its ground-up engine rewrite a few years back, Norton's IS products have had much less of an impact on the performance of a PC than earlier versions. This appears to have been carried on in Norton 360 v6, as witnessed by our usability tests.
We scanned a 30GB bundle of assorted executables and zips, which took 13 minutes 55 seconds. The scan examined 105,735 files - different AV engines examine different numbers of files, depending on the algorithms used to determine those vulnerable to infection. This gives a scan rate of 127 files/sec, a very good throughput, compared with most other current AV products.
We also copied a 2GB file between two internal hard drives with and without a system scan running. With just Norton 360 background tasks engaged, this took one minute 27 seconds, but the time rose to two minutes 37 seconds when the software was performing a system scan. This is an increase of 80 per cent, which surprisingly is very good, when some AV products can increase it by as much as 300 per cent.
AV-Test has recently finished testing both Windows XP and Windows 7 versions of Norton Internet Security 2012, which uses the same AV engine as Norton 360 v6. It gave the Windows 7 product 15/18 and the XP version 14.5/18, both of which are very good results.
For the Windows 7 product, scores break down as 5.5/6 in both the Protection and Usability categories, but with the lower value of 4/6 for repair. In the Protection category, over the two months AV-Test tested, it spotted 100 per cent of the 0-day malware attacks and 100 per cent of widespread and prevalent malware, only dropping three or four per cent on the recent malware samples.
It didn't do so well under Repair though, dropping below average on rootkit and stealth malware detection, though it still spotted 95 per cent of samples. It did better on Usability, generating no false warnings or blockings of legitimate software and an average of just 2.5 false positives during system scan, where the average for AV suites under the same tests is 15. These results are very encouraging and suggest Norton 360 v6 continues to be one of the better choices for malware protection.
One feature, which doesn't show up in the AV-Test results, as it's essentially unique to Symantec, is Norton Insight. This utility uses feedback from the vast number of Norton IS product users to rate applications you might have installed on your PC. The program rates them on their security, reliability and performance, based on anonymous reports of incidents returned to Symantec Labs.
Symantec benefits from being the biggest protection software supplier in the world. It takes good advantage of its huge customer base to provide services like Norton Insight, which shares application statistics offered voluntarily, to the benefit of all.
Although it can be argued that the program's very popularity attracts undue attention from malware producers, AV-Test results show it continues to fight off that challenge, by offering good, to excellent protection in the key areas.
While its screen design can be criticised for being lacklustre, it helps keep things simple for those who want to install and forget their protection software. New features are a bit thin on the ground, though, with management modules likely to benefit Symantec more than you.
Price: £59.99 (1yr licence for 3 PCs)
Protection test results courtesy of www.av-test.org.