Security Suites: Big Protection, Little Fuss

Just a few short years ago, all a PC needed for protection was a basic antivirus program to guard against any malware that arrived via an e-mail attachment, embedded in a shareware application or piggy-backed on a floppy disk.

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Norton Internet Security 2010 uses technology from Symantec's enterprise-level spam protection system. The product filters all POP3 e-mail for spam and viruses and integrates with Outlook and Outlook Express. IMAP integration is missing and would be welcome.

Usability

The last time I looked at Norton Internet Security, in 2008, the suite was a resource hog -- it protected systems very well, but noticeably impacted performance. Symantec has redesigned the product to improve performance and limit its use of system resources. This latest version shows those efforts were worthwhile.

Product specs

Norton Internet Security 2010

Company: Symantec Corp.

Price: $69.99 for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher, Symbian 9.2 or higher, Windows Mobile 5.0 or higher, Android 2.0 or higher, netbook version

I found Norton Internet Security 2010 to be one of the easiest packages to install. The installation is wizard-driven, all of the prompts are in plain English, and the default settings do an excellent job of protecting the system.

One thing to be aware of is the time it takes to install the package -- although the hands-on portion of the installation is rather quick, you will have to wait through an update process that can take as long as 20 minutes. Immediately after the installation completes, the product "phones home" to download all of the latest updates, and that can take some time. In my testing, almost every other security product went through the same process in a few minutes, but Norton took 20 minutes.

Using Norton Internet Security 2010 is straightforward. The interface is laid out in a logical fashion using an index-card-style layout. All of the major capabilities are accessed from a central menu that has controls that look like index cards and are populated with pertinent information. One click delivers additional information and other options.

As a testament to the product's performance increases, the interface offers a summary screen showing CPU utilization and resource use in real time. I watched it while Norton Internet Security 2010 went through its chores, and found that it kept to a very low percentage of CPU utilization (as low as 5% for some scans).

Symantec backs the product with 24/7 tech support, an online help community, real-time chat and comprehensive context-sensitive help.

Coming soon

Symantec released a public beta of Norton Internet Security 2011 in early April. The beta sports many enhancements, especially when it comes to speed. While there is no official release date for the final product, availability before the fourth quarter of 2010 is expected.

Symantec claims that the new version will improve or maintain key performance benchmarks in installation times, scan times and memory usage. In addition, the product will include System Insight 2.0, which goes beyond security and alerts users when applications are significantly impacting their system resources. Other enhancements include improved reputation filters, support for social networking sights and better browser integration.

Conclusion

Norton Internet Security 2010 is an excellent security product and still remains the one to beat. Symantec has done a good job of improving it over time to keep it one step ahead of the competition. Perhaps the only downside is Norton Internet Security's price, which is higher than those of many competing offerings.

Panda Internet Security 2010

Panda Security, although not as well known as the big names like Symantec and Trend Micro, offers several security products, ranging from simple antivirus tools to hosted enterprise systems. Internet Security 2010 offers protection from viruses, spyware, rootkits, hackers, online fraud, identity theft and other Internet threats. Panda Internet Security 2010 also offers antispam features, parental controls and full anti-malware capabilities.

Internet protection

Panda incorporates a technology it calls "cloud scanning," which centralizes virus data from across all Panda customers to keep its database up to date. According to the company, the underlying collective intelligence used by the cloud technology helps to make sure that all signatures are up to date and allows Panda to get a head start on how to deal with a virus or exploit that represents a zero-day threat.

The firewall has a set-and-forget design. Basically, you pick a profile and assign that to the firewall, and the firewall then protects the PC based upon the canned settings in the profile. However, I found the firewall settings particularly difficult to change, making it a bit hard to customize the protection offered. Some of the settings were buried under different menus, while other settings were not well defined. For example, to change ports being blocked, I had to go through several menu levels to locate the feature.

The firewall automatically handles known good and bad programs and monitors system behavior for any unknown programs. An extensive database helps to keep notifications to a minimum, only bothering the user when an unknown application is first run.

Parental controls allow you to set up a Web filter and give each user a specific setting. The product offers the following preset filters: Kid, Employee, Teen or Default. You can also adjust the filter to block or allow specific content. Setting up the parental controls requires that you assign each user a log-on name and password -- the other suites here don't require the creation of separate accounts for each user.

Panda's spam filtering was easy to set up and needs minimal user intervention. It automatically filters incoming POP3 e-mail; however, it doesn't support IMAP e-mail. More control over spam would be nice -- the product offers limited custom filtering, only looking for keywords or attachments.

Usability

Panda Internet Security 2010 was simple to install and set up -- the installation wizard only asks a few questions and only one reboot is required.

The product does make a lot of assumptions on its default settings, turning on all security features, such as spam protection, as part of the installation. That's actually an advantage, especially since changing the defaults can be a tedious process, with some configuration elements hard to locate and/or understand. I found that to change some simple rules, I had to traverse a multitude of menus, especially for firewall settings.

The product offers a combo dashboard/main screen that shows the status of system security and features menu items that launch the various configuration and information screens. It combines antivirus and antispyware systems into a single choice on the dashboard. The firewall is controlled using a dedicated tab on the dashboard, which brings up the various submenus.

Product specs

Panda Internet Security 2010

Company: Panda Security

Price: $81.95 for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, netbook version

Panda could use better help screens and clearer descriptions of its various functions, although those familiar with PC security should have no problems. However, neophytes may be put off by the terminology.

The product performs well and was relatively unobtrusive on my test PC. Warning screens were kept to a minimum and updates were automated, meaning that users are not asked before an update is processed. Whether that's a good way to handle things comes down to whether a user prefers an install-and-forget security product or wants to be intimately involved with his PC's security status.

Coming soon

Panda has some big changes planned for the next version of its suite, which is expected by the third quarter of 2010. According to the company, the package will sport a redesigned interface that's crafted to address user concerns about things such as difficult-to-find settings and less-than-useful help screens.

The product will also incorporate improved Web site filtering, offering better protection from the growing spate of phishing and attack sites. The product's "cloud scanning" technology is poised to become faster, more efficient and more frequently updated, helping to reduce the threat of zero-day attacks. Other planned improvements include new data-encryption technology to protect personal information, enhanced privacy controls and an information shredder that's supposed to wipe out all traces of personal data before a system is handed over to a new user.

Conclusion

Panda Internet Security 2010 works well and is a polished product that should appeal to newbie users. It's a bit more expensive than most of its competitors; in addition, power users who like to have full control over their software might find that Panda Internet Security 2010 comes up a little short.

Security Shield 2010

Security Shield 2010 combines products from two vendors to create an Internet security suite. The suite incorporates antivirus, antispam and antispyware tools, a firewall, parental controls and rootkit detection capability into a single product that features an intuitive management console.

Internet protection

Security Shield uses technology from BitDefender for its antivirus, antiphishing, antispyware and antikeylogger engines; it uses its own Spam Shield product to provide antispam capabilities.

The firewall monitors all inbound and outbound traffic to protect the system from external attacks or to prevent malicious software running on the PC from transmitting information.

Most of the product's capabilities are fairly basic. For example, Spam Shield 4.0, the antispam component from Security Shield, works only on POP3 e-mail services and integrates only with Outlook and Outlook Express. The antispam capabilities are also somewhat limited, relying on user rules and settings to work effectively. For example, if you want spam to be sent to a folder for examination, instead of just deleted, you will need to define a rule that identifies the spam mail and then saves it to a junk (or other) folder.

All in all, the product offers basic protection but lacks the bells and whistles that power users desire, such as the ability to fully customize the firewall to create exceptions for particular applications or to install antispam on e-mail clients that use IMAP.

Usability

I found it very easy to work with the basic settings and the product's dashboard, which is designed for simplicity, offering very basic descriptions of each feature and simple green check marks to indicate that something is turned on and functioning properly. The buttons across the top of the dashboard are limited to simple descriptions, such as Dashboard (the home screen), Security, Parental and Network (which leads to firewall controls).

However, if you like to tinker with settings, enable advanced features or play security detective, Security Shield 2010 may not be the product for you. I found it difficult to find many of the custom security settings on the product and had to traverse multiple menus that followed little rhyme or reason in order to locate some settings such as scan scheduling or quarantine capabilities.

The product used little in the form of resources, barely affecting system performance and using hardly any memory. That small memory footprint and low CPU usage are great advantages for users who are concurrently using their PCs during scans, but it comes at a price -- I found that full disk scans and other manually executed tasks took an inordinate amount of time. For example, a full system virus scan on roughly 8GB of data and system files took almost an hour.

Product specs

Security Shield 2010

Company: PCSecurityShield

Price: $49.99 ($59.99 minus a $10 rebate) or $59.99 ($69.99 minus a $10 rebate) for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7

Living with the product was another story. With all of the security features enabled, I was constantly bombarded with warnings and suggestions while accessing the Web with Internet Explorer. I found that I had to turn off or reduce the aggressiveness of some of the protection features, such as antiphishing and content-filtering tools, to avoid the numerous messages. The warning messages may not be overly intrusive to experienced users, since they will understand the implications of the text, but inexperienced users could find the messages so annoying that they could wind up turning security features off to avoid them.

Coming soon

Representatives wouldn't say whether the company is set to deliver an updated version of the product.

Conclusion

Overall, Security Shield 2010 is a serviceable product; however, users may want to consider some of the other suites on the market before committing to this product.

Security Shield's real strength is it antivirus engine -- however, since that comes from BitDefender, all things being equal, BitDefender's security suite is probably a better choice -- unless you're looking for an extremely simple product for a family member's or friend's computer. In that case, Security Shield 2010 should do fine.

Trend Micro Internet Security Pro

As one of the more expensive suites on the market, Trend Micro Internet Security Pro has to meet some high expectations.

And in many ways it does: Trend Micro Internet Security Pro is one of the most comprehensive Internet security suites available. It features full protection, including antivirus, antispyware and antispam tools, a firewall, parental controls and rootkit detection capability. What's more, Trend Micro throws in a behavioral engine, which improves protection, and a security toolbar for use with your browser.

Internet protection

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