In the latest of a series of reviews of the 2012 generation of Internet security suites, we take a close look at the fully featured Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2012 from Symantec. Last year's version of NIS performed well in our evaluations. Can this new edition do even better?
NIS 2012 is a full consumer security suite; it retails for $69.99, with a license good for three PCs. How is NIS different from the less expensive Norton Anti-Virus (NAV)?
For one thing, NIS adds identity protection features such as Identity Safe 2.0. This service allows for secure cloud storage of information you've filled into online forms (including your name and address, for example). You can then access this info from any computer, a capability that is particularly handy for households with more than one computer. In NIS 2012, Symantec has enhanced the accuracy of the form-filling engine.
NIS also includes parental controls, one of the biggest reasons to spring for an Internet security suite over "regular" anti-virus software. The product offers a feature called Online Family which allows parents to monitor their children's activity -- such as sites visited and terms searched for -- from anywhere. For this capability to work, however, NIS needs to be installed on the computer the children are using.
Symantec also claims a number of improvements in NIS 2012 over NIS 2011, such as a simplified user interface (UI), lower performance impact, and a new bandwidth metering capability for keeping an eye on Internet usage in light of data plans (useful for mobile devices such as laptops and phones).
Download and Installation
NIS 2012 is a 107MB download, slightly larger than the basic 86MB Norton Anti-Virus suite. The NIS 2012 download can take five to ten minutes, depending on your Internet connection.
Yet in our comparative tests, after installation, NIS 2012 then downloaded an additional 87MB in updates. If that seems somewhat excessive, though, you might also keep in mind that NIS continues to offer one of the simplest installations of any consumer security product, requiring only a single click.
User Interface (UI)
In noticeable tweaks to NIS 2012 since the 2011 edition, NIS now includes an obvious green bar on the left-hand side indicating overall protection status; green means good to go. To see the status of individual items, you simply click the "Advanced" button.
Also, an overall trend in modern security suites is a move towards explaining everything in plain English. This is nice even for more experienced users. For instance, in place of the tradiitional and more cryptic help file and a search, Symantec now puts a small "?" icon next to most items in NIS, including settings. This "question mark" icon takes you to an updated online help article with links to additional resources.
Overall, the UI in NIS 2012 is intuitive and easy to view. Most importantly, finding information and settings is straightforward, just as it should be.
Not sure which Web sites your children are accessing, or what they search for when you're not there? One of NIS 2012's biggest selling points is an excellent suite of parental controls powered by Norton Online Family. The parental controls are embodied in the Norton Safey Minder extension. They are not installed by default.
However, once the extension is installed, it can be used to monitor and control your children's Internet activity by logging on to the Norton Online Family site. On the site, you can view and control children's setting and Internet usage through their individual Windows accounts. Make sure that you have an account for each of your children. You can then manage each account individually.
Placing the controls on the Web site - as opposed to solely on the computer - is advantageous in that parents can monitor their children and control kids' settings/Internet usage from anywhere.
This well thought out set of parental controls makes NIS 2012 extremely attractive, if parental controls are a criterion on your shopping list.
Although the parental controls are also quite good in Kaspersky Internet Security (KIS) 2012, the controls in KIS aren't a match to the controls in NIS 2012.
We conducted a series of extra tests on Internet security suites as opposed to basic anti-virus suites:
We used PCFlank's Exploits Test to test the firewall component; detailed test information can be found here. The tests essentially bombard your system and test its reaction to various types of attacks and unexpected packets. In this test, NIS 2012 successfully defended itself.
To test the AV effectiveness of NIS 2012, I used several virus files from Eicar.org, an IT security website. Please see the test description for extensive information on the tests.
I did not even get a chance to download the virus files, because Norton caught these files immediately and did not allow a download prompt to come up. This is about as proactive as any AV-enabled product gets.
We use Spycar.org to test the anti-spyware module. This test mimics spyware behavior on a computer, determining whether the anti-spyware component can block or detect it. We run all available tests.
I had a hard time even getting to the site since NIS 2012 blocked it immediately (the site is detected as a malicious threat, which it technically is). NIS 2012 then successfully blocked all attempted exploits.
We measure the performance impact of security software using Futuremark PCMark. When I conducted this test, PCMark detected less than a three percent difference on PC performance before and after installation of NIS 2012, a score that can be attributable to benchmark error. I did not notice my computer behaving any differently in terms of performance after installing the product.
NIS 2012 is a polished and fully featured security suite for home users. The product is especially useful to families, thanks to its excellent parental controls and multi-PC identity protection capabilities. The UI is easy to navigate and there is no noticeable performance impact from running the software (vs. without). At $69.99 for three licenses, the software is a great value. NIS is worth the extra price over the standard NAV suite because of its extra features.