Symantec updates safe surfing toolset

Norton Internet Security 2003, an integrated package of online privacy and security tools, is now shipping with improvements to its spam filters, ad blocking, and parental controls, as well as bundling updated versions of Norton Antivirus and Norton Personal Firewall.

The revamped Norton Internet Security package carries an estimated retail price of AUD$149.95. Upgrades for current users cost AUD$99.95, and the package includes one year of free security update services, most notably upgraded virus definition files that guard against new online pests.

Also available separately are Norton Antivirus 2003 and Norton Personal Firewall 2003, priced at $109.95 and $99.95. The updated firewall program adds an intrusion detection function that monitors Internet traffic and automatically blocks malicious communications or programs like worms, providing an additional layer of security on top of the firewall by checking inside Internet communications for malicious code.

The Norton Internet Security 2003 suite includes the latest version of Norton AntiVirus, announced in August and now shipping. It now will automatically remove Trojan horses and worms from e-mail and instant message files, and has shrunk its virus definition files to enable faster updates.

Ad Blocking Boosted

Besides including features of the firewall and antivirus products, Norton Internet Security provides intrusion detection and privacy control programs. Symantec's product is one of the programs that provides this function; another is BlackICE PC Protection 3.5 from Internet Security Systems.

Improvements to the ad-blocking functions let users choose to block a wider variety of banner ads, including pop-up and pop-under windows. While the previous version sometimes blocked these type of ads, Symantec representatives say the company beefed up the features with this release.

Norton Internet Security's ad blocking even quashes "eye-blasters," according to Tom Powledge, senior products manager, describing the animations that overlay Web pages. Ad-blocking features are off by default, but can be activated by the user.

Symantec has improved its products' spam-filtering functions, notably adding a spam alert function that is designed to detect and flag spam messages. Users can choose to delete the message manually or set rules to automatically delete the messages. The spam alert works with any POP3 client.

The Norton Privacy Control tool provides several new functions. Users can now set restrictions on information that can be sent through a variety of communications tools, from POP 3 e-mail to instant messaging, and even e-mail attachments.

Symantec has also redesigned the interface to make it easier to navigate. Users can install Norton Internet Security 2003 on top of Internet Security 2002 and migrate all existing settings, notably the firewall rules (which indicate what applications can send data off and onto the system) Firewall StrengthenedAdded to the Norton Firewall component (and part of Norton Personal Firewall 2003), is Norton Intrusion Detection. Intended as another layer of security besides the firewall, it watches for, identifies, and blocks entry of unauthorized data or programs when online. "Intrusion detection is a key component now of Internet security," Powledge says.

A related new function, Visual Tracking, identifies the geographic location of suspected intruders, based on their IP addresses.

Existing functions of the Norton Internet Security suite can block cookies, Java script, and activeX controls from a user's PC, and can stop data from being sent automatically to unsecured Web sites. Expanded parental controls let users block access to newsgroups.

The firewall functions also hide the PC from port scanners, which are often used as an entry by Net-borne intruders. Norton representatives acknowledge that previous versions of its firewall do not block Port 5000, the listening port for Microsoft's universal Plug and Play and a port vulnerable to several documented exploits. Powledge notes that the port is now blocked in the update, Norton Firewall 2003.

A new Network Notification feature alerts the user when the PC connects to a network (including a wireless network), and an Alert Assistant advises users how to respond to security alerts when they occur. A new "Internet disconnect" feature immediately stops all Internet traffic, inbound and outbound, with one command. Through the Security Monitor, a user can check what's happening in the background.

Security Neglected

With Internet usage continuing to grow, safe surfing is an increasing concern, especially for families, Symantec representatives say. A recent Forrester study estimates that 68.8 million U.S. households are online, and 40 percent of those families have children. But many people remain unaware of the dangers.

More than half of those who evaluated their PCs' security at Symantec Security Check, a free online service, were at risk of privacy violations because of unsecured Web browsers, say Symantec representatives. The site's statistics for the past year show that 58 percent of visitors had inadequate browser security.

Also, a surprising 32 percent lacked updated antivirus programs, and of those, 36 percent had viruses on their systems. "Of course, these numbers may be skewed upward by the unprotected who know they have a virus and come to our site looking for help," Powledge adds.

Not so surprising, however, was the 26 percent of visitors who left one or more of their PC ports visible to Net intruders. Powledge says plenty of Web surfers still don't realize the importance of closing this door of vulnerability.

Be sure to pick up the upcoming November issue of PC World, on sale from October 16, as we will be providing a feature on antivirus and firewall software.

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