Norton updates toughen online security

Norton Utilities have shifted their focus from desktop calamities to online threats, and the 2004 updates being released this month target spammers, viruses, and other online threats.

Norton AntiVirus is getting a major overhaul. Symantec has made some improvements to Personal Firewall, and launched a vastly improved AntiSpam program. But Norton SystemWorks 2004--the direct descendent of the original Norton Utilities--hasn't changed much.

Norton AntiVirus and Personal Firewall will list for US$50 each, and Norton AntiSpam for US$40. Norton Internet Security, an integrated bundle of those three programs, will cost US$80. SystemWorks, which includes Norton Utilities, AntiVirus, CleanSweep, and other programs, will list for US$70. More expensive Pro versions of several of these programs are also available.

Update Highlights

Norton AntiSpam is, in a sense, a new product. Symantec added a Spam filter to Internet Security 2003, but this year the product spins out on its own.

Completely new is the way it integrates with Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora, making it much easier for you to train the program. You can now easily tell AntiSpam when it missed a Spam or--much worse--filtered out legitimate e-mail. Eventually, the theory goes, it learns from its mistakes.

Symantec improved Norton AntiVirus, too. In addition to viruses, Version 2004 looks for adware and spyware, searching for and protecting you from programs that spy on you, access private data, log keystrokes, or pop-up unwanted ads.

Ongoing protection with AntiVirus is going up in cost, too. With this edition, Symantec is increasing subscription renewal rates by US$5 on all of its products. That means keeping current on virus definitions will cost US$19.95 yearly (after the first year, which is included in the initial license).

The standout improvement in Personal FireWall is the Network Detector, aimed at notebook users who regularly use the same PC in two different places. When you plug into a familiar network, the Detector recognizes which network it is and changes its settings accordingly.

Offline Improvements

Very little has changed in Norton SystemSuite, aside from the new version of AntiVirus, which it includes. This is pretty much the same collection of products it was last year. And in the important area of recovering from the worst disasters, it was out-of-date then. For example, if Windows XP refuses to boot, nothing in SystemSuite will help you.

One new addition is the Password Manager, which stores in an encrypted file login information for various Web sites. Although a useful tool, but it might have been a better fit in Internet Security.

Norton Utilities, the original program that made Peter Norton famous, is no longer a separate product. It's simply a SystemSuite component.

Also, Symantec has implemented one new feature across its entire Norton 2004 product line that may catch the attention--and perhaps ire--of most users. Just as Microsoft now requires with Windows and Office, you now must activate these programs after installing them.

However, Symantec has implemented its product activation policy differently from Microsoft and from Intuit, which recently dropped its experiment with the technology. You must activate your software within 15 days of installing it, by running a wizard that activates the program over an Internet connection or by calling Symantec. You must reactivate the program if you upgrade your PC with new hardware or move the software to a new PC, but Symantec permits you to activate each application up to five times, which the company expects will be sufficient for most users.

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