While there are few new features within Norton AntiVirus 2008, most of Symantec's new protection features are again reserved for the Norton Internet Security 2008 release.
One significant new feature shared across both products is network monitoring. Following advances made by Trend Micro and others in past years, Norton AntiVirus 2008 now creates one licensed user to be the local network security administrator, allowing that user to monitor the security of other computers on the network, and, if necessary, run scans and updates on those other computers. The caveat here is that the other computers must also be running Norton AntiVirus 2008 or Norton Internet Security 2008.
Also new is Browser Defender. Like SONAR, a behavior-monitoring and blocking feature acquired last year from a company called Whole Security, Browser Defender, formerly known as Canary, is a proactive heuristic layer that specifically identifies signatures of known Internet Explorer browser vulnerabilities and will block any Symantec-known exploits. The idea behind Browser Defender is that vulnerable browsers are the first point of entry for many Web threats known as "drive by" downloads, and that IE has a number of outstanding public vulnerabilities. Problem is that Browser Defender doesn't work for other browsers. Firefox users are still out in the cold, despite occupying up to 20 percent of the browser market. In our informal tests, using only Internet Explorer, one porn site in particular we use for testing was flagged by other browser defenders as containing several iframe referrers, but Norton did not so much as peep about the Web Attacker content on that site. While this is not an exhaustive test, it does suggest that free browser scanners might be used in addition to Norton. For Firefox (and even Internet Explorer) users, we recommend the free download of LinkScanner Lite as a second option on malicious Web sites.
Another feature that's important today keeps malware sent via IM from infecting your PC. Norton AntiVirus 2008 does that, but only if you have Microsoft (6.0 or higher) or Trillian (3.1 or higher). If you have older versions of the most popular IMs, AOL (4.7 to 5.9), Yahoo (5.x and 6.x), you're golden, but both of these products have updated significantly in recent months. To test this, we installed Yahoo Instant Messenger 8.1 and sure enough, Norton AntiVirus 2008 reported that we did not have any instant messengers installed. Given that both AOL and Yahoo have suffered large-scale attacks in recent months, it's odd that Norton doesn't yet support the latest versions of these.
What's missing? Symantec beta tested another product this summer, however, Norton Anti-Bot is not available in any of the traditional 2008 Norton security products. At $29.99, Norton Anti-Bot, which simply provides signature and heuristic protection against botnets taking residence on your desktop computer, is almost the price of Norton AntiVirus 2008, and, as such, simply is not worth it is a standalone product. We look forward to Symantec including its anti-bot technology in next year's release of Norton AntiVirus.
Norton AntiVirus 2008 scored well in both our CNET Labs' Windows XP performance tests and in third-party, independent antivirus tests using live viruses. On our iTunes test, Norton AntiVirus 2008 was in the middle of the pack, just 3 seconds above our test system. On our Microsoft Office test, Norton AntiVirus 2008 came in near the middle at 1,459 seconds. For scanning a single folder with files, Norton AntiVirus 2008 came in near the middle with 173 seconds. And in boot speed, Norton AntiVirus 2008 came in last place, with a sluggish 40 seconds. To find out how we test, see CNET Labs' How we test: software: antivirus page.
In terms of protecting your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, for on-demand scans the previous version Norton AntiVirus 2007 earned an Advanced + (the highest) rating, catching 98 percent of all malware tested; and for the Retrospective/Proactive test, the previous version of Norton AntiVirus 2007 earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating, detecting almost half the backdoors, Trojans, and other malware sampled. Norton AntiVirus 2007 received a Standard rating from CheckVir.com, meaning only the virus searching capability was examined.
CNET Labs will be testing the antispyware in Norton AntiVirus 2008 separately, in October. Our suspicion is that Norton AntiVirus 2008 will match last year's results and finish fairly high in our ranking.
While Symantec continues to improve its technical support experience, Norton AntiVirus 2008 reverts to its old ways. Symantec provides a fairly light 13-page user's manual that mostly addresses how to install the product, not use it. Like last year, Symantec's support options include an automatic diagnostic tool for the program. It's worth noting that one of the comments it made is: "Your computer runs slowly after installing Norton AntiVirus 2008," which leads us to believe that many people experience this condition. There's also free chat, free e-mail, and telephone service.
After an absence of one or two years, advertising once again creeps back into the Symantec's technical support section in the guise of "Expert Services" and "PC Tune Up." Both are paid consulting services that, if you're not careful, could cost you up to $69.95 (that's a flat fee) per call. In the PC Tune Up scenario, you call up, are charged, and a Symantec technician remotely accesses your PC to resolve any problems you might be having at that time. Some might find that comforting, but at $70 you can probably find free help by doing a Google search for your error message or problem, since Symantec doesn't yet maintain a user's forum.
Although the antivirus protection is similar between Norton AntiVirus and Karspersky, we give the nod to Kaspersky again this year in part because of its superior user experience. Symantec, despite its efforts, still feels heavy, burdened by its own corporate legacy and dependency on other Symantec products. Also, it is not always clear what you are enabling or disabling, clever way to keep users from controlling the application themselves. And finally, watch out for fee-based "premium" help and technical support which once again finds its way back into the product.