Positive reviews for Norton raise readers’ ire

By Scott Dunn

I wrote on Jan. 24 that Norton Internet Security 2008, a Symantec product, now has the greatest number of Editors’ Choice awards of any security suite, and therefore has replaced the ZoneAlarm suite in the WSN Security Baseline.

This story touched a nerve for a significant number of readers, who have had bad experiences with Symantec and its products in the past.

Some readers revolt against Symantec products

After the story was published, many readers wrote in to voice their criticism of Symantec software. Many, who say they’re disappointed with Symantec’s customer service and technical support, asked that we consider these factors in making our choices.

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Unfortunately, Windows Secrets does not have its own test lab to scrutinize antivirus and firewall solutions, and we also don’t have the resources to conduct surveys on customer support. Instead, we analyze the test results of respected labs and let you know which products have received top ratings from the greatest number of reviewers. We publish the WSN Security Baseline as a way for individual and small-business PC users to see at a glance the minimum they need to protect their systems from hackers.

Whatever problems Symantec software has had in the past, the situation is that two major publishers, PC Magazine and PC World, have given their top awards to the latest version of Norton Internet Security. No competing product currently holds more than one Editors’ Choice award from major test labs. We felt it was important to pass that information on to you.

Having said that, one of our best sources of information is your e-mail messages, which form the basis of this week’s top story on problems with Symantec uninstaller programs. I promise to continue to investigate stories that you propose in the tips you send in.

Many feel suites don’t provide best protection

Several other readers questioned the value of recommending suites in the Security Baseline. IT manager Rob Devereux put it this way:
  • “I think one of the conclusions that most IT professionals are coming to now is that you will never have best of breed in a security suite, and your findings seem to bear this out with Symantec failing in some surveys, and ZoneAlarm in others, in areas where they have weak products.

    “By their very nature, these suites are often the result of one manufacturer who does one job well buying another smaller company or companies to do another security job or jobs and then getting their developers to write the rest and bolt the applications together. For example, Norton started out doing hardware and software diagnostics, went into antivirus, and then bought companies to add in spyware and other functionality.

    “The result, all too often (and Norton is a good example), is a product that has one exceptional component (often the thing that the company did well at first), two mediocre ones, and another one or two awful ones that don’t work well (for instance, the Parental Advisor in the Norton security suite). I have certainly seen a downgrading in the usefulness and reliability of Norton Anti-Virus since they made it part of a suite.

    “The point I am trying to make is that picking and choosing to get the best-of-breed antivirus, the best-of-breed [anti]spyware, the best-of-breed firewall, and so on, can be a far more beneficial and secure way to work than buying a security suite that forces you to have bad products along with good.”
Windows Secrets merged the categories of software firewall, antivirus, and antispyware in the Security Baseline back in 2006, when test labs found that security suites could adequately deliver all three functions. A unified suite can offer simplicity to individual PC users and harried small-business techs. Almost any suite that’s available today provides better protection than an having no security software installed — or having malware signatures that are out-of-date — if multiple products, which can conflict, prove to be too complex for end users to juggle.

IT professionals should, by all means, read the full test results that the Security Baseline links to, and determine for themselves whether a combination of products from different vendors would better serve their company’s needs. In most cases, the same labs that test suites also publish results for each vendor’s separate firewall, antivirus, and antispyware products. We consider the Security Baseline to be only a starting point for those who want to do their own research.

Reader Devereux will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending comments we printed. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2008-02-07: