Symantec edges out ZoneAlarm in Security Baseline

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

Symantec’s security suite has gained more first-place awards from respected test labs than the well-known ZoneAlarm suite, pushing Symantec into the top spot in our WSN Security Baseline.

We publish the baseline and update it whenever our analysis of the recommendations of leading PC publications and Web sites changes.

Symantec suite garners most editor’s choice awards

Windows Secrets has no test lab of its own and usually doesn’t benchmark products. Instead, we analyze the test results published by numerous computer authorities, such as PC Magazine and PC World. We summarize our findings in the Security Baseline to help individual and small-business PC users see at a glance the add-ons that are needed to protect against malware.

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Today, the minimum requirements to protect an Internet-connected computer fall into three categories:

  • A hardware firewall, which is usually built into a router;
  • A software security suite, including an inbound-outbound software firewall (which is the only firewall possible for portable devices); and
  • A patch-management tool to help you remain current with the latest updates.
Since last update of the Security Baseline, a number of sources have published comparative reviews of security suites.

Norton internet security The highest rated package in two of these collective reviews is Symantec Norton Internet Security 2008 (left, street price about U.S. $50 for three installs). The product garnered an Editor’s Choice from both PC Magazine and PC World. Computer Shopper, however, was less impressed; in its comparison of six security suites, Symantec’s product tied for last place.

The previous Security Baseline front-runner, the ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite from Zone Labs, received ratings from PC Magazine that were almost as high as those for the Symantec suite. The magazine found the ZoneAlarm suite to be superior in blocking spam, but it scored lower than the Symantec suite in controlling spyware.

By comparison, the PC World roundup placed the ZoneAlarm suite in second-to-last place.

Computer Shopper, which is owned by CNET, inexplicably did not include the ZoneAlarm product in its review of security suites. The magazine gave its suite accolades to BitDefender Total Security 2008. A slightly higher score was credited to Steganos Privacy Suite 2008, but that software has no antivirus function at all, disqualifying it from our consideration for the Security Baseline.

Symantec provides an alternate product, Norton 360, for the less technically inclined who want a simple, all-in-one solution. CNET last year, and PC Magazine in its latest roundup, each gave Editor’s Choice awards to Norton 360 (in addition to PC Mag’s award to the Symantec suite).

If you’re satisfied with your current security suite, I don’t recommend switching at this time. But if your subscription to a security suite is set to expire soon, or if you haven’t installed a suite yet, one of the Symantec products is worth your consideration.

To see all of the top-rated products, visit the Security Baseline. To read the full version of the reviews mentioned above, see:

PC Magazine: 2008 security suites review
PC World: top all-in-one security suites review
Computer Shopper: six security software suite reviews
CNET: Norton 360 review

For more information on the security suites that rated highly, see:

Symantec Norton Internet Security 2008
Symantec Norton 360
Zone Labs ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite

One vote for an advanced new router

I pointed out in an article on May 24, 2007, that some routers based on the new 802.11n wireless standard are getting favorable ratings. These reviews are coming out even though the standard itself, which is currently in draft form, may not be ratified by the IEEE (formerly the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) until 2009. The spec is now in its third draft revision, and more “n” products are appearing all the time.

Since then, PC Magazine on Dec. 17 gave another Editor’s Choice award to a new product, the Linksys Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router WRT600N. With prices between $242 and $280, this router is decidedly more expensive than the magazine’s previous Editor’s Choice, the NetGear RangeMax 240 WPNT834 (about $100), and may be more advanced than many users need.

The WRT600N offers a firewall and wireless security, along with four 1-gigabit Ethernet ports. In addition, the product features a USB port for attaching external storage devices to make files available throughout your network. (The reviewer did note some difficulty getting this to work in Windows XP.)

Most users are not likely to need a router of this speed and power today. But if you’re currently in the market for a secure router anyway, PC Magazine gives this one its full endorsement.

PC Magazine: Linksys Wireless-N router review
More info: Linksys WRT600N

Use Secunia and Software Patch for updates

In addition to the hardware devices and software protection described above, you also need a way to get regular security patches and updates for both Windows and any other software you install.

We recently added the Secunia Software Inspector to our Security Baseline page. This free service scans your hard drive, quickly and easily determining which software on your system needs updating. You’re alerted not only to updates for Windows itself, but also for applications from many other vendors.

To download and install the actual updates, check out my Oct. 4, 2007, article on the pros (and a few cons) of using The Software Patch. This site makes Microsoft and non-Microsoft updates available in one easy-to-navigate service.

As more products are reviewed by reputable industry analysts, we’ll continue to update the Security Baseline with the tools you need to keep your system secure. But it’s up to you to check your system with Secunia and Software Patch at least once a month to make sure you have the updates you need.

Have a tip about Windows? Readers receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for sending tips we print. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He has been a contributing editor of PC World since 1992 and currently writes for the Here’s How section of that magazine.
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