It may be hard to imagine, but there once was a time, back in the mists of techno-antiquity, when you didn't need any special protection to use the internet. But times have changed. Boy, have they changed.
It can now take less than a minute to infect an unprotected machine connected to the web, so it has become essential to equip your PC with an armoury of protective tools. For some years, the king of the software vendors selling suites of utilities designed to protect you from the online bad guys has been Symantec and its NIS (Norton Internet Security) bundle.
Tweaks and updates
This year's model is very much like last year's, with only a couple of minor tweaks. The bundle comprises four modules: the all-new Norton Protection Center, which summarises your security status (and tediously reminds you that you haven't got the complete suite of Norton utilities – this is tacky advertising masquerading as advice); Norton Internet Security, the control centre for the firewall, privacy and parental controls, Norton AntiVirus and Norton AntiSpam.
The only significant additions to the NIS 2005 feature set seems to be spyware protection and the Security Inspector. Note that the operating systems supported by NIS 2006 are now restricted to just Windows 2000 and XP – if you have an older OS, you'll have to buy NIS 2005 instead.
Installation remains a lengthy process – no surprises there, then. Slightly unnervingly, after going through this procedure the laptop locked up, necessitating a reboot. Thereafter it behaved itself.
Under the hood, NIS 2006 continues to offer the same solid antivirus, antispam and firewall tools as in previous versions. The firewall ‘stealths' all significant ports, rendering the PC invisible to hackers. It also blocks specific known hack attacks and can prevent all access by an attacking system for anywhere from half an hour to two days.
Learning which programs are safe to grant internet access to can be a pain, with a plethora of pop-ups asking you for a decision, but NIS's firewall now offers a handy learning mode that watches all programs and automatically creates rules for access. After a significant time without any new programs, this mode shuts off.
The new Security Inspector tool uncovers unsafe browser settings and passwords, and Norton now offers protection against browser hijacking.
The bad news is that this mature product has developed a touch of middle-age spread and is prone to make your sprightly PC portly. This is particularly noticeable during a full system scan, which makes your PC particularly sluggish.
The antivirus suite
Norton AntiVirus remains a safe AV tool – it still delivers good results on the Virus Bulletin VB100 scoresheet. In essence the user interface remains the same; the new Norton Protection Centre status shortcut attaches itself prominently to the Taskbar, but you can move it to the System Tray. A green tick here means all is well, while a red X spells trouble. Pop-up messages alert you to hazards detected, such as viruses, and offer suggestions to help you repair any problems.