Opinion: Norton AntiVirus 2004 - Worth the Upgrade?

Like many end-users of Norton AntiVirus (NAV), I face the decision of either paying for a new year's subscription of virus definition or upgrading to the latest release. Norton's 2004's release, codenamed Leno, is set to be released soon. While Norton is considered by many to be the gold standard in virus protection, the question remains: is this new version worth dishing out some hard-earned cash for?

Automation was the watchword for NAV 2003. Trojans and worms are automatically removed, and virus infections are repaired. Virus definitions can be downloaded behind the scenes as well — with reduced file sizes for quicker updating.

Norton AntiVirus 2004 has added threat categories offering protection from adware, dialers, joke programs, remote access, and hack tools. It also extends convenience by silently deleting and quarantining malicious code.

It goes a step further in securing systems by alerting users when Malware, software designed to damage or disrupt a system, is installed or active.

A new detection layer to detect downloads of infected files within compressed archives, preventing users from downloading and potentially sharing infected files in compressed archives has been included — catching up to McAfee, who already offers this feature.

Additional features such as script blocking (introduced as an update to NAV 2002) and email scanning for both outbound and incoming mail are still included. These are also meant to be semi-hidden functions.

Worm Blocking for SMTP outbound worms prevents email worms from spreading, and is an addition to Script Blocking and Bloodhound heuristics technologies.

The growing popularity of instant messaging brings a proportional risk. While some IM clients have long included plug-ins for antivirus scanning, Symantec has covered all of the bases by scanning and cleaning incoming file transfers.

The big three instant messaging platforms: AOL Instant Messenger, MSN/Windows Messenger, and Yahoo! are all equally supported. However, this feature has been included since NAV 2003.

Norton AntiVirus uses a multilayer approach to virus detection by scanning the most common points of entry for viruses, such as IM clients and e-mail transfers.

Error dialogs are still linked directly to online support articles. Symantec has also included user configurable password settings for an added measure of security. Despite efforts to secure the product, Symantec lacks a built-in firewall unlike rival McAfee.

Security is on the mind of Symantec, but it comes in the form of product activation. Customers must now enter a key — ala Microsoft, and activate their copy — hence protecting Symantec from so-called "casual piracy." This new measure, "Protects users from pirated or counterfeit software and ensures users the receipt of authentic software," said a Symantec spokesperson.

The spokesperson continued, "Product Activation ensures users receives a functioning antivirus solution, appropriate documentation, technical support and updates to virus definitions."

Overall, beta testers familiar with NAV 2004 reveal that scans are roughly as fast as the previous version. There is not yet any discernable difference between this year’s model and the last in the race to hunt down viruses.

For a new customer flirting with the idea of purchasing virus protection, Norton is desirable for all of the same reasons as in the past. It is arguably the most trusted name in virus protection. Even still, there is little incentive to upgrade for existing users.

I recommend paying for another year of subscriptions for definitions and Symantec Security Response — unless of course having the latest and greatest is reason enough to upgrade. Symantec continues to score high marks for detecting all "in the wild" viruses.

The company recommends products that have received the VB 100% award to ensure they have maximum protection against today's threats.

Norton AntiVirus currently retails for US$49.95, and a professional version sells for US$69.95. Upgrades are priced at US$29.95 and US$49.95 respectively. The professional version includes additional data recovery and cleaning features to "wipe" files clean off the hard drive. There is no information on whether or not the pricing scheme will change.

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