Norton Internet Security 2009 beta ramps up

Symantec's latest iteration of NIS tries to do its job without overloading your system -- and it seems to be succeeding.

Home network help

Another notable feature new to NIS 2009 is the Home Network view, which gives users a network device map from which those devices can also be managed. Of particular note is a view of security danger zones, including wireless networks -- setups that are notorious for being insecure both in home and business settings.

A remote-monitoring feature allows the user to keep tabs on whether other Norton-protected computers on the network are at risk, while a network map presents a visual picture of a network and all connected devices -- a feature that allows users to detect when an unidentified and potentially unauthorized device has connected to the network.

The final menu item for Norton's Home Network view is Trust Controls, a feature that allows users to view or change default trust settings for the entire network or for individual network-connected devices.

Identity Safe

Also new in NIS 2009 is Identity Safe, technology that allows for storage of personal information that is typically entered in buying, banking, browsing and online gaming. Identity Safe allows users to enter their personal information for a given site once; after that, they can kick back and let the feature fill in the necessary log-in information the next time they visit a particular site.

True, many Web browsers have similar functionality. Symantec doesn't mince words: The Identity Safe function offers to import your personal identity information from IE (but not from Firefox) and says that NIS 2009 will do a better job at keeping it safe, period. NIS 2009 works with Firefox, of course, but a Symantec representative says that the new ability of Identity Safe to import information is only for IE.

Phishing phun

Norton's updated toolbar grades sites for phishing attempts with a color-coded check in the upper left-hand corner of the toolbar. I filtered through my Yahoo Mail spam folder to get a good, broad selection of unsavory tidbits and decided to visit a "US based online p/h/a/r/m store" where I expected to be able to "buy any m.e.d.i.c.a.t.i.o.ns you need!"

After clicking on the link provided, Norton didn't report any phishing attempts. Naturally, I didn't follow through with inputting my e-mail address and a query.

Instead, I turned to the Norton Public Beta Forum, where posters were reporting that NIS 2009 AntiPhishing is providing multiple false positives. More critically, NIS 2009 AntiPhishing is also missing phishing identifications that would seem to be easy catches, including URLs that are publicly identified as phishing sites according to PhishTank, a free site run by DNS service provider OpenDNS.

Symantec is obviously still fine-tuning the product and promises that whatever's causing the false positives and missed identifications will be ironed out in the final cut. In the meantime, Symantec asks that users send along the URLs for false positives or for phishing sites that slip under the radar.

Beyond phishing, if beta users suspect they've been infected with something seriously fishy-looking that NIS 2009 didn't detect, Symantec suggests running LiveUpdate to install the latest virus definitions and running a full system scan to remove detected malicious files. Symantec has further instructions here for troubleshooting suspected malware infections with the NIS 2009 beta.

Conclusions

The beta of NIS 2009 shows that Symantec is on track to vastly improve performance in Norton. The UI is clear and uncluttered, putting front and center only the elements most users need to see, while allowing for easy drill-down for those who want more.

Having said that, I'd like the CPU usage meter to be easier to access. It would match the product's one-click ease of use in other areas. Still, with so much performance enhancement, such quibbles get left in the dust of this speedy, smooth new suite.

Lisa Vaas is a freelance technology writer and can be reached at lisavaas@lisavaas.com

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