Review: Norton Internet Security 2010 checks your reputation

The latest version of NIS looks much the same, but offers a new reputation-based security strategy under the hood.

Take a quick glance at the just-released Norton Internet Security 2010, and you won't notice much of a difference from previous incarnations -- the interface and feature set are so similar that it appears that only very minimal changes have been made to the suite. But under the hood is a new reputation-based security technology that the company claims is better positioned to protect against quickly evolving threats than traditional signature-based and behavior-based detection.

As with previous versions, Symantec's suite offers protection against viruses, Trojans, rootkits, spyware and malware of all kinds. Also, like previous versions, it has a firewall, intrusion protection, e-mail protection and Web protection. It integrates with your browser and search engine to warn you away from visiting sites that might be malicious.

The suite, despite its hefty feature set, does not take up a good deal of RAM or system resources. It's unlikely that you'll even notice it's running, a welcome change compared to several versions ago when it bogged down your system.

New reputation-based Quorum

Traditionally, security software detects threats by searching for signatures -- distinct code patterns that identify malware -- or by examining the behavior of a piece of software. Symantec claims that these solutions can't keep up with the massive amounts of new malware released every year.

The company has named its new reputation-based technology Quorum. It was designed for a world in which malware threats evolve exceedingly quickly and may be built to last only for a day, because malware writers know that signatures can be released to detect the threat in only 24 hours. Symantec claims that it is these kinds of threats -- those intended to do their damage quickly, before they are caught -- that are the primary dangers today.

Quorum creates a "reputation" for every piece of software it encounters, basing that reputation on a number of factors, including download source, age, prevalence and digital signature. So, for example, a new file downloaded from a not-well-known Web site that very few people have ever used will be regarded as suspect by Quorum, even if it is not known as a piece of malware and exhibits no suspicious behavior. As a result, one of malware writers' greatest weapons -- their ability to quickly turn out new pieces of malware -- makes it more likely that the new malware will be deemed suspicious by Quorum.

NIS 2010
If you've used Norton Internet Security 2009, the 2010 version will look very familiar.

According to Symantec, Quorum relies on data that Symantec has been capturing for years through millions of people who use Norton products and opt in to the Norton Community, sending information anonymously about the applications running on their systems. Quorum uses this information to help calculate its "reputation score" for applications.

Symantec stresses that it hasn't abandoned other means of catching malware; the reputation score is used in concert with signature-based and behavior-based protection.

Will the addition of Quorum actually help protect you more than traditional forms of protection? We'll only know when labs weigh in with their results.

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