9 security suites: maximum protection, minimum fuss
Panda Security, although not as well known as the big names like Symantec and Trend Micro, offers several security products, ranging from simple antivirus tools to hosted enterprise systems. Internet Security 2010 offers protection from viruses, spyware, rootkits, hackers, online fraud, identity theft and other Internet threats. Panda Internet Security 2010 also offers antispam features, parental controls and full anti-malware capabilities.
Panda incorporates a technology it calls "cloud scanning," which centralizes virus data from across all Panda customers to keep its database up to date. According to the company, the underlying collective intelligence used by the cloud technology helps to make sure that all signatures are up to date and allows Panda to get a head start on how to deal with a virus or exploit that represents a zero-day threat.
The firewall has a set-and-forget design. Basically, you pick a profile and assign that to the firewall, and the firewall then protects the PC based upon the canned settings in the profile. However, I found the firewall settings particularly difficult to change, making it a bit hard to customize the protection offered. Some of the settings were buried under different menus, while other settings were not well defined. For example, to change ports being blocked, I had to go through several menu levels to locate the feature.
The firewall automatically handles known good and bad programs and monitors system behavior for any unknown programs. An extensive database helps to keep notifications to a minimum, only bothering the user when an unknown application is first run.
Parental controls allow you to set up a Web filter and give each user a specific setting. The product offers the following preset filters: Kid, Employee, Teen or Default. You can also adjust the filter to block or allow specific content. Setting up the parental controls requires that you assign each user a log-on name and password -- the other suites here don't require the creation of separate accounts for each user.
Panda's spam filtering was easy to set up and needs minimal user intervention. It automatically filters incoming POP3 e-mail; however, it doesn't support IMAP e-mail. More control over spam would be nice -- the product offers limited custom filtering, only looking for keywords or attachments.
Panda Internet Security 2010 was simple to install and set up -- the installation wizard only asks a few questions and only one reboot is required.
The product does make a lot of assumptions on its default settings, turning on all security features, such as spam protection, as part of the installation. That's actually an advantage, especially since changing the defaults can be a tedious process, with some configuration elements hard to locate and/or understand. I found that to change some simple rules, I had to traverse a multitude of menus, especially for firewall settings.
The product offers a combo dashboard/main screen that shows the status of system security and features menu items that launch the various configuration and information screens. It combines antivirus and antispyware systems into a single choice on the dashboard. The firewall is controlled using a dedicated tab on the dashboard, which brings up the various submenus.
Price: $81.95 for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)
Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, netbook version
Panda could use better help screens and clearer descriptions of its various functions, although those familiar with PC security should have no problems. However, neophytes may be put off by the terminology.
The product performs well and was relatively unobtrusive on my test PC. Warning screens were kept to a minimum and updates were automated, meaning that users are not asked before an update is processed. Whether that's a good way to handle things comes down to whether a user prefers an install-and-forget security product or wants to be intimately involved with his PC's security status.
Panda has some big changes planned for the next version of its suite, which is expected by the third quarter of 2010. According to the company, the package will sport a redesigned interface that's crafted to address user concerns about things such as difficult-to-find settings and less-than-useful help screens.
The product will also incorporate improved Web site filtering, offering better protection from the growing spate of phishing and attack sites. The product's "cloud scanning" technology is poised to become faster, more efficient and more frequently updated, helping to reduce the threat of zero-day attacks. Other planned improvements include new data-encryption technology to protect personal information, enhanced privacy controls and an information shredder that's supposed to wipe out all traces of personal data before a system is handed over to a new user.
Panda Internet Security 2010 works well and is a polished product that should appeal to newbie users. It's a bit more expensive than most of its competitors; in addition, power users who like to have full control over their software might find that Panda Internet Security 2010 comes up a little short.
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