Norton Internet Security 2009 beta hits the accelerator

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

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Leveraging data from millions of Norton Community members, Norton Insight lets Norton security products avoid scanning files that are found on most computers and statistically determined to be trusted. Symantec estimates that more than 65% of files will never need to be scanned, but I lucked out: The Norton Process Trust page graphically rendered the pleasing fact that 77% of the files on my system are trusted, leaving a mere 23% that required scanning. NIS 2009 also promises to avoid redundant multiple scans, such as those that occur before, during and after a file is copied.

NIS 2009 beta

Norton Insight identifies "trusted" files.

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Symantec has also introduced features such as silent mode, which automatically suspends alerts and updates to avoid interrupting or slowing down games, movies or other presentations.

All in all, performance has improved drastically. After a week of running the beta, I'm no longer interrupted by updates and scans, some of which managed to crash my poky system under NIS 2008. What I'm seeing instead is that after I return from leaving the system idle for any appreciable time, I find a message telling me that updates are being done — updates that stop until I wander off again.

Analyzing and fixing risks

All that said, Norton's fix-it functionality hasn't changed much from the same easy-to-intuit interface Symantec offered in NIS 2008. The security suite provides details about detected risks and then suggests the appropriate action, which is initiated with a single click. Drilling down into the risk details pinpointed just where I picked up the two tracking cookies it found.

Security-wise, NIS 2009 serves up the whole enchilada: browser protection against Web-based attacks, Symantec Online Network for Advanced Response protection (behavior-based malware detection that tracks applications to identify new threats in what Symantec says is real time), and intrusion-prevention system capabilities, as well as anti-rootkit, antivirus, antispyware and anti-bot technologies.

The Risk Impact window gives a concise summary of a risk's potential effect on system performance and privacy, how involved the risk removal will be, and its level of stealth, which refers to the number of tactics a given risk uses in order to conceal itself. In this instance, the cookies weren't exhibiting any sneaky hiding behaviors; hence, a low stealth level was given.

NIS 2009 beta

NIS 2009 analyzes a risk's impact.

Click to view larger image.

It's not new — it debuted in NIS 2008 — but one thing that's still fun to play with is the suite's Security History. Here, you can access, for example, a firewall activity history that time-stamps the specific applications that have attempted outbound connections and identifies which ports they use, remote IP addresses, bytes sent and received, elapsed time, and which protocols they use, such as TCP or UDP.

Other log views include Firewall Network and Connections, Intrusion Prevention, Resolved Security Risks and Scan Results. These logs are exportable. It's hard to imagine what a typical home user would do with a collection of such reports, but it's nice that a consumer security suite has the added bells and whistles to satisfy the über-security-conscious.

Stellar support

Searching for the CPU Meter prompted me to try NIS 2009's One-Click Support, a free support service that connected me almost instantly to live chat with a service technician. Before I could chat, however, I needed a Flash update, which was automatically fetched and downloaded without sending me off to a separate site to get it on my own — a smart play when you're talking about supporting an ever-more-unsophisticated user group.

The support technician promptly took over my PC with a remote connection, fiddled around trying to find what I was looking for, determined the beta build wasn't supporting CPU Meter, and told me exactly where the feature would be in the final product.

Symantec offers one-click, in-product support for its software, featuring free e-mail and chat support besides its paid phone support. These support channels are open as needed to customers both during installation and beyond.

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