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Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Web security software intuitive, useful -- but not perfect

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #690 January 14- 20 High Tech Office column

    Last week's column looked at potholes in the Information Superhighway: the spam, viruses, and security attacks that increased throughout the past year and show no signs of letting up.

    Large businesses have information technology departments paid to worry about these things, and (hopefully) keep end-users safe.

    Small business and home-office users, however, are on their own to try to wend their way through a confusing array of utilities offering virus protection, firewalls, pop-up ad barriers, adware removal and on and on.

    The 2003 version of Symantec's Norton Internet Security ($99 home version, $150 professional version) has evolved into the Swiss army knife of Internet protection utilities, bundling a set of tools that will smooth out the potholes for most Internet travellers.

    Like previous editions, it bundles a copy of Norton Antivirus with a subscription for a year's worth of virus definition updates. (At the end of that year, users can still manually download new virus definitions, but will need to purchase an extended subscription to use the software's automated Live Update.)

    Norton Antivirus does a good job of working behind the scenes to detect viruses in e-mail attachments and in outgoing e-mail. New this year is the ability to check for viruses in instant messaging attachments, though it lacks support for the popular ICQ program.

    The program's firewall (available on its own as the $75 Norton Personal Firewall) provides protection from outside hackers and from installed software "phoning home" without the user's knowledge or consent.

    During setup it presents the user with a list of programs that desire Internet access. Resist temptation to give them all blanket approval, allowing you to catch rogue software in the act over the next few days.

    Alternatively, you can enter the last digits of credit cards and bank accounts, allowing the program to block Internet packets sending financial data, (or children "borrowing" daddy's credit card to make purchases online).

    Both versions of the software include options to limit what different users can do on the Net. The $99 home version includes optional restrictive profiles for children and teens, while the $149 professional version aims to keep employees from letting the Net divert them from work.

    A new spam-alert option aims at identifying undesired e-mail messages. Like other products of this type, it's helpful but not perfect. In my tests, it correctly flagged about 80 per cent of the junk mail arriving in my inbox, adding a SPAM ALERT warning to its subject line. This not only warns you about the message, but also makes it easy to set up a rule in Outlook Express or Eudora to automatically divert such messages to the trash. However, it missed a few pieces of junk mail and incorrectly flagged a few messages sent by services to which I had subscribed.

    While not a security hazard, Web ads have become increasingly annoying. New to this version of Norton Internet Security is an option to screen out Web page ads. Ad Blocking can be set to stop both online ads, and annoying pop-up and pop-under windows.

    This feature worked well in my tests. If some ads slip through its screening, you can drag them to the program's ad trash can to filter them out the next time you visit that page. (The Ad Trashcan, however, is buried several levels deep in the program's configuration, making it perhaps too awkward to use in real life.)

    Though not yet perfect, Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2003 combines a comprehensive set of features with a reasonably easy-to-use interface, making it a good choice for online users' protection and convenience.

    Buy Symantec Norton Internet Security from Amazon.com



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan