Canada Computes

    Locking the Virtual Front Door

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Toronto Computes, February 2003

    Have you noticed? Lately, the Internet doesn't seem to be as much fun as it used to be. What, a few years ago, was an exciting way to communicate and get news and information now has become increasingly painful to use.
    With an increased number of viruses, hack attacks, pop-up Web pages and more, online has changed from the sort of community where people left their front doors unlocked to a place where everyone needs to invest in multiple deadbolts and bars, and peek out cautiously when anyone knocks.

    Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2003, now in its third edition, promises to reduce the risks and inconveniences of being online.

    Norton Internet Security boxLike previous versions, the 2003 edition ($109) bundles the latest versions of the company's Norton Antivirus and Norton Personal Firewall (each available separately for $69). Last year, NAV added the option to scan outgoing e-mail to catch any viruses before they infect others. New this year is the option to watch several instant messaging programs -- though not the popular ICQ program. It's easier than ever to update the virus definitions automatically, no user intervention is needed. (A one-year subscription to Symantec's Live Update is included with the purchase of NAV or NIS; afterwards, you will need to renew to continue the automated service. Alternately, you can manually download the latest virus definition files for free.)

    Like other software firewalls, Norton Personal Firewall hides your computer from hackers randomly probing the Internet for vulnerable systems. As well, it keeps track of programs on your computer that are trying to connect outside. When it is first installed, it searches your system and presents you with a list of Internet-capable programs. It makes recommendations that it thinks are "friendly." Resist temptation to simply allow everything listed free and easy Net access; instead, grant access to your Web browser and e-mail software. When other programs try to go online, the firewall will inform you, asking for permission.

    A new privacy control feature blocks attempts to send credit card, bank account and other sensitive information from your computer without your knowledge. Also new and very welcome is the option to screen out standard Web ads and annoying pop-up and pop-under browser windows. This feature works better than some others that I have tried, which often keep the main page from loading.

    Like NAV, Personal Firewall uses Symantec's Live Update to maintain an up-to-date list of online hazards. You also get a one-year subscription when you install the software.

    Norton Internet Security offers a single interface for access to antivirus and firewall features. As well, it includes a number of extra features. You may choose to use it to label e-mail messages with the phrase "Spam Alert." By my informal count, it caught about 80 per cent of the unwanted e-mail arriving on my system. It's up to you to decide where to go from there; the manual discusses how to set up rules in Outlook Express or filters in Eudora to automatically send labeled messages to the Trash, if desired.

    Parents may choose to allow different levels of Internet activity for different users of the computer; editable profiles are included for children and teens, giving parents control over what their children are able to do online. (Once again, lists of blocked sites are updated regularly via the Live Update subscription). A $149 Pro version of the product is designed to allow employers to block where employees can surf during work.

     I would have liked to see the program monitor ICQ as well as other similar programs, and some of the options are difficult to discover. But Norton Internet Security 2003 goes a long way to making the Internet a safer and more fun place to spend time.

    Norton Internet Security 2003


    Windows XP/ME/2000/98, 150 MHz processor (300 MHz for XP), 64 MB RAM (128 MB required for XP), 90 MB hard disk space, Internet Explorer 5.01 or higher, CD-ROM

    Buy Symantec Norton Internet Security from

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