Scores from excellent to perfect in our hands-on tests. Powerful, self-sufficient firewall. Award-winning Android security. Suite for macOS. Zero impact in performance tests. Virus protection promise.
Some poor scores from independent labs. Support in iOS is limited.
- Bottom Line
Symantec's very capable Norton Security Deluxe includes a firewall and supports all popular platforms, but its big brother, Symantec Norton Security Premium, is even better.
Installing an antivirus is essential for your digital security, but you get even more from a full-blown security suite. Where the basic Norton AntiVirus is Windows-only, Symantec Norton Security Deluxe includes protection for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. For Windows users, it adds a two-way firewall that doesn't bother you with annoying popups. It nearly wins an Editors' Choice, but is edged out by Symantec's own Norton Security Premium, which is even better.
The price for a year's subscription to Norton Security Deluxe went up with the 2018 edition, from $79.99 to $89.99, but that gets you five licenses to use on your devices. Webroot's entry-level suite costs $69.99 for five licenses, while Trend Micro's is $79.95 per year for three. McAfee LiveSafe goes for $10 more than Norton's current price, but it lets you install protection on every device in your household.
As with previous versions, you manage your Norton subscription through the online My Norton portal. Once you've registered your license key, you can immediately install protection on the device you're using, or send yourself an email to install on other devices. New in this edition, you manage Android anti-theft directly in the My Norton portal.
The product's main window looks extremely similar to that of the standalone antivirus. The main window features four panels devoted to Security, Identity, Performance, and More Norton. Clicking a panel slides down the whole panel row, revealing additional icons related to the panel you clicked. You won't find an icon for the firewall component—to configure the firewall, you go straight to Settings.
New in this edition is a helpful search box for Settings. Just click the icon at top right and start typing. It scans the many pages of settings to find ones that match what you've typed. You can toggle simple on/off settings right in the search results list. ESET offers a similar settings search.
Running Windows 10? You can install the free Norton Studio app, which lets you monitor all your Norton-protected devices from one handy dashboard. Norton Studio also works on Windows 8.x, but it's an older version, with fewer status details.
If you sign up for automatic renewal, you get a Virus Protection Promise from Symantec. That means if you get a malware infestation despite Norton's protection, a tech support expert will remotely log in to your system and remediate the problem. In the unlikely event the support expert can't fix the problem, Symantec will refund the price of your subscription. Note that this guarantee does not apply to the standalone antivirus; its support is limited to self-help and community forums. McAfee and Check Point ZoneAlarm Extreme Security offer similar guarantees.
Shared Antivirus Features
The antivirus protection in this suite is precisely the same as that offered by Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic. That being the case, I'll summarize my findings here. For all the details, read my full review of the antivirus app.
Symantec usually gets good scores from the independent labs, but a couple of recent bad results dragged down its aggregate score. It would have had Advanced+, the best rating, in the malware protection test by AV-Comparatives. However, "remarkably many" false positives dragged that score all the way down below a passing grade. It also failed both tests by MRG-Effitas—but note that over 40 percent of tested products also failed both those tests.
Like McAfee and Avira, Norton's aggregate lab score is 8.3 of 10 possible points. Kaspersky Internet Security tops this list, with a perfect 10, and Bitdefender is close in its heels, with 9.9 points.
Norton did much better in my own hands-on tests. In my malware protection test, it detected every single sample and scored a perfect 10 points. Webroot also managed a perfect 10 with this sample set.
Challenged with 100 freshly discovered malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, Norton prevented 98 percent of the malware downloads, blocking all access to about half of the URLs and wiping out the malware payload for the other half. That's the top score in this test, though Trend Micro Internet Security came very close, at 97 percent prevention.
When I test phishing protection, I use Norton as a touchstone, reporting the difference between each product's detection rate and Norton's. I also compare products with the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Naturally Norton itself precisely matches its own detection rate, and it handily beats all three browsers. Of recent products, only Bitdefender Internet Security and Trend Micro have outscored Norton in this test.
In addition to the expected quick and full scans for malware, Norton offers several other options. If you still think you might have malware after a regular scan, run the aggressive Norton Power Eraser. Norton Insight reports on the trust level of all your files, as well as their prevalence among Norton users. Furthermore, the Diagnostic Report can help you (or, more likely, a tech support agent) find the source of system problems.
Shared Bonus Features
Norton AntiVirus includes some useful bonus features that you might not expect in a simple antivirus. Its Intrusion Prevention system totally aced my exploit test, detecting and blocking every single one of the exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool.
Shortly after installation, Norton offers to install several tools in your browser, and it walks you through the installation process. These include Norton Safe Search, which marks dangerous search results; Norton Home Page, which puts Safe Search and a collection of quick links on your home page; and Norton Toolbar, which rates the pages you visit and includes a search box.
Your Norton installation gets you the Symantec Norton Identity Safe password manager, also available for free as a standalone product. Norton Antispam integrates with Microsoft Outlook to divert spam into its own folder; those using a different email client must define a message rule to toss the marked spam messages. Other bonus features shared by this suite and the antivirus include a tool to manage files that launch at startup, a disk optimizer, and a simple file cleanup tool.
As noted, Norton's antivirus product includes an intrusion prevention system, a feature usually associated with firewall protection. The suite includes a full-scale firewall, which both protects against outside attack and prevents misuse of your internet connection by local programs.
As expected, the firewall correctly stealthed all ports and fended off port scans and other web-based attacks. Given that the built-in Windows Firewall completely handles this task, this test is only relevant if a third-party firewall doesn't pass.
Back in the early days of personal firewalls, users got bombarded with confusing queries. Should such-a-program be allowed a particular type of internet access? Norton is smarter than that. To start, it uses a vast online database to assign network permissions for known good programs. Known bad programs are already gone, of course, vaporized by the antivirus component.
That leaves the unknowns. For those, Norton cranks up the sensitivity of its behavior-based malware detection. If it determines that the program is misusing its network access, Norton cuts that connection and quarantines the program. This isn't the full journal-and-rollback functionality that Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus uses to manage unknown programs, but it does the job.
Firewall protection, or security suite protection in general, isn't much use if a malicious program can disable it. I always run a simply sanity check, trying various methods to shut down protection, including techniques available to a malware coder. Norton doesn't expose important settings in the Registry, so I couldn't just set protection to disabled. I got an Access Denied message when I tried to terminate its two processes. Likewise, I couldn't stop or disable its single Windows service. Protecting essential processes and services makes sense, but not all products manage it. I had no trouble disabling protection by ThreatTrack Vipre Advanced Security and adaware, for example.
Zero Performance Impact
Long ago, perhaps 10 or 12 years ago, Norton and other security suites earned a bad reputation for gobbling up system resources and making PCs sluggish. The security companies focused development work on performance, so most modern security suites won't put a drag on your device.
I do still run hands-on tests to check for system slowdown caused by the security suite. I measure the boot time, the time required to move and copy a collection of files between drives, and the time to repeatedly zip and unzip that same collection of files. In each case, I first average many test runs on a clean system. Then I install the product and average many more test runs.
Like adaware antivirus total and Webroot, Norton had no measurable effect on any of the three tests. That's not particularly noteworthy, however, as few current products affect performance enough that you'd actually notice a difference on today's PCs. Still, given Norton's long-past offenses, it's a welcome result.
Award-Winning Android Protection
Norton's standalone antivirus runs only on Windows. With the suite, you can cover your macOS, Android, and iOS devices as well. Click More Norton in the program's main window, click Add Devices, and then click the Show Me How button to start the process. Sign in to your Norton account and enter the email address used on the device you want to protect. Unlike the similar feature in McAfee LiveSafe, you don't have to choose the platform. Clicking the emailed link on the device automatically selects the proper download.
On an Android device, you get Norton Security and Antivirus (for Android). Along with Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus, this product is an Editors' Choice for Android security. Please read our review of that product for a deep dive into its features. I'll summarize here. Note that the Android app has gotten a significant user interface redesign and some new features since our review.
Immediately after installation, the antivirus runs an update and a scan. You also must activate the app as a Device Administrator to make use of its anti-theft features, and give it Accessibility permission so it can scan apps on Google Play.
Norton scans for malicious and risky apps, as expected. More interestingly, its App Advisor works inside Google Play, checking every app you tap and reporting the risk level. Tap the small notification at the bottom to see details of App Advisor's findings.
On an Android smartphone, you can block unwanted calls and messages. New in this edition, Norton can automatically add numbers to the block list if you decline the call multiple times. You can block calls from private numbers, block calls from anyone not in your contacts, and block calls from specific regions.
You can invoke Norton's extensive set of anti-theft features via the web console or by sending coded SMS commands. New in this edition, anti-theft management is integrated with the regular My Norton console.
At setup, it generates a passcode that you'll need to invoke anti-theft features. You can use the app to locate, lock, or wipe the device, and the scream feature helps find a misplaced device at home. When you lock the device, it displays a contact message of your choice, so someone who finds your lost device can arrange to return it.
The Sneak Peek feature lets you remotely (and silently) snap a photo of whoever is holding the device. When you lock a lost or stolen device, it automatically snaps a photo every 10 minutes, and reports its location every five minutes. New in this edition, Sneak Peek triggers automatically on suspicious actions such as entering the wrong unlock code multiple times. You can also remotely back up your contacts before resorting to the Wipe command, which performs a factory reset.
The new Lost mode combines several existing features to help you find a lost device. It locks the device and displays a custom message. It sounds an audible alarm, even if the device's sound is muted. It also reports the device's location every five minutes. Finally, it takes a Sneak Peek photo whenever it detects activity on the phone.
There's a link to install the free separate App Lock app, and another to install a trial of the Norton WiFi Privacy VPN (Virtual Private Network. You can also extend protection to another device directly from within the Android app.
Suite for macOS Security
A common pattern with cross-platform suites is to give Windows users a full security suite with tons of features, but stick to a plain antivirus on macOS. Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) goes beyond basic antivirus, adding a full two-way firewall. It supports the current macOS version plus the two previous, meaning it goes back to El Capitan (10.11). Please read my review for full details; I'll hit the high points here.
The macOS antivirus earned certification from AV-Test Institute, with 100 percent detection of Mac-centered malware. Its phishing protection, while decent, proved less effective in testing than that of the Windows version.
The Mac firewall blocks unsolicited incoming connections and warns when you connect to an insecure network. Like the Windows antivirus, it blocks exploit attacks. If you enable application blocking, it goes old-school, asking you what to do each time it sees a new program attempting network access. I'd be happier if it handled those decisions internally, as the Windows version's firewall does.
Lost iPhone Finder
Writing security software that runs on Apple's iOS is tough, because Apple has the operating system so thoroughly locked down. Fortunately, writing malware for iOS is equally tough. Like many cross-platform suites, Norton doesn't attempt malware protection for iOS devices. In fact, the full name of the iOS app is Norton Mobile Security Lost Device Finder.
After installing the app, you must give it permission to always track the device's location. It also requests access to the microphone, the ability to send notifications, and access to your contacts (so it can back them up). That's it.
You can now use the My Norton portal to locate your device on a map. If the map shows the device is in your house, you can sound a loud alarm to find it. You can remotely back up your contacts, or you can download backed-up contacts to a CSV file. There's also an option to make an internet phone call to the device (that's why it needs microphone access). That's the full extent of Norton's iOS protection.
Excellent but Overshadowed
Norton's standalone antivirus earned a perfect score in our malware protection test and a near-perfect score in our malicious URL blocking test. Norton is the touchstone we use to evaluate phishing protection by other products. Beyond the usual antivirus components, it includes a straightforward spam filter, powerful protection against exploit attacks, and several other bonus features.
That's a lot of security packed into a "mere" antivirus utility. Norton Security Deluxe adds an intelligent firewall and security for Android, macOS, and iOS devices, along with full-blown tech support and a virus protection guarantee.
The problem with this suite is that it suffers by comparison with its big brother, Norton Internet Security Premium. Premium costs $20 more, but it doubles the number of licenses and adds a powerful local and online backup system, with 25GB of hosted storage for your backups. It also comes with a full subscription to Norton Family Premier. It's just a better deal all around, which is why Premium is our Editors' Choice for cross-platform multi-device security suite.
Note: These sub-ratings contribute to a product's overall star rating, as do other factors, including ease of use in real-world testing, bonus features, and overall integration of features.
Parental Control: n/a
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Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »
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