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Norton Protection: Which One Is Best?

Understand the similarities and differences between Norton 360, Norton Internet Security, and Norton Antivirus

Norton Protection: Which One is Best? 
Debbi Landshoff - December 17, 2012
This article describes the major capabilities of three Norton security products and provides guidelines to understand which of the capabilities might be useful for your organization's computers.

Symantec donates three Norton security products through TechSoup:

  • Norton AntiVirus (abbreviated in this article as NAV) is the basic security package. It provides protection against viruses and spyware.
  • Norton Internet Security (NIS) provides the same protection as NAV with additional security features such as protection against spam, a software firewall, and features that make web surfing safer (such as Safe Web, Safe Web for Facebook, parental controls, and Identity Safe).
  • Norton 360 (360) provides the security features of NIS and adds tools to back up your data, fix common computer problems, free up memory, remove unneeded files, and clean up the hard drive.

Remember that you need a range of security technologies to adequately protect your charity's computers and data, and each user needs to take responsibility for their Internet behavior. To help you develop your nonprofit or library's security program, you can search TechSoup for articles, forum threads, news items, and vendor-specific advice for securing your computers and protecting your organization. We also encourage you to browse through the TechSoup catalog, where you will find a range of security products and services for individual computers and enterprises, donated by Symantec and our other partners.

Tip: If you want explanations for unfamiliar terms used in this article, we recommend Computer Hope's Computer dictionary and glossary.

All Three Programs Have Antivirus and Antispyware

Antivirus and antispyware software protect from malicious software. The differences between them are subtle.

  • Antivirus software protects against the types of threats that seek to infect the computer and ultimately infect as many computers as possible. These threats include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, botnets, and rootkits.
  • Antispyware software protects against software that secretly resides in your computer, collecting information about users and their computers with without appropriate notice and consent. Spyware can collect anything you type, your messaging and browsing behavior, and your online preferences. Unlike viruses, spyware tends to stay put and doesn't use your computer to infect other computers.

Norton applications scan for all these types of threats during file download, program installation, email and instant message operations, and file copy operations, and when images and other files are added to your browser cache. Norton also scans your existing files on a regular basis. If the scan operation finds problems, default settings automatically remove the threat, if possible, and notify you.

NIS and 360 Protect from Additional Online Threats

NIS and 360 provide the following security capabilities in addition to those provided by NAV.

Antispam

The term antispam refers to protection from junk email or bulk email from suspicious senders. Spam is often a carrier for malware and can lead you to malicious sites.

Norton applications check incoming emails for known words or phrases commonly used in spam, origination from known spammers, and noncompliance with common standards such as the existence and formatting of certain headers. When Norton finds emails it believes are spam, it puts a note in the subject and, depending on your email program, might send it to your junk folder.

Firewall

Norton's software firewall blocks all uninvited inbound connections from other computers. Uninvited connections can steal information from your computer, install programs, launch programs, and make changes to your computer. The Norton firewall also blocks you from connecting to known malicious computers and other devices.

Of course, even when you invite the connection, for example by requesting the newest account information from your bank, Norton always monitors for viruses and other malware.

Safe Surfing and Facebook

Norton Safe Web displays a warning pop-up message when you attempt to access a known fraudulent web page or a web page that has suspicious characteristics.

When you search the Internet using the Google, Yahoo, or Bing search engines, Norton Safe Web displays Norton rating icons next to the search results. As you move the mouse pointer over the Norton icon, a pop-up message appears with site safety and shopping safety information.

Note: When you install NAV, you have an option to include the free Safe Web Lite application, which has most of the safe-surfing features that are in in NIS and 360.

Norton Safe Web for Facebook scans your News Feed for dangerous downloads and links to unsafe websites and warns you and your Facebook friends about them.

Additional Capabilities

NIS and 360 provide other capabilities that might be useful to nonprofits and libraries. For example:

  • Parental controls management provides a link from within the control center to the Norton online family website, either the free version or the paid version.
  • Norton Identity Safe provides storage in your cloud space for usernames and passwords.

360 Adds Startup Management, Data Backup, and PC Maintenance

360 has the following capabilities in addition to those in NIS and NAV.

Startup Management

Norton Startup Manager displays a list of applications that are set to run at startup and allows the user to stop them from running at startup or to delay them until shortly after startup. This helps shorten the amount of time that you have to wait for your computer to be ready for use.

Automatic Backup and Web-Based Backup Access

Norton can back up all your files, except for system and program files. You can back up to local or network drives (including flash drives), and you can also use Norton's online backup to store your data in the cloud.

You can set up one or several backup routines (called backup sets) that specify the files and folders that you want to back up, the backup location, and the backup schedule. The configurable items are:

  • What kinds of files to back up, for example pictures, music, email, contacts, and office documents.
  • The locations you are backing up, such as My Documents and specific drives.
  • The backup destination: Norton online backup in the cloud, internal or external hard drive, flash drive, or network drive.
  • Whether the backup runs automatically on a weekly or monthly basis, or manually. For weekly or monthly, you can specify the date and time.

If you are on a computer that is not running 360, you can download any file backed up to the cloud by logging in to the Norton Online Backup site. Or, you can log in to that account and email a link to the file to someone else.

PC Tuneup

360 cleanup tasks include removing outdated files left behind by Internet Explorer or Windows, optimizing the hard drive, and cleaning up the Windows registry.

How to Choose

All computers that connect to the Internet and receive files from outside sources need antivirus and antispyware. This section is meant to help you decide whether the additional security features of NIS or 360 and the backup and computer management tools of 360 are appropriate for any of the computers managed by your nonprofit or library.

You Can Mix and Match

It might be appropriate to install different Norton products on different computers, based on how each computer is used. You can still manage all of them in a single Norton account. See Account Management for Multiple Computers below.

Do You Need the Additional Protection in NIS and 360?

Is antivirus and antispyware sufficient or should you have the additional security features in NIS and 360? That depends on how you use the Internet and on the type of security already in place from other sources.

Antispam

Antispam capability is needed only if messages are downloaded to your computer via an email client like Outlook or Outlook Express. Although our experience is that Norton's antispam has some functionality in other email client applications, it is only officially supported for Outlook 2002 or later, Outlook Express 6.0 or later, and Windows Mail (spam filtering only).

Most email providers have spam filtering capability that operates at the server. However, you might want to consider a combination of spam filtering at the server with Norton antispam on the computer. For example, you might be able to specify at the server level that only emails that are clearly spam be blocked and let the Norton product deal with all other email.

Firewall

Everyone needs a firewall, but you may already have adequate firewall protection through a modem, dedicated firewall device, or a router. You would want to ensure that the device is capable of SPI (stateful packet inspection) and that its firmware is up to date.

However, if you connect to the Internet wirelessly, you really should have a software firewall installed on the computer, even there is firewall protection on one of the types of devices mentioned above.

It is even more important to have a software firewall if the computer connects to the Internet from public locations such as hotels and coffee shops.

Safe Web and Safe Web for Facebook

The major browsers already block or warn against known unsafe web sites and the major search engines don't display them in lists. However, if you do a lot of web searching or have an active Facebook wall and especially if you enter personal or financial information in websites, it can be very helpful to have the additional level of security Norton provides.

Some web safety features work only in recent releases of certain 32-bit browsers. You should carefully review the system requirements before choosing NIS or 360 for its safe browsing features. This also applies to the free Safe Web Lite application.

Do You Need Backup or Other Computer Management Tools?

Norton 360 is the better choice if you want to ensure regular file backup and certain computer cleanup tasks are performed on a regular basis.

Note: It might be difficult for some individual users to set up these tasks in 360, but the organization's IT manager or accidental techie can set the tasks up for them so that the tasks will run regularly.

360 also provides a diagnostic report about the computer's status (operating system installed, resource utilization, installed programs, hardware profile, and system restore points). The report can be useful when talking to technical support personnel.

Local and Online Backup

Norton 360's backup tools can be set up to ensure that your data is backed up regularly.

With 360, you get 2 GB of online storage for free and can buy more space for an additional fee. 2 GB might be enough for your most important files. To avoid or minimize the additional costs, it can be a good decision to back up most of your files to local storage, such as a flash drive or an external hard drive, and back up only a small portion to the cloud.

Both local and online backups are in Norton's proprietary format, which means they can only be restored via a computer with 360 or (for online backups) a Norton Account that manages the online storage.

PC Tuneup

Although the PC Tuneup tasks are already available as user-initiated utilities, in 360 they run automatically. (The utilities are Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter and are available in Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP with Service Pack 3. Note that Disk Defragmenter has been renamed Optimize Drives in Windows 8.)

Account Management for Multiple Computers

You manage Norton products and services online through your Norton account, which can be accessed from any computer. All products and services that are registered with the same email address are managed from the same account. With a unified account management:

  • You don't need access to the individual computer to ensure that subscriptions don't expire.
  • You can share online backup space between different computers (make sure to define the backup sets with unique names).

If you use online backup, be aware that retrieving files from the online backup space or sending an email link to a backed up file requires the username and password for the Norton account. Therefore it might not be appropriate to allow individual users to retrieve their own files.

Features Available Separately

Some Norton features are available separately and can be used instead of or to complement the features in NIS and 360.

Image: Security options, Shutterstock