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Wednesday, 21 March 2012 16:39

Review - Norton Internet Security for Mac


Do Macs need security software? It's a good question if you want to start a fight at a Mac user group. Although in-the-wild virus attacks aren't a reality for Mac users, playing safe in our connected world is important. That's where Norton Internet Security for Mac steps in.

Before we get into the specifics of the product, it's important to know what were actually trying to protect ourselves against. Firstly, there are viruses - bits of software that are secretly introduced to your computer, carry out some sort of unauthorised activity and spread themselves to other computers secretly.

Then there's malware. This is subtly different to a virus in that it relies on you installing it - usually without your knowledge or by tricking you. For example, when Apple and Adobe released some new software recently, malware developers introduced some malicious code into pirated versions of the software.

Phishing scams rely on fooling you into surrendering information such as website log-ins, credit card details or personal information.

Security conferences and experts have shown proof-of-concept Mac viruses but we haven't been able to find a real, in the wild, virus that affects OS X reported anywhere. However, malware infections and phishing scams are a real threat. That's why, when you take a look at the shelves of your local reseller you'll see that there's very little "anti-virus" software  - it's all about the security software.

Older Mac versions of Norton's software were pilloried for the way they slowed a computer down. The old joke was that the reason the picture of Peter Norton on the software packaging had him posed with a stern look and crossed arms was that he was waiting for the software to work. Many Macs were slowed to a crawl as the application chewed up all the CPU cycles and memory it could find.

Fortunately, Symantec totally rewrote the Norton code, starting from scratch. It's now far leaner.

Norton Internet Security for Mac is made for OS X 10.7 but comes with Norton Internet Security 4 if you're running OS X 10.4 to 10.6. Installation is straightforward and takes about 10 minutes including a check for updates. After an automatic reboot there's then a short wizard that configures the software for your specific needs.

The Norton firewall is location aware - a significant advantage over the Mac's built-in one. It allows you to specify different firewall rules for different network connections. If you have a laptop that you use at home, at a client site and on public networks you can configure different settings for each location.

The centrepiece of Norton Internet Security for Mac is, in our view, Safe Search. Norton has compiled a list of safe and unsafe websites. Whenever you visit a website or conduct a search, the results are compared against the list and you get an instant indication as to the safety level of the site.

The Safe Search feature works best with Firefox rather than Safari. It adds a toolbar that can be used for searching rather than the default search box. It's a bit of mystery to us as to why the toolbar wasn't enabled for Safari - the default web browser on Macs. The toolbar uses Ask.com as its search engine although if you prefer to use Google, search results that are considered safe are marked with a green icon. Unsafe and unknown sites are also labelled so that you can make a decision as to whether you should visit them or not. If you put your mouse over the icon, a report about how the safety ranking was reached is shown.

It was once said that there wasn't a CPU that Intel could make that a Norton product couldn't slow down. However, the combination of Moore's Law and better software means that Norton Internet Security for Mac is barely noticeable when running. When idle, the software used a meagre 1.3% of CPU and 17MB of memory. When actively scanning that rose to just 10% and 32MB.

Given that Norton Internet Security for Mac offers noticeable protection from phishing sites and sites that can be used to distribute malware and it makes no noticeable impact of system performance we'd suggest that it's a worthwhile candidate for installation on your Mac.

Norton Internet Security for Mac costs $99.

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