A good antivirus program is a critical part of any PC software suite, and one of the best options is Norton Security 2015, which includes a sleek, well-organized interface, a top-notch antivirus engine and many other security and privacy features.
For 2015, Norton has radically simplified its product line. It once sold three different tiers of Windows products at different prices, ranging from basic protection to an advanced suite, but Norton now has just one product: Norton Security. With a list price of $80 per year (significant discounts are available online), it protects five devices running Windows, OS X, iOS or Android. For an extra $10, Norton Security with Backup adds 25GB of cloud storage and five more device licenses.
Setup and interface
To install Norton Security 2015, I went to the company's website, plugged in an activation code and started the download. The entire process required a computer restart, but took just a bit longer than 10 minutes.
Norton Security's interface consists of a white rectangle with green accents, which change to yellow if it needs an update, and to red if it detects a serious threat. The protection status is also spelled out in words.
Four rectangular icons on the main interface demarcate Norton Security's feature groups: Security, Identity, Performance and More. Clicking any icon slides the entire icon row aside so that new buttons, keyed to particular icons, appear. It's a sleek, well-animated look befitting Norton's concise and simple interface design.
LiveUpdate, keyed to the Security icon, manages Norton Security 2015's updates. The History button, also keyed to Security, shows a record of the computer's security-related activities -- not only results of malware scans, but also user logins and Wi-Fi connections. An Advanced button reveals the status of antivirus, firewall and identity protections.
Overall, the clean, easy-to-use interface conveys appropriate seriousness without feeling heavy or overbearing, and explains Norton Security 2015's features in clear language.
Like most modern antivirus programs, Norton Security 2015 identifies malware by comparing suspicious files to a cloud-based database of known malware definitions, which no longer need to be downloaded. Norton Security also analyzes suspicious behavior, identifying malware threats early.
By default, Norton Security 2015 performs malware scans weekly, offering regular protection without making users wade through settings. The interface for scheduling scans is a bit buried, but can be found in both the Security section and the Settings menu at the top right of the main interface.
The Security section holds four subsections: Run Scans, LiveUpdate, History and Advanced. Run Scans, naturally, launches on-demand malware scans. It can also scan your Facebook Wall for malicious links, or run a "Power Eraser" that searches your hard drive for the adware or browser hijackers typical antivirus scans ignore. (Norton warns that Power Eraser may accidentally flag and delete legitimate programs.)
Another scan, Norton Insight, identifies "trusted" files that won't be examined during Quick Scans, while Diagnostic Report looks for items that might improve your PC's performance — it flagged several startup items on my PC that could be removed.
The Identity section contains four tools: Identity Safe, ID Settings, Statistics and Password Generator. The first tool stores sensitive information, such as passwords and financial information, in encrypted cloud storage. Data can be entered by hand or imported from password managers. If you install the Norton Toolbar browser plugin for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Microsoft Internet Explorer, the data will autocomplete in Web page form fields.
ID Settings manages Norton Security 2015's background protections, such as anti-phishing protection and website safety ratings, both of which require Norton Toolbar. Statistics shows how frequently you've used Norton Security 2015's various features, while Password Generator launches a Web page to create random, strong passwords.
Back on the Norton Security 2015 main interface, the Performance icon leads to four more tools. Optimize Disk cleans up your hard drive. File Cleanup finds files that can be deleted. Startup Manager adds and removes programs from the Startup folder to improve boot times. Graphs displays a timeline of activities Norton Security 2015 has performed, similar to the History section but more visually oriented.
Most of the Performance tools duplicate Windows system tools or free optimizers such as CCleaner, but Norton puts them in one place and makes them easier to use.
The More Norton section of the main interface contains Add Devices, Manage, Identity Safe, Family and Backup. The first two handle all devices protected by your Norton Security software, such as Macs, other PCs or iOS and Android devices. Identity Safe launches the feature of the same name from the Identity section, while Backup simply urges you to spend the extra $10 for Norton Security with Backup.
Parental Controls Separate
Norton Family, the parental-control feature, requires installation of a browser extension upon each device children use. Norton Family can be accessed from a Web browser or a mobile phone, reveals children's browsing histories, search histories and Facebook usage, and can also place time limits on Internet use.
For an extra $50 per year, Norton Family Premier incorporates features found in parental-control mobile apps, such as displaying children's text messages and, for kids with Android devices, location tracking and lists of installed apps. It also lists children's YouTube and Hulu views on PCs.
The most important part of any antivirus program is malware detection. To assess Norton Security 2015's capabilities, we turned to AV-TEST, a German lab that regularly assesses antivirus software.
In August 2014, AV-TEST found that Norton detected 100 percent of the well-known malware samples thrown at it, comfortably above the industry average of 98 percent. Against newly discovered "zero-day" malware, Norton also scored 100 percent, better than the industry average of 96 percent.
This places Norton Security 2015 in line with Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 and TrendMicro Titanium Maximum Security 2015. Among Norton's other competitors, Kaspersky Internet Security 2015 scored 100 percent on widespread malware and 99 percent on zero-day malware, and AVG Internet Security 2014 scored 97 percent in both tests.
Two caveats: AV-TEST's August evaluations were performed on Windows 7, whereas this review was done on a Windows 8 machine. Because Norton Security 2015 was not yet available, AV-TEST examined Norton Internet Security 2014. Because both programs use the same antivirus engine, the scores should be comparable.
We tested Norton Security 2015 on an Acer Aspire E1 laptop running 64-bit Windows 8 with a Core i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM — a deliberately midrange machine upon which any performance issues would be clearly apparent. We ran Norton Security 2015 against both the benchmarking software PCMark7, and a custom test we created in OpenOffice.
Our laptop scored a 2191 in PCMark7 before any antivirus programs were installed.
As Norton Security 2015 ran a full scan that dropped to 1829; during a quick scan, the score was 2133. Both are very good scores: The Full scan score places Norton below Webroot in terms of performance impact, but higher than comparable products from Bitdefender, Kaspersky and TrendMicro, though Bitdefender’s quick scan score does beat Norton's.
The OpenOffice test yielded comparable results. Without an antivirus program installed, the Acer Aspire E1 completed it in 8 minutes, 39 seconds. While a Norton Security 2015 full scan was running, this increased to 10:47, and during a quick scan, the time was 9:17.
According to this test, Bitdefender beat Norton in both full and quick scan scores. Norton also tied with Trend Micro's full scan and lost to its quick scan. Norton did still beat out Kaspersky in our OpenOffice score.
Norton Security 2015 has a strong selection of features packed into a tight, elegant and fluid interface. We particularly like the range of helpful scans and the Identity Safe feature for securely storing passwords and sensitive information.
Yet an intermediate-tier antivirus package in this price range should have family protection built-in. Other absent features, such as hardened browsers or "rescue" partitions, can be found on some inexpensive "starter" antivirus products, and most of Norton's competitors offer discounts for installation on one PC instead of the standard three.
Norton Security 2015 offers seamless, pain-free protection, but so do rival products that cost less, especially when fewer PCs are involved. Because of its generous licensing arrangements, Norton Security 2015 offers the best value to a family, or an individual, with more than three devices to protect across multiple platforms.
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Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can email Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.