With features such as a password manager, backup software, online storage, parental controls, unlimited VPN service and three different levels of identity protection along with excellent malware protection, the Norton 360 2020 antivirus lineup offers some of the most complete security (and privacy) suites around.
Norton's eight different Windows antivirus packages are for people who prefer everything in one place, who would rather not mix-and-match applications and services — and who can afford Norton's prices. All this integration gets expensive quickly as you add features.
Norton's malware-scanning engine uses a lot of system resources during full scans, and no Norton package offers file shredding or encryption. But if you're looking for a single solution to cover your digital security and privacy from every angle, look no further than Norton.
None of its competitors offer as comprehensive an approach to security. Kaspersky offers similarly excellent malware protection and a full range of extra features, but its product lacks identity-protection options. McAfee does offer identity protection, but it lets more malware through.
Read on for the rest of our Norton 360 review.
Norton 360: Costs and what's covered
The eight Windows antivirus products of the NortonLifeLock family can protect anything from a single PC to a household's worth of computers and mobile devices along with the identities of their users.
There's no free Norton software, but there's a 60-day satisfaction guarantee on the paid products, as well as Norton's Virus Protection Promise of a refund if the software can't keep your system clean. The list prices are higher than comparable products from other antivirus vendors, but you can often find substantial markdowns.
The entry-level Norton AntiVirus Plus protects a single PC or Mac and works with Windows 7 through 10. (Norton representatives told us AntiVirus Plus unofficially runs on Windows XP and Vista.)
AntiVirus Plus costs $6 a month, or $60 per year, and offers features normally reserved for more expensive suites, including a two-way firewall, a password manager and backup software with 2GB of online storage space.
The next step up is Norton 360 Standard, which protects a single PC, Mac, phone or tablet. It boosts the online storage to 10GB and, on Windows, includes online banking and webcam protection.
Norton 360 Standard offers unlimited access to Norton's Secure VPN virtual private network, which on its own costs $50 a year. It also includes LifeLock monitoring of your personal information on the dark web. Norton 360 Standard lists for $8 a month, or $80 per year.
For $10 a month, or $100 a year, Norton 360 Deluxe covers five devices, regardless of platform. It adds parental controls and gives you up to 50GB of online storage and five simultaneous VPN connections. It maxes out all of Norton's core antivirus features; the next five products add device licenses, online storage and identity protection.
Norton 360 Premium, available at retail stores but not on the Norton website, expands the Deluxe antivirus and VPN coverage to up to 10 devices and 75GB of online storage. It lists at $115 per year. Norton 360 Platinum, also retail-only, lists for $140 per year, covers up to 20 devices and offers 100GB of online storage.
The top three products add increasing levels of LifeLock identity protection to Norton 360 Deluxe's antivirus features.
- Norton 360 with LifeLock Select, $15 per month or $150 a year, monitors your Equifax credit file. If your identity is stolen, you'll be reimbursed up to $25,000 for stolen funds, $25,000 for expenses incurred and $1 million for lawyers and experts. The antivirus protection and VPN connections are limited to five devices, but you'll get 100GB of online storage.
- Norton 360 with LifeLock Advantage covers 10 devices for $25 a month, or $250 a year, and provides 250GB of online storage. You'll get up to $100,000 for expenses and stolen funds each. It also monitors your bank and credit-card accounts, scans court records for your name and watches for fraudulent use of your Social Security number.
- Finally, Norton 360 with LifeLock Unlimited Plus lists for $35 a month. or $350 a year. and increases the insurance coverage for expenses and stolen funds to $1 million each. It monitors your retirement and investment accounts, plus your files with all three major credit bureaus. It covers an unlimited number of devices and VPN connections and includes 500GB of online storage.
Norton's Mac antivirus software (which we've reviewed separately, although it's not sold that way) supports macOS 10.15 Catalina as well as Mojave and High Sierra, but the parental controls, backup software and webcam protection are only for Windows.
Android phones and tablets need version 6 or higher to run Norton Mobile Security (also reviewed separately), and the somewhat toothless iPhone and iPad apps run on iOS 13, 12 or 11. There's no Norton Linux software.
Norton 360: Antivirus protection
Each NortonLifeLock product defends against malicious email attachments, phishing attacks and spam as well as malware. If the program's defenses can be adjusted, and Norton's Silent Mode can prevent updates, pop-ups and other interruptions during movies or games.
There's a quick-scan button on the program's main screen, and full or custom scans are three clicks away. You can also scan any item by right-clicking it in Windows Explorer, but unlike many antivirus programs, Norton won't automatically scan USB drives when they're plugged into your PC.
If your PC gets so stuffed with malware that Norton can't clean it, Norton's Bootable Recovery Tool can help. Put the downloadable software on a DVD or flash drive, and it will reboot the computer in a secure Linux environment for comprehensive cleaning.
Norton 360: Antivirus performance
Along with Kaspersky, Norton's malware engine is among the best at protecting Windows computers.
Norton detected every instance of known "widespread" malware and of previously unseen "zero-day" malware in every monthly evaluation conducted by German lab AV-Test from January 2017 through March 2020.
In April 2020, its winning streak was ended by a 99.5% detection rate of zero-day malware.
Only Kaspersky matched those numbers (and broke its perfect winning streak in the same month), although Kaspersky's malware engine was arguably better "tuned" as it picked up only six false-positive detections over that 28-month period compared with Norton's 33.
The two brands jockeyed for the lead in evaluations run by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives in 2019. Norton detected an average of 99.6% of malware from February through May, behind Kaspersky's 100% (and Bitdefender's 99.9%). Norton aced the July-October round, while Kaspersky fell to an average of 99.1% and Bitdefender got 99.7%.
But Norton got a total of 28 false positives over those eight months, while Bitdefender had four and Kaspersky, zero. At the other extreme, Microsoft's Windows Defender racked up 132. (Microsoft says this is the result of browser alerts of unknown files being counted as false positives.)
In a two-month round from February to March of 2020, Norton and Kaspersky both aced AV-Comparatives' malware-detection tests, although Kaspersky remained the victor in false positives, with zero to Norton's 14.
In the July-September and October-December 2019 sets of tests run by London-based SE Labs, both Norton and Kaspersky detected, blocked or neutralized every piece of malware without any false positives. No other brand could match those results.
Norton stumbled a bit in the labs' January-March 2020 tests, however, letting through one piece of malware to compromise the test system. Kaspersky had a perfect score, and Sophos came very close to one.
Norton 360: Security and privacy features
All Norton products, starting with Norton AntiVirus Plus, include a two-way firewall, an unlimited password manager and a file-backup program.
They also include the company's Safe Web browser extensions, which work with Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome and Firefox. Safe Web's Isolation Mode renders the contents of known dangerous sites as read-only. If you connect to a banking site, Norton runs the browser session in a virtual machine.
Norton's Secure VPN comes with Norton 360 Standard and above. Unlike other antivirus companies, Norton doesn't tease you with a free limited-data offering and then make you pay for more -- you get unlimited VPN data from the get-go.
You can hide your location like a digital James Bond, or just stream localized movies and sports as if you were in London or Mexico City. It took us an average of 6.5 seconds to connect to Norton's VPN, but the VPN's encryption and routing cut our usable bandwidth by half.
You can set Norton's excellent parental controls, included with Norton 360 Deluxe and above, to block age-inappropriate material, schedule screen time and see the locations of individual children.
LifeLock identity-protection services come with Norton's top three plans, as detailed above. LifeLock is the most comprehensive of the best identity-theft protection services, but its high prices (even when bundled with Norton antivirus software) may not justify the expense for many people.
However, none of the Norton antivirus packages has a file shredder, a file-encryption tool, a true hardened browser or a file roll-back in case of ransomware infection. Bitdefender and Kaspersky offer all of these.
Norton 360: Performance and system impact
Norton's malware-detection engine takes up few system resources in the background, but a lot during active scans. (You'll want to set your scans to run overnight.)
To measure Norton 360 Deluxe's performance impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which measures how long the CPU takes to match 20,000 names and addresses in an Excel spreadsheet. Our test machine was a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 with a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage holding 43.3GB of files.
Before we installed any antivirus software, it took the system 8.2 seconds to finish the benchmark task. The completion time rose to 8.6 seconds after Norton 360 Deluxe was installed. This 4.9% background performance loss is among the smallest we've seen.
A full scan raised the benchmark-completion time to an average of 12.4 seconds, representing a 51% decline in performance. But among the six antivirus products we've reviewed recently, Trend Micro Maximum Security and Kaspersky Total Security did even worse during full scans, the latter with a whopping 67% slowdown.
With Norton's quick scans, the performance drop was a more acceptable 22%, the second-lightest of the bunch.
Bitdefender Total Security had the lightest active-scan impact of all, with an average 17% performance drop during full scans and 15% during quick scans. But its background load came in heavy at 15%, indicating a trade-off between passive- and active-system impacts.
It took Norton 360 Deluxe 18 minutes and 20 seconds to run its first full scan and index all 446,354 files. That time dropped to 6:34 in subsequent scans, after the software learned what to skip. Norton's quick scan took 1 minute and 16 seconds to churn through 12,126 files. That's a bit longer than Kaspersky Total Security's quick scan, which looked at nearly four times as many files.
Norton 360: Interface
Norton's Classic interface has the familiar screen icon with green, yellow or red indicators, while the new Launch interface has a calming picture of a mountain climber on the left and a right-side column of key security tasks, like Device Security, Dark Web Monitoring, Secure VPN, Cloud Backup and Password Manager.
In Settings, you can adjust or control just about every aspect of the program. Below the surface are dozens of individual settings that can be turned on and off. The online dashboard at https://my.norton.com is one of the most thorough antivirus portals.
Norton 360: Installation and support
The Norton installation process begins with a 3.5MB beachhead installer. Once you accept the product license agreement, the full 226MB installation program downloads and runs.
Installing Norton 360 Deluxe took us 9 minutes and 30 seconds, but it would have taken longer had we opted for LifeLock ID protection. We would have had to enter a lot of personal information and run through a gantlet of questions to establish our identity.
The Norton desktop interface includes a direct link to the company's support website, and all the programs include full 24/7 technical assistance. You can contact support technicians by phone, online chat or email. Norton's support site has a slew of self-serve options, including instructional videos.
Need even more help? The company's Ultimate Help Desk service provides expedited access to technicians, four tune-up sessions a year and service reports for all your computer-related issues, not just those related to Norton products.
Subscriptions to the Ultimate Help Desk service cost $150 per year (for one PC or Mac), or $20 a month (for up to three systems). There's also a one-time service providing similar advice and information for $70 if you're technically flummoxed and have deep pockets.
Norton 360 review: Bottom line
With one of the most complete (and crowded) lineups of personal digital-security and privacy products, NortonLifeLock can protect a single computer or an entire household's devices.
Between the unlimited VPN, the password manager, the parental controls, backup software, online storage and the comprehensive identity-protection services, Norton offers pretty much everything you could ever need — but it can quickly get expensive as you add more options.
If you'd rather mix and match these various services, or you don't need them all, Kaspersky Total Security has excellent malware protection, a password manager, backup software and parental controls plus items Norton lacks, such as a hardened browser, file encryption and file shredding.
Bitdefender Premium Security swaps out the backup software for unlimited VPN service, but its malware protection is a half-step down from Norton's. McAfee Total Protection + VPN offers identity protection as well as unlimited VPN, but has an even lower caliber of malware protection.
In other words, no software company covers all aspects of modern-day security as completely as NortonLifeLock. It's truly a one-stop shop for all your digital security and privacy needs -- if at a premium price.
UPDATED with latest third-party lab-test results. This review was originally published Feb. 4, 2020.