UPDATE: On April 15, 2019, Norton introduced a revamped lineup of consumer antivirus products, mostly under the revived Norton 360 brand. This review has been updated to reflect the new products, and was originally published Jan. 15, 2019.
Norton's Windows antivirus products can protect anything from a single PC to an unlimited number of computers, smartphones and tablets with malware detection that's among the best.
The revamped Norton 360 line, launched in April 2019, includes a password manager, online backup software and storage and an unlimited-data VPN service. With the integration of LifeLock identity protection in the more expensive options, Norton is presenting itself as a one-stop stop for all your security and privacy needs.
This is very convenient if you need all this stuff, although it can get expensive, and you could assemble a similar package by yourself for less. It might also seem a bit creepy to give one company so much control over your digital life.
As for the antivirus part of the package, the heavy system-performance impact that cursed Norton products a decade ago seems to be making a comeback, at least during scans. The software also comes with far fewer security tools than other brands' antivirus offerings.
Kaspersky and Bitdefender antivirus offer equally good protection, a lighter system impact during scans and many more security features for similar prices. But if you're in the market for identity protection as well as antivirus software, Norton 360 with LifeLock protection can be a pretty great deal. That's why we include it among the best Windows antivirus software.
Norton 360 Security costs and what's covered
All the new products include backup software, cloud storage, a password manager and a two-way firewall. All the Norton 360 products include unlimited VPN service, webcam protection and Dark Web monitoring. The top three products include various levels of LifeLock identity protection.
Norton doesn't have a free antivirus product, but it offers a 60-day trial of any of its paid products. The subscription costs below are Norton's list prices, but at least for now, retail store list prices are $10 less. Deep discounts for yearly subscriptions are often available.
|Norton Antivirus Plus||Norton 360 Standard||Norton 360 Deluxe, 3 devices||Norton 360 Deluxe, 5 devices||Norton 360 Premium||Norton 360 with LifeLock Select||Norton 360 with LifeLock Advantage||Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus|
|List price per year||$6/mo. or $60/yr., 1 PC or Mac||$8/mo. or $80/yr., 1 device||$75/yr., 3 devices||$10/mo. or $100/yr., 5 devices||$100/yr., 10 devices||$15/mo. or $150/yr., 5 devices||$25/mo. or $250/yr., 10 devices||$35/mo. or $350/yr., unlimited devices|
|Windows support||7 thru 10||7 thru 10||7 thru 10||7 thru 10||7 thru 10||7 thru 10||7 thru 10||7 thru 10|
|Bundled platforms||Mac||Android, Mac, iOS||Android, Mac, iOS||Android, Mac, iOS||Android, Mac, iOS||Android, Mac, iOS||Android, Mac, iOS||Android, Mac, iOS|
|Web management portal||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|VPN, unlimited data||No||1 device||3 devices||5 devices||10 devices||5 devices||10 devices||Unlimited devices|
|Dark Web monitoring||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|LifeLock basic protections||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|LifeLock credit monitoring||No||No||No||No||No||Equifax||Equifax||Equifax, Experian, TransUnion|
|LifeLock identity-theft insurance||No||No||No||No||No||$25K for expenses, losses apiece; $1M for legal fees||$25K for expenses, losses apiece; $1M for legal fees||$1M for expenses, losses, legal fees apiece|
|LifeLock bank/credit card alerts||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|LifeLock investment account alerts||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Rescue disk||Free download||Free download||Free download||Free download||Free download||Free download||Free download||Free download|
Norton AntiVirus Plus ($6/month or $60/year for one PC or Mac) covers the essentials. It offers browser extensions for Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari to block malicious websites; backup software with 2GB of online storage; a two-way firewall; system-optimization software; 24/7 customer support; Norton's password manager; and Norton's money-back guarantee to keep your system clean. Like all the Norton 360 products, Norton AntiVirus Plus customers get access to the My Norton web portal.
Norton 360 Standard costs $8/month or $80/year for a single PC, Mac, Android or iOS device (though it's not worth buying for a single mobile device) and adds webcam protection and LifeLock monitoring of your personal data on the Dark Web. It bumps the online storage to 10GB and gives you unlimited Norton VPN service for a single device, which isn't chicken feed -- no other antivirus brand we know of gives you unlimited VPN data for no extra fee.
Norton 360 Deluxe costs $10/month or $100/year for up to five PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets and adds extensive parental controls (which cost $50 per year as a stand-alone service); 50GB of cloud storage; and VPN client-software licenses for up to five devices.
The three subsequent Norton 360 products have the same antivirus protections and features as Norton 360 Deluxe, but toss in increasing levels of LifeLock identity protection along with more online storage and VPN client-software licenses.
Norton 360 with LifeLock Select costs $15/month or $150/year and includes basic LifeLock protection corresponding to the stand-alone LifeLock Standard plan, which costs $144 per year. You'll get updates on the status of your Equifax credit file, but no credit reports or scores; data breach notifications; and alerts about misuse of your personal data.
If your identity is stolen, LifeLock will assign a "restoration team" assigned to your case and pay out up to $25,000 for stolen funds, another $25,000 for personal expenses incurred while restoring your identity, and up to $1 million in legal fees. Norton 360 with LifeLock Select also bumps up the online storage to 100GB.
Norton 360 with LifeLock Advantage takes the online storage to 250GB and gives you 10 licenses for the VPN client software. It runs to $25/month or $250/year, but its LifeLock components are worth $276 per year by themselves.
You'll get alerts for suspicious activity on your bank and credit-card accounts; alerts if your name appears in court records; up to $100,000 for stolen funds and another $100,000 for expenses; and an Equifax credit report and Equifax-based credit score once per year. (You can get free credit reports from each bureau at annualcreditreport.com.)
Finally, Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus gives you all the trimmings for $35/month or $350/year, which is also what LifeLock Ultimate Plus costs by itself. You'll get annual credit reports and credit scores from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion; monthly Equifax credit-score tracking; $1 million each for stolen funds, identity-restoration expenses and legal fees; monitoring of your investment accounts; 500GB in online storage; and an unlimited number of licenses for Norton's VPN client software.
You'll see two more products in online stores such as Amazon or NewEgg, but not on the Norton website. Each of them comes with as many VPN licenses as device licenses; one of them is a version of Norton 360 Deluxe for three devices that has a list price of $75 per year and gives you 25GB of online storage.
The more interesting one is Norton 360 Premium, a souped-up version of Norton 360 Deluxe for 10 devices that lists for $100 per year and comes with 75GB of online storage. This might be the one to get if you have a lot of devices -- or a large family -- but don't need or want LifeLock.
All Norton antivirus products work with Windows 7 through Windows 10, macOS 10.12 and later, Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer and iOS 10 or later.
All Norton antivirus products protect against malware, spam, malicious email attachments and phishing attacks, and come with browser extensions for Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome and Firefox to block malicious websites. They've also each got a two-way firewall that monitors outbound as well as incoming traffic.
Norton's malware engine scans for known malware and uses heuristic monitoring to watch for behavioral changes and other signs of previously unseen, "zero-day" malware.
Norton will upload suspicious new files to Norton's cloud labs for analysis, along with basic information about your computer. You can opt out if you're worried about privacy. New malware signatures are sent out several times daily to Norton's 175 million users.
Surprisingly, Norton antivirus products don't automatically scan newly connected USB flash drives, although it's easy to manually scan anything by right-clicking it in Windows Explorer.
Should your computer become overwhelmed by malware, you can use Norton's cloud-based Power Eraser system scanner or the downloadable Norton Bootable Recovery Tool, the latter of which boots into Linux to clean the hard drive.
Still have an infection? Norton technicians can remotely take control of your computer and thoroughly clean it — if they can't, they'll refund you the antivirus product's subscription price.
None of the new Norton 360 products have yet been tested by the major antivirus testing labs, but because they use the same Windows malware-detection engine as the previous lineup, existing lab results should be applicable. Norton is almost always in the top rung of lab results, alongside Bitdefender, Trend Micro and Kaspersky.
Norton detected every threat, both widespread and zero-day, in German lab AV-Test's Windows 10 tests from January through June 2019. It scored the same 100 percent in all previous AV-Test bimonthly rounds on Windows 7 or 10 in 2017 and 2018, averaging only a couple of false positives each time.
No other antivirus brand we regularly review could match that, although Kaspersky stopped short of 100 percent only once over those 30 months.
Austrian lab AV-Comparatives' aggressive "real-world" online-malware tests show how well malware engines balance detection with false positives, and also how well the engines block malware after detection. No single brand consistently scores 100 percent.
Norton fell a bit behind several others in AV-Comparatives' July-through-November 2018 round, averaging a lackluster 99.3 percent detection while racking up 30 cumulative false positives. (Trend Micro averaged a rounded-off 100 percent detection average, but with 47 false positives.)
In the other direction, Kaspersky had zero false positives but an average 99.5 detection rate. Bitdefender was the most well-tuned, stopping an average of 99.9 percent of malware with only two false positives.
In the Feb.-May 2019 round, Norton blocked 99.6 percent of malware, with 21 false positives. Kaspersky nailed it, stopping all malware with zero mistakes.
Britain's SE Labs gets very granular with its tests, docking points for antivirus products if they neutralize rather than block malware, or if they fail to stop system compromise even if a piece of malware is detected.
Norton acquitted itself well in SE Labs' four rounds of tests in 2018, allowing just one compromise, neutralizing 10 pieces of malware and blocking all the rest, garnering an overall accuracy score of 99 percent. That put it about on par with ESET and ahead of Bitdefender, McAfee and Trend Micro. However, Kaspersky again did the best of all.
In SE Labs' first two rounds in 2019, Norton allowed zero compromises and blocked rather than neutralized all but one of 200 attacks. Only F-Secure could match that, but at a cost of five false positives to Norton's zero.
Norton found and resolved 97 percent of threats in tests conducted from February to June of 2018 by our own lab. That's good, but McAfee (with 100 percent), Bitdefender (99 percent) and Kaspersky (98 percent) did better.
Security and privacy features
All the Norton antivirus products include Norton's password manager, and there's also a Silent mode that suppresses popups, updates and interruptions.
We've already mentioned most of the other nonessential extra features, including the two-way firewall, optimization software, backup software and online storage that comes with all six products, as well as the parental controls that come with Norton Security Deluxe and its LifeLock-branded siblings. (Most other antivirus brands introduce parental controls with the middle-priced product, which would be Norton 360 Standard in this case.)
The new batch of Norton products introduced in April 2019 adds a couple of features. There's now dedicated webcam protection and built-in VPN client software and service for all Norton 360 products -- i.e., all but Norton AntiVirus Plus.
The VPN service gives you an unlimited amount of data, as most consumer VPN services do. It's a rebranded version of SurfEasy VPN, a small Toronto company that Norton bought a couple of years ago. We could connect to VPN servers in 29 different countries, most of them in Europe or North America.
Connecting to Netflix overseas was hit-or-miss. We got the U.S. version when we connected to U.K. servers, but we got the Netflix Australia lineup to stream "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Rick and Morty." (Netflix in France and Japan displayed their lineups but wouldn't play anything.)
Unfortunately, there's not much else in terms of antivirus features. None of the Norton products have extra tools that are common among other antivirus brands, such as a hardened browser for online banking and shopping, ransomware-rollback features, anti-theft mechanisms for laptops, a virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers, or any type of file shredder or encryption software. Try the premium versions of Kaspersky or Bitdefender software for those.
Performance and system impact
Many years ago, Norton antivirus products would slow your system to a crawl while they scanned your hard drive. But Norton subsequently made great strides on that front, and most of its products we tested in the past few years had only a moderate system impact. We're sad to report that the bad old days may be back.
When we first wrote this review in December 2018, we installed Norton Security Premium on an Asus X555LA notebook running Windows 10 with a 2GHz fourth-generation Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 117GB of files on its 500GB hard drive. After the relaunch of the Norton 360 line in April 2019, we installed Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus on an Acer Aspire E 15 laptop with a 1.6GHz eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 58GB of files on its 238GB hard drive.
To measure system impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which measures how long a CPU takes to match 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses in an OpenOffice spreadsheet.
Before we installed Norton Security Premium in December 2018, the Asus took 6 minutes and 49 seconds (409 seconds) to complete the spreadsheet task. This rose by 13 percent to 7:42 (462 seconds) with the antivirus program installed but not scanning. That's a bit on the high side.
Norton Security Premium's full scans took a heavy toll on performance, with the OpenOffice benchmark stretching out to 11:25 (685 seconds). That's a whopping 67.5 percent longer than the initial baseline reading of 6:49, making Norton seem like a resource hog.
Norton Security Premium's quick scans resulted in a performance slowdown of nearly 19 percent, worse than any of the other current-generation security suites we looked at.
The story was a little better with Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus. Without it installed (but with Windows Defender protecting the device), the Acer finished the spreadsheet task in an average of 229 seconds. (That's 44 percent faster than on the older, slower Asus.) After installation, that completion time remained unchanged, implying zero passive system impact, or at least no more than what Windows Defender incurred. It's one of the best we've seen.
The quick-scan impact was also better than with Norton Security Premium, although the faster processor may have made up part of the difference. The OpenOffice task finished in an average of 250 seconds, 9.2 percent slower than the baseline time, a respectable result.
But full-scan impact was not much improved with the newer software. It took the OpenOffice task an average of 369 seconds (six minutes and nine seconds) to finish, indicating an 61 percent slowdown from the baseline. By comparison, system performance slowed by only 16 or 17 percent during Bitdefender's and McAfee's full scans, and by 21 percent during Kaspersky's full scans.
You would definitely notice your system slowing down full scans by either Norton Security Premium or Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus. You might want to schedule full scans for the hours when you won't be using the machine.
Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus has two main interface screens, and then a third interface with your account on the Norton website.
First, there's the My Norton dashboard with links to the software's seven main components, although each link behaves differently. Device Security opens up the antivirus software's main screen, which we'll explore in a second.
SecureVPN lets you activate a VPN connection. Cloud Backup opens a window to manage what you want backed up. ID Theft Protection, Credit Score & Report, Parental Controls and Password Manager take you to different pages on the Norton website; you'll have to log in to see them.
But we're going to focus on the antivirus software. As you'd expect, the Norton interface's home screen has a green checkmark to show that everything is protected. It also tells you when the last scan was run and how many system licenses you've used.
The screen links to other pages for Security (scans, malware definitions update, history/logs and advanced options), Online Safety (the password manager, password generator and browser extensions), Backup (run backup, restore files, arrange backup sets and add storage) and Performance (disk and startup optimization, file cleanup and graphs of resource use over time). Click on My Norton to go back to the all-encompassing dashboard.
Many of the screens are unchanged from the previous generation of Norton antivirus products. The biggest difference is a more visible link to "Report Card," the previously existing screen that shows you how Norton's software has protected you in the past month.
A quick scan can be started from the main window; a full scan is two screens in and scans can be manually scheduled or set to run whenever the system is idle. There's also a Task Tray icon that, with a right-click, lets you run a quick scan, back up files, connect the VPN and disable the Norton firewall; the Device Security shortcut in the navigation bar does the same thing.
As mentioned above, the My Norton website interface is where you interact with your LifeLock services (see our LifeLock review for those) as well as your parental controls (we've got a separate review of those too.). The LifeLock information duplicates what you would see on a regular LifeLock account, but with the Norton look and feel.
The Norton site logs you out pretty quickly if you leave it alone for half an hour or so. That's understandable considering how much sensitive data it handles, but it's still kind of annoying. Even after we logged back in, we sometimes had to retype the account password a second time to access the LifeLock identity-protection data.
We had a bit of a Catch-22 with the password manager at first. You can't use the Norton password manager to log into your My Norton account until you log into your My Norton account and use your (presumably different) password-manager master password to unlock your Norton password vault. Got that?
The password manager kept trying to log us in anyway, and when we typed in our Norton account password manually, the site got confused about which password we were trying to input and wouldn't let us access either account until we rebooted our machine.
Fortunately, after all that was done, we found that we could stay logged into our Norton password manager even after we logged out of our Norton account -- and that using the password manager to log back into the Norton account worked well in that case.
Installation and support
Before you can install Norton antivirus software, you need a My Norton account. Setting that up felt a bit intrusive, mostly because we were setting up a LifeLock account too -- it asked for our name, cellphone and Social Security number. (We tried a fake SSN but it was rejected.) Then it put us through the standard credit-bureau multiple-choice quiz to verify our identity and tried to sell us LifeLock protection for our family members.
If you buy the program on Norton's website, you'll need to sign up for auto-renewal, but it's easy to undo this later on. You then download the software, which then downloads even more software. The entire process takes about 15 minutes, including account creation.
Norton's support site provides 24/7 access to technicians via phone, chat or email for all users, even those using Norton AntiVirus Plus. If you try to call tech support, you have to go through a bit of an obstacle course on the website before it will show you the toll-free number. Here it is: 1 (833) 240-3389.
For an additional yearly cost of $150 (for a single device) or $240 (for up to three devices), the company's Ultimate Help Desk service plan includes advanced diagnostics and malware-removal services, backup assistance and a computer tune-up.
Whether and which Norton antivirus products to buy depends on what else you need. If you're shopping around for a password manager, a VPN service or an online backup service, Norton's bundling of these products at no extra cost is tremendously appealing. And if you think you also need an identity-protection service, no other antivirus company offers such a compelling package.
However, if you just need antivirus software, Norton is only one of a few brands that offer excellent malware protection. Among its peers, Kaspersky and Bitdefender outshine Norton by including useful security tools such as hardened browsers, file encryption and file shredders. They also won't slow down your system much during scans.
Credit: Tom's Guide