Norton 2019 Antivirus Software: Strong, but Simple and Slow

Norton's Windows antivirus products can protect anything from a single PC to 10 computers, smartphones and tablets with malware detection that's just short of the best.

However, the heavy system-performance impact that cursed Norton products a decade ago seems to be making a comeback, and the products come with far fewer extra features than other brands' antivirus offerings. Kaspersky and Bitdefender offer equal or better protection, a lighter system impact and many more extra features for similar prices.

Costs and What's Covered

Norton doesn't have a free antivirus product, but it offers a 30-day trial of any of its paid products. The yearly subscription costs below are Norton's list prices, but deep discounts often show up online.

   Norton Antivirus BasicNorton Security StandardNorton Security DeluxeNorton Security Premium
List price per year$50, 1 PC$70, 1 device$90, 5 devices$110, 10 devices
Windows supportXP thru 10XP thru 10XP thru 10XP thru 10
Bundled platformsNoneAndroid, Mac, iOSAndroid, Mac, iOSAndroid, Mac, iOS
Tech supportNone24/724/724/7
Browser extensionsYesYesYesYes
Password managerYesYesYesYes
Two-way firewallNoYesYesYes
Web management portalNoNoYesYes
Backup softwareNoNoNoYes
Online storageNoNoNoYes
Parental controlsNoNoNoYes
Rescue diskFree downloadFree downloadFree downloadFree download

Norton AntiVirus Basic ($50 for one PC) covers the essentials. It offers Proactive Exploit Protection (PEP) to thwart attacks before they do any damage; browser extensions to block malicious websites; the Studio app, which lets you control Norton-provisioned devices locally but requires Windows 8.1 later; and Norton's ID Safe password manager, which requires Windows 7 or later.

Norton Security Standard costs $70 for a single PC and adds a two-way firewall, system-optimization software, 24/7 customer support and Norton's money-back guarantee to keep your system clean. Norton Security Standard costs the same for a single Mac, although the software will be different.

Norton Security Deluxe costs $90 for up to five PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets and gives you access to the My Norton web portal, but its protections otherwise match Norton Security Standard's. Adding LifeLock Standard identity protection (worth $120 by itself) raises the subscription price to $100.

The top-of-the-line Norton Security Premium covers 10 systems on various platforms for $110. It adds extensive parental controls (which cost $50 per year as a stand-alone service), Windows backup software and 25GB of cloud storage.

All Norton Security products work with Windows XP (with Service Pack 3) through Windows 10, macOS 10.7 and later, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or newer and iOS 8 or later. As noted above, some of the extra tools require Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

MORE: Best Windows Antivirus Software

Antivirus Protection

All Norton antivirus products protect against malware, spam, malicious email attachments and online threats, and come with browser extensions for Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome and Firefox to block malicious websites.

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-basedPower Eraser system scanner or the downloadableNorton 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.

Antivirus Performance

The malware engine used in all Norton Windows antivirus products provides very good protection but was one step behind other products in several recent tests.

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.

Norton detected every threat, both widespread and zero-day, in German lab AV-Test's Windows 10 tests in September and October 2018. It did just as well 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.

This winning streak puts Norton about on par with Bitdefender. But both are a bit behind Kaspersky, which scored just one false positive in all of 2018 through October.

Austrian lab AV-Comparatives' aggressive online-malware tests show how well malware engines balance detection with false positives. Norton fell a bit behind some others in the July-through-November 2018 round, averaging a lackluster 99.3 percent detection while racking up 30 cumulative false positives.

Among other antivirus brands we review, Trend Micro averaged 100 percent detection, but at a cost of 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.

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.

MORE: Best Antivirus Protection for PC, Mac and Android

Norton acquitted itself well in SE Labs' first three rounds of tests in 2018, allowing just one compromise, neutralizing six 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.

Security and Privacy Features

All Norton Windows antivirus products include the ID Safe 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 Norton Security Standard's two-way firewall and optimization software; Norton Security Deluxe's offer of LifeLock identity protection for an extra $10; and Norton Security Premium's parental controls, backup software and 25GB of online storage. (Most other antivirus brands introduce parental controls with the middle-priced product.)

Unfortunately, there's not much else to talk about. 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, dedicated webcam protection, ransomware-rollback features, anti-theft mechanisms or any type of file shredder or encryption software.

There's also no built-in virtual private network client software, although you can add Norton's Secure VPN service for an extra $60 a year.

Performance and System Impact

Many years ago, Norton antivirus products would slow your system to a crawl while it scanned the hard drive. But Norton had made great strides on that front, and most of its products we've tested in the past few years have had only a moderate system impact. That's why we're sad to report that the bad old days may be back.

To measure the system impact of Norton Security Premium, we used our custom benchmark test, which measures how long the CPU takes to match 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses in an OpenOffice spreadsheet. Our test bed was an Asus X555LA notebook running Windows 10 with a 2GHz Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 117GB of files on its 500GB hard drive.

Before we installed Norton Security Premium, the computer took 6 minutes and 49 seconds to complete the spreadsheet task. This rose by 13 percent, to 7 minutes and 42 seconds, with the antivirus program installed but not scanning. That's a bit on the high side, especially compared to Bitdefender Total Security's background slowdown of only 8 percent.

Norton Security Premium took 1 hour and 3 minutes for its first full-system scan, faster than McAfee Total Protection's 1 hour and 22 minutes. This scan-completion time dropped to just over 13 minutes once Norton learned what to ignore; McAfee took 47 minutes.

Norton's full scans took a heavy toll on performance, though, with the OpenOffice benchmark stretching out to 11 minutes and 25 seconds. That's a whopping 67.5 percent longer than the initial baseline reading of 6:49, making Norton seem like a resource hog.

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 Norton full scans.

MORE: What to Do After a Data Breach

Norton Security's quick scans resulted in a performance slowdown of nearly 19 percent, worse than any of the other current-generation security suites we've looked at and more than double Bitdefender's quick-scan impact.

Interface

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 remain.

The screen links to other pages for Scans (Quick, Full, Custom and the Power Eraser), Online Safety (Password Manager, Password Generator and Browser Extensions), Performance (disk and startup optimizer, file cleanup and resource use) and Backup (Run, Restore, arrange backup sets and add storage). Click on More Norton to add other systems and to install the Norton Studio Windows app.

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 lets you run a quick scan, back up files and disable the Norton firewall.

The My Norton portal lets you monitor other systems' security and manage licenses, backups and parental controls.

Installation and Support

It took us 13 minutes and 30 seconds to install Norton Security Premium on our test system, which wasn't too long. Bitdefender took 8 minutes, but McAfee Total Protection took 19 minutes.

Norton's small beachhead installer program does a quick scan and then downloads the full 238MB installer. You must accept or decline participation in the program that grabs suspicious code snippets from your system for analysis.

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. Norton's support site provides 24/7 access to technicians via phone, chat or email for everyone but users of Norton Antivirus Basic.

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.

Bottom Line

Their protection may be very good, but Norton's antivirus products take up too many system resources while they're scanning. They also come without standard creature comforts such as a hardened browser or file shredding and encryption. You can get the same or better level of protection with less system impact and more extra goodies from Kaspersky or Bitdefender.

Credit: Tom's Guide