Norton Security Deluxe combines excellent malware protection with one of the most compact and useful interfaces in the business. It has neither the fastest malware scanner, nor the one with the least impact on system performance, but it works unobtrusively in the background when no scan is running.
On the downside, Norton Security Deluxe had a significant performance impact on our test PC during full scans, mistakenly flagged several pieces of harmless software as threats on Windows 7, and has relatively few features for its price. Notably, it lacks parental controls, which most mid-range antivirus products include by default.
Cost and What's Covered
The $80 Norton Security Deluxe license includes protection software for up to five Windows PCs, Macs or iOS and Android mobile devices. Most $80 mid-range packages cover only three devices, so this is a bonus. (Some online retailers offer a three-device version for about $70.)
But the versions of Norton Security vary widely by platform. The Mac version has built-in file encryption, yet lacks a password manager, while the reverse is true in Windows. The Windows version doesn't support Microsoft's new Edge browser. The iOS app doesn’t scan for malware and has far fewer features than its Android counterpart. (This review covers the Windows version.)
Those with more than five systems to protect should consider Norton Security Premium, which covers up to 10 devices for $90 and adds parental controls, backup software and 25GB of cloud storage. If you've got only one PC or Mac, check out the $60 Norton Security Standard, which is otherwise identical to the Deluxe edition.
Norton offers a money-back guarantee if it can't remove every piece of malware, but the catch is that you've got to let trained Norton professionals take a look at your machine first.
Norton Security Deluxe's malware protection for Windows includes the basic malware-signature matching, plus behavioral analysis of unknown code that Norton calls SONAR, for Symantec Online Network Response. (Symantec is Norton's parent company.)
The company's Community Watch program continually gathers threat data from systems running Norton or Symantec software and distributes daily, and often hourly, updates to subscribers. You can choose to participate in Community Watch upon installation.
Norton Security Deluxe enables advanced malware defenses that may not exist in older versions of Windows, such as Structural Exception Handler Overwrite Prevention (SEHOP) and address space layout randomization (ASLR), and also prevents the disabling of the Java Security Manager.
You can choose among Quick, Full and Custom scans, the latter of which examines a single suspect folder or file that you designate.
There's also a Power Eraser for finding deeply hidden malware; a scanner for your Facebook Wall; Norton Insight, which looks at a file's reputation; and Diagnostic Report, which surveys a system for vulnerabilities.
You can schedule a scan for anytime, day or night, but the setup screens are buried in the Custom Scan section. Travelers can opt to have scans run only when a notebook is plugged in.
Norton Security flags suspicious email attachments, phishing attempts and malicious websites.
It also has browser toolbars that help protect Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox, and can stop the transfer of a key number or character sequence based on a registered fragment. However, Norton lacks Bitdefender's ability to proactively protect key folders from an attack by encrypting ransomware, or Trend Micro's ability to back up files threatened by ransomware.
In tests conducted by German independent lab AV-TEST earlier this year on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, Norton Security found and deflected every piece of malware it encountered, regardless of whether the malware was well-known or brand-new. Among the other brands we've recently reviewed, only Bitdefender and Trend Micro had a similarly spotless record.
Malware-detection chart, AV-TEST, May-June 2015, Windows 8.1
But Norton Security registered four false positives, a relatively high rate, in one of the two Windows 7 tests, and registered similar rates of false positives in earlier Windows 7 evaluations. It didn’t have the same problem on Windows 8 or 8.1.
Malware-detection chart, AV-TEST, July-August 2015, Windows 7
Norton Security Deluxe's firewall automatically adjusts its settings, but can also be manually controlled. Most of the package's other defenses can't be. For instance, neither Auto-Protect (a real-time monitor), nor Intrusion Prevention (for network protection) are adjustable.
Norton's password manager is called Identity Safe, which is a free download from Symantec's site but is also fully integrated into all editions of Norton Security except the Mac versions. You'll need to create a "master" password, and there's a built-in password generator, but if the master password is lost or forgotten, Norton can't recover it. (That's not a drawback, as it also means hackers can't steal the master password.) Identity Safe stores an unlimited number of encrypted passwords in what Norton calls its Vault. The Premium subscription let you store up to 25GB of additional files in the Vault.
However, Norton Security Deluxe lacks many features that its competitors offer. We've already noted that there are no parental controls, a striking omission as every other mid-priced antivirus package has them. But there's also nothing unique akin to Kaspersky Internet Security's Webcam protection, or Bitdefender Internet Security's ability to pre-emptively immunize files against encrypting ransomware.
None of the Norton Security packages include a hardened browser for online banking and shopping, or an on-screen virtual keyboard to thwart keylogging software — two features that some competing brands include in low-priced packages. Norton reserves its file shredder for the separate $50 Norton Utilities package.
Norton Security Deluxe does have a performance section with several utilities, such as a disk defragmenter, a feature to clean up Windows Temp files and a Startup Manager that suggests "delaying" certain programs to boot the system more quickly. There's a nice Graphs section, but it only shows processor statistics, not disk or network performance. It does show historical downloads, installations, optimizations and other key events.
If your system gets so burdened with malware and other unwanted programs that it grinds to a halt, Norton has two approaches, both of which are also available free online.
The Power Eraser scan can ferret out deeply embedded exploits as well as adware, but because it needs to check for rootkit malware, you'll need to restart the system. If Power Eraser doesn't work, you can use the company's downloadable Bootable Recovery Tool, akin to other companies' Rescue Disks, to independently boot the computer to clean the Windows system.
Performance and System Impact
As with all the other recently evaluated antivirus products, we tested Norton Security Deluxe on an ASUS X555LA notebook running Windows 8.1 with an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 36GB of files on the 500GB hard drive.
With Norton Security Deluxe installed, but no active scans running, our OpenOffice benchmark test matched 20,000 names and addresses on a spreadsheet in 6 minutes and 50 seconds. That's just two seconds, or 0.4 percent, longer than the baseline without any antivirus software installed – a very light "passive" impact score, albeit one shared with ESET Smart Security, McAfee Internet Security and Trend Micro Internet Security.
Norton Security Deluxe took 39 minutes and 36 seconds to perform its first scan, during which it indexed our system. The full-scan time dropped to 16:29 by the third full scan, during which Norton went from scanning 371,306 files to looking at 281,363 items. That's about three minutes shorter than the full scans of McAfee or Kaspersky Internet Security, but more than an hour less than Bitdefender Internet Security's very slow (but light-impact) scanner.
System-impact chart; shorter is better
Norton Security took 7:26 to perform a Quick Scan and look at 6,671 files. That’s faster than McAfee's 8:18, but glacial next to Trend Micro's 44-second quick scan or Bitdefender's blink-and-you-missed-it 4-second quick scan.
The program's impact during full scans was significant. Our ASUS laptop took 10:55 to complete the OpenOffice test while Norton conducted a full scan, more than four minutes, or 60 percent, longer than the baseline. Only McAfee Internet Security took longer — 12:23, or 82 percent more than the baseline.
Norton's quick-scan system impact was much lighter, and let the OpenOffice benchmark finish in 7:21. That's a slowdown of only 8 percent from the baseline, on par with Bitdefender's 7:19, and not something you’d notice unless you were conducting a processor-intensive task. All the other programs we tested had substantially heavier system impacts during quick scans.
Setup and Installation
Rather than loading a small beachhead installer, Norton's servers send down the full 138MB program, which speeds the setup process.
You'll need to create a Norton account, and also decide whether to participate in Norton's Community Watch, which automatically reports malware encounters to the company. It took us, using a home broadband connection, 12.5 minutes to go from a vulnerable machine to a protected one.
Happily, Norton no longer tries to get you to agree to auto-renew the subscription when it expires. The software does show how many days remain on your subscription, with a link to renew it, at the bottom of most screens.
Norton Security's open and inviting interface has yellow highlights, in keeping with Norton's branding, but the main page will have green highlights if you're well protected, red if you're not. You can't run the main window full-screen, but Norton Security's scanning screens can run full-size.
Across the bottom of the main window are large boxes for Security, Identity, Performance and More Norton, each marked "Protected" or "At Risk." Security is the default category and shows when your last scan took place and when the software was last updated. There are smaller icons for Run Scans, LiveUpdate, History and Advanced. The latter lets you select specific defenses to be used.
The Identity section links to the program's Safe Web, Antiphishing and Identity Safe features, as well as an opportunity to install Norton's Internet Explorer Toolbar. This screen also contains Identity Safe, ID Settings, Statistics and a Password Generator, which lets Norton Security create secure passwords, but isn't integrated into the Password manager.
Performance shows you when the last optimization and cleanup were done, and has options for defragmenting the hard drive, cleaning up the files and getting the system to start up quicker. Have a question about Norton's features and techniques? Hover your mouse's pointer over an item and a definition pops up.
For a relatively bargain price. Norton Security Deluxe delivers some of the most advanced techniques for identifying and eliminating today's (and hopefully tomorrow's) worst online attacks. It neutralized all threats thrown at it, even if it was fooled by a few false positives and noticeably slowed our test system during scans.
However, the package does without several creature comforts found in other mid-priced antivirus products, such as a file shredder, a secure browser or parental controls. Paying an extra $10 for the Norton Security Premium package gains you only the last feature, plus backup software and online storage, two features that aren't directly related to computer protection.
Norton Security Deluxe is ideal for individuals or couples who want flawless, no-frills protection for up to five devices on several platforms. But customers who have small children or seek more features might want to look elsewhere.