Symantec has released a public beta of its new transaction security software, Norton Confidential. This new product reflects the inclusion of transaction security applications from Whole Security, which Symantec bought last year. However, the integration is far from smooth.
Despite having a vendor-supplied disc in hand, we still found the installation process to be poor, as Norton Confidential competed with other Norton products already installed. We needed to uninstall all the Norton apps on our test machine, and that required going beyond just Add/Remove; we needed a special uninstall utility from Symantec.
If you have a spare machine and want to try this beta for yourself, here's what you'll find. Norton Confidential consists of two parts, one an antiphishing toolbar add-on for Internet Explorer 6 (including an anticrimeware scanner), and the other a personal identification vault. There's really not much more to Norton Confidential, yet it is a large installation; installing with Norton Confidential beta is Norton LiveUpdate Decomposer, Norton Protection Center, Symantec Application Core Program Updates, Symantec Security Software, and Symantec Shared Components. With all that software running in the background, Norton Confidential sometimes slowed our Dell Windows XP SP2 machine during its scans and updates.
If you want only to guard against surfing to a fraudulent Web site, the free antiphishing toolbar available from Netcraft installs within either Internet Explorer or Firefox with very little performance overhead.
We found that the antiphishing toolbar within Norton Confidential beta worked only within Internet Explorer 6. It did not install in Firefox 1.5, Bon Echo beta (Firefox 2), or even Opera 9. With the Internet Explorer 7 beta, which includes Microsoft's own antiphishing technology, our browser crashed repeatedly while trying to load the Norton toolbar. To test how well Norton's antiphishing technology worked, we visited five active phishing sites, some only a few hours old, using a browser equipped with antiphishing technology: Norton Confidential installed on IE 6; Netcraft installed on Firefox 1.5, Bon Echo beta (native), and Internet Explorer 7 beta (native).
In testing its antiphishing capability, we found Norton Confidential matched the free Netcraft toolbar, blocking 80 percent of the fraudulent sites we visited. On the other hand, the native antiphishing technology built into the browser's Internet Explorer 7 beta and Bon Echo beta worked only 40 percent of the time. We also noticed a pronounced latency between accessing a potentially fraudulent site and Norton's warning; there was none with Netcraft and virtually none with Bon Echo, yet Internet Explorer 7 beta proved to take the longest to warn us of potentially fraudulent activity. Norton allowed us to visit the phishing site, then prompted us to either go to a blank page, learn about phishing fraud, or continue to the site. Netcraft, on the other hand, simply blocked access with a dialog box, allowing us to continue if we still wanted to visit the site. We feel the Netcraft approach is safer, as downloading a phishing page, then flagging it as such can open you up to drive-by downloads of malicious code.
To protect against drive-by software downloads, Norton Confidential includes what it calls anticrimeware protection. As long as the toolbar in IE 6 is green, your system has been scanned and pronounced free of keyloggers and other malicious software used by online criminals. The same protection can be found in most antispyware apps.
The privacy vault within Norton Confidential is similar to that found in other products, namely ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.5. ZoneAlarm has offered a full-featured privacy vault for many years, while Norton has offered a less aggressive version in its Norton Internet Security suites in years past. Despite the improvements in Norton's offering, we found its prompts to be noisy; it constantly reminded us to fill in the vault, even if we didn't want to. With ZoneAlarm, the feature is there if you want it, and not an issue if you don't.
The Norton Protection Center page is somewhat unnecessary, unless you plan to also purchase Norton Internet Security 2007 or some other Norton app. With antivirus and firewall protection provided by another vendor, the Norton Protection Center informed us that while we were protected online, we had "limited protection". Clicking the Learn More link eventually leads you to the Symantec store, offering Symantec alternatives to the security apps currently running. While we don't fault Symantec for some advertising, we find it a bit disingenuous to say that a competing product offers "limited protection".
As with most beta software, there is little support available, so users should download it only on a non-production PC and at their own risk.