Norton Personal Firewall 2005

Norton Personal Firewall adds security features found in other firewalls, such as ZoneAlarm Pro.

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Norton Personal Firewall 2005 is easy to set up and makes your computer invisible to hackers, port sniffers, and other bad characters without any effort on your part. But at AU$99.95, it remains overpriced, given that it offers little perceptible change from last year's version and that ZoneAlarm offers comparable firewall protection for free.

Insert the Norton Personal Firewall (NPF) CD, and installation begins automatically; next, you must enter the lengthy CD key to activate the product. Some users may be wary of the activation process, but it's actually quick and doesn't require any personal information. Once you've installed the software, you should run Live Update to check for patches and updated firewall definition files.

Norton's revised interface makes finding configuration options easy and straightforward.

For most everyday home users, NPF's out-of-the box default settings will work well. But moving the security slider on the Firewall tab from Medium to High will significantly tighten security. The Custom Level button on the Firewall tab lets you tweak the individual security features for each security level. Unlike McAfee Personal Firewall, which requires you to drill down through several layers of dialog boxes, Norton conveniently keeps configuration information on the first level of the interface or only one layer down. The Firewall tab also lets you select basic settings, such as the overall security level. The Programs tab tracks each program that operates through the firewall, making it easy to locate unauthorised or unexpected software access to the Internet. The Networking tab gives you precise control over which computers on your LAN get access to files on the PC. The Locations tab allows you to customise the firewall for different environments (such as home or office). The Advanced tab lets you tweak settings for specific types of Internet traffic.

New features in this version include Norton Privacy Control, which blocks personal data such as credit card and social security numbers from leaking out to the Internet via e-mail, instant messages, Microsoft Office attachments, or Web forms. Rival program ZoneAlarm Pro has had this privacy-lock feature for years. Another new feature remembers to enable the firewall after you turn it off to install new software. ZoneAlarm Pro won't remind you.

We informally tested our NPF 2005 installation against Gibson Research's ShieldsUp tool; NPF 2005 protected our computer's data during the test.

Although Symantec provides free e-mail support (our test question was answered in several hours), you'll have to pay a hefty fee for telephone support: AU$46.20, limited to the hours of 8:30am - 5:30 p.m. EST. McAfee and ZoneLabs charge similar fees for telephone technical support. We think that's unfair for home users, who don't have an IT department standing by.

NPF's thorough help file offers a complete how-to guide. An automated support assistant on the Symantec site searches for downloads and answers to common questions.

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