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NAV 2003 is powerful, versatile and easy to use

David Strom reviews Norton Anti-Virus for this edition of David Strom's Security Tool Shed.

Category: Antivirus software
Name of tool: Norton Anti-Virus 2003
Company name: Symantec
Price: $49.95 to $99.95, includes one-year subscription to virus updates
Platforms supported: Windows 98, Me, 2000 (but not the server versions) and XP

Strom-meter: **** = Very cool, very useful

Key features:

Simple and easy to use
Powerful and versatile
Includes inbound and outbound e-mail protection and Instant Messaging protection

Symantec sells Norton Anti-Virus in many shapes and sizes. I prefer the stand-alone NAV2003 for reasons below.


I am an unabashed fan of Norton's Anti-Virus (NAV) line of software. Having used the product for many years, going back to when they didn't use the date but plain old version numbers, I can attest to the number of times when the software saved my bacon. The new 2003 version is another step up from previous editions. It is nice to have a product that keeps getting better and better, rather than just bigger and bloated.

Antivirus software is a constant arms race between the virus authors and script kiddies (or whatever stream of invective you want to call these people) and the protection against their inventions. You have to be ever vigilant. The latest exploit that I found particularly chilling is a series of e-mails with URLs that look like innocent online greeting cards that are anything but. So it is important to find an antivirus product that can continue to grow and protect your equipment, as the bad guys get more creative at trying to penetrate your system.

Perhaps the most important improvement is the ability to screen malicious code that enters your system via Instant Messaging attacks. IM has become the latest disease vector, primarily because it is always on, and it offers an easy way to infect your computer: all someone needs to do is to snip a piece of code and insert it into a message to you. NAV2003 covers relatively recent versions of AOL (4.7 or higher), Yahoo Messenger (Version 5.0 or higher) and Microsoft's (Version 4.6 or higher) IM software.

While NAV2003 is not designed for enterprise deployments, in my mind this IM-screening feature is the single most important reason for using it in corporations. As IM has moved from teenagers to businesses, it has become just as mission critical as e-mail for getting work done. And that means the risk of potential infection from IM is high.

NAV2003 also covers both inbound and outbound e-mails, and something new this year is the ability to detect virus-like behavior even before it knows of the actual virus pattern code. I can't say that I tested this latter feature, but I like the concept -- especially as the number of Trojans and worms that bombard my inbox continues to increase. This is another reason to deploy this software in the enterprise.

One of the problems with earlier versions of NAV is that you needed to adjust it after you installed it. Not true these days. It will figure out which IM and e-mail software you are running on your machine and adjust itself accordingly. And, it will update itself in the background, so that you don't have to be trusted to deal with getting the latest virus definitions downloaded to your machine for maximum protection. In fact, there was only one setting that I wanted to change from the defaults: The heuristic for how NAV determines virus-like behavior. I like to have it set at "high" rather than the default "medium" setting.

My biggest issue is that NAV comes in so many different packages that you need to be careful to distinguish among them all. The corporate antivirus software (which is used for centralized virus protection and also for server versions of NT and 2000 because NAV doesn't support these operating systems) doesn't have the same feature set as the individual desktop NAV. They are missing, for example, the IM screening tool and automatic worm blocking. And Norton's Internet Security package, which sells for a few dollars more and includes the NAV 2003 tools along with Norton Utilities and some Web protective features, is a bit more painful to install on non-XP systems than just the pure NAV product. You'll need the latest version of Internet Explorer 6 (which is included on the CD) if you aren't currently running it. There is also a Pro version of NAV, which is a good deal if you need to install the software on two separate computers. While having these extra tools is nice, I still think the belle of the ball is the core NAV functionality.

What about other antivirus products, such as from McAfee, Panda, PC-Cillin and others? They have their advantages, and are all good tools, too. But after using some of these products on my lab machines, I keep coming back to NAV. It offers the best protection, and it operates easily and consistently. With some of these other products, I get the feeling that my machine just isn't as well protected as with NAV. I can't really quantify this, other than I keep coming back to NAV for my production equipment, and it delivers the goods.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

About the author
David Strom is the senior technology editor for VARBusiness magazine. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on Web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him e-mail at

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