By Gregg Keizer

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) can seek out and destroy bugs better than an Orkin man, identify viruses faster than the CDC, and stomp worms harder than the cruelest kid. Version 2002 showcases a new, simple interface and provides some additional protection against e-mail and script-based nasties. If you’re new to the antivirus game, purchase NAV 2002 ASAP. But if you already have Norton AntiVirus 2001, pass on this upgrade, unless you’re migrating to XP, and pay $10 for another year’s worth of virus definitions.

Dumbed down
Norton AntiVirus 2002 (Figure A) has aggressively streamlined its look. In previous versions, the main program window contained eight lines of text that described every detail of the program’s functions—whether the autoprotect feature was on and when your last virus update took place, for example. Norton AntiVirus 2002 trades in all this text for a panel of self-explanatory indicators that clue you in to what’s going on with your system (think car dashboard). For example, a green indicator displays the time of your last scan.

Figure A
Norton AntiVirus 2002 received a CNET rating of 8 out of 10.

You don’t have to configure NAV 2002 much at all—a fact that beginners will appreciate. Norton AntiVirus veterans, however, may want more control over the program. For example, NAV still automatically scans e-mail attachments, but you can no longer select which e-mail accounts it scans; it scans all of them or none. Also, NAV 2002 has made it tougher to schedule a virus scan for a later time and date. The scheduling feature has lost its prominent position on the first screen of NAV and sits at the bottom of the scanning page instead.

Two-way e-mail protection
But despite its interface woes, NAV 2002 includes the same powerful set of antivirus, anti-Trojan horse tools as its predecessor. It scans for bugs on Windows start-up, scans in the background whenever a file is created or opened, watches for downloaded viruses, checks out e-mail attachments, and quarantines infected (or just suspicious) files. As in 2001, NAV 2002’s e-mail protection integrates with any POP3 e-mail client, such as Eudora, Outlook Express, and Outlook.

And NAV 2002 has some new tricks up its sleeve: It still sniffs out viruses in incoming e-mail attachments (as NAV 2001 did), and now it checks outgoing attachments, too, so you can rest assured that you’re not infecting others. Since some of the most noxious worms, such as SirCam, replicate via e-mail without the sender’s knowledge, we particularly appreciate this improvement.

We also love NAV 2002’s new Script Blocking feature, which promises to block script-based viruses, such as the I Love You worm, before they do damage, even if Symantec hasn’t identified them yet. In three separate tests, NAV 2002 successfully detected the I Love You virus. The program also scans your e-mail for embedded VBScript and JavaScript worms and alerts you if it finds any suspicious scripts. You can then decide whether to run the script or stop it in its tracks from a pop-up dialog. Want to scan a specific file on your PC? No problem: NAV 2002 integrates with Windows Explorer so that when you right-click any file, one of the options in the pop-up menu lets you scan for viruses.

Despite these improvements, NAV still doesn’t keep you informed as it scans. You get a nice summary after NAV has worked its magic, but during the process, NAV doesn’t tell you how many files it’s scanning or how much time it will take, unlike its major competitor, McAfee VirusScan.

Best in the biz
Even though it doesn’t have a ton of new features, NAV 2002 still gets our vote as the best virus checker. We threw more than 50 viruses at it, including script-based and e-mail viruses, and NAV nailed all but two.

But our tests are far from exhaustive. There are tens of thousands of viruses out there, and hundreds active “in the wild” at any one time. One of the best spots to keep an eye on NAV’s track record against viruses is Virus Bulletin’s 100% Award, a site that salutes programs that detect 100 percent of in-the-wild viruses. According to the site, NAV has a 16-month winning streak—the best of any program.

Figure B
Norton AntiVirus 2002 finds and automatically fixes problems before it alerts you.

We’re just as impressed by how deftly NAV squashes bugs. Unlike earlier editions, which alerted you that a virus was present, then asked you what you wanted to do with it, NAV 2002 automatically repairs an infected file (or, if it can’t, quarantines the file), and alerts you only after it’s both found and fixed the problem, as shown in Figure B. This may sound like a minor point, but for beginners, it’s reassuring to know that the software has already taken care of the job.

Version 2002 still lacks one significant feature: Unlike McAfee VirusScan, NAV 2002 doesn’t sniff out viruses packed in ZIP files downloaded from the Internet. In our tests, NAV didn’t kick in until we tried to extract infected files from the ZIP archive. We wish NAV would nail virus-infected ZIP files before they reach our hard drive.

Up-to-date definitions
Like its ancestors, NAV 2002 relies on the excellent LiveUpdate, which checks the Symantec site for updated virus definitions every four hours (assuming you’re online), so, unless you catch a virus seconds after it hits the Web, NAV is probably already up-to-date and ready to repel the most recent viruses. Norton AntiVirus automatically downloads available virus definition updates and installs them in the background.

As before, NAV barely impacts your PC’s performance. According to our tests, NAV 2002 used just 3 percent of our Windows Me system resources, slightly less than NAV 2001’s 4 percent footprint.

XP marks the spot
Norton AntiVirus 2002’s biggest attraction, though, is its support of Windows XP. This is the first and, at the moment, the only, antivirus app for that OS. If you’re upgrading to XP, and you rely on NAV to search and destroy viruses, spring for the $30 upgrade.

On the whole, though, if you use NAV 2001, you won’t find enough goodies in version 2002 to justify paying three Hamiltons for an upgrade. Our advice: spend just $10 for another year’s worth of virus updates. You’ll still be safe.

CNET Labs’ test results
We used Rosenthal Utilities, a program that simulates viruses, to test how well Norton AntiVirus 2002 detects viruses in the main memory, the file sector of floppy disks in the A: drive, and the boot sector of floppy disks in the A: drive. NAV found all but the one we stuck in the main memory.

We copied the I Love You virus and pasted its code into the Notepad, then tested it three different ways. In the first test, we left the code as it was, and NAV rooted it out. Then, we deleted every reference to love in the code, but NAV 2002 still detected it. In the third, we changed the size of the file by inserting a comment that did not affect the code, and NAV found that one as well.

To test e-mail protection, we sent a Scrap Object embedded in a DOC file to the test computer. This object, when double-clicked, attempts to format whatever disk is in the A: drive. It went undetected by NAV 2002. Finally, we threw an Outlook-specific e-mail virus known as Kakworm at NAV. NAV 2002 detected it as well. We ran scans with NAV 2002’s highest possible security feature enabled. Here’s what we found:

Rosenthal tests:

  • Virsim Supplement A (in file): found
  • Virsim 1 (in file sector of floppy): found
  • Virsim 2 (in boot sector of floppy): found
  • Virsim 3 (in main memory): not found

I Love You tests:

  • Test 1 (normal code): found
  • Test 2 (changed love): found
  • Test 3 (changed size): found

.SHS file test:

  • Test 1: not found.
  • Kakworm test:

  • Test 1: found.
  • Complete specs
    Click here to check the latest prices for this product. Table A lists the complete product specifications.
    Table A

    Compatibility PC
    Version 8.0
    Manufacturer Symantec Corp.
    Package type Retail
    Localization English
    Distribution media CD-ROM
    Architecture Standalone (1-Tier)
    Software license pricing Standard
    Software license qty 1 user
    Software license type Complete package
    System Requirements
    Min operating system Microsoft Windows 95/98, Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition, Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft Windows 2000
    Min hard drive space 70 MB
    Min processor type Intel Pentium
    Min RAM size 32 MB
    Interface devices Mouse or compatible device, CD-ROM
    Service / Support Product info support