This year’s Norton 360 offers the most comprehensive set of cross-platform computer security tools. It is a safe choice. Yet it is expensive and is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. It’s a poor option for Apple users who don’t get all the benefits.
Norton 360 is aimed at consumers, people who work from home, freelancers and sole proprietors. You might buy it if you have a handful of vulnerable devices to protect. If you run a bigger operation you should look elsewhere for an alternative built for business or corporate users.
Even if you fall into Norton’s target market, it may not be necessary to buy security software at all. In fact, I recommend you don’t unless you are in a group that needs extra protection.
Should you decide you want protection, then Norton 360 is a safe choice. It’s popular. According to Norton there are 50 million users. It wouldn’t stay popular if it didn’t deliver benefits.
Norton fails to deliver on Apple kit
If you run Windows, it’s a solid option. In practice I found it was overkill for my Apple-centric home business. You might find otherwise.
Norton 360 is a comprehensive suite of security tools covering Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices. Here I only look at the product on MacOS and iOS.
According to the marketing you get anti-virus and anti-spam software, a full VPN, a firewall, parental controls1 and back-up.
Because these are a family of tools, they all dovetail neatly with each other. That’s not always the experience when you mix and match security components from multiple sources.
There’s also a feature called Lifelock. This promises to help protect against identity theft, although it can feel alarming to use.
I didn’t test LifeLock because the first rule of privacy protection is to not hand over important personal details to every Tom, Dick and Harriet who come asking for them. If you read on, you’ll see why I’m not planning to maintain the kind of long-term relationship that might make LifeLock worthwhile.
Norton 360 comes in an array of versions, each includes a different number of licences. You can buy a single licence product, or two or three or five or ten.
The price rises as you go up the levels. Spend NZ$100 and you get a single licence, spend NZ$250 and you get ten. Keep in mind these are subscriptions for a single year’s use.
Getting started on a Mac isn’t as easy as Norton wants you to think. The process takes 30 minutes, a lot of that is waiting around for things to download even on a gigabit fibre connection. Clearly Norton is not geared up for fast download speeds, that doesn’t make me confident about using the back-up feature.
There’s a moment in the install process where the software directs you to change the MacOS Security and Privacy settings in the General Preferences. After this, you then have to reboot the computer and then, ridiculously go back to the settings and do it all over again.
Maybe it is necessary. It certainly grates.
I should also point out Norton doesn’t explain why you should change these settings. It may seem obvious, but that’s not good enough. Security is about trust. Expecting customers to unlock the gates without offering a good reason goes against good security principles.
This all seems irritating and time consuming, but it would be a small price to pay if Norton made a Mac safer. And that’s the problem. It’s not clear that Norton 360 makes much difference. It’s also not clear it adds NZ$200 worth of value.
Once everything is loaded, there’s a My Norton home page with five tabs. These are: Device Security; Secure VPN; Password Manager; Parental Controls and Cloud Backup.
Let’s run through the feature list and see where there is value and where there is none.
Top of the list is Device Security. This includes malware scanning and a firewall. There’s no indication that Norton’s firewall is an improvement on the free, built-in MacOS firewall. No obvious value there.
This is less clear cut with the malware scanning. I’ve owned Macs for seven years and have never seen any malware on any of the Apple devices in my home2. At one point there were eight devices when all the family had Macs and iPads.
You might have a different experience or indulge in riskier behaviour that lets malware in. While there’s no value in malware scanning for me, I accept it may help others.
VPN the highlight
Norton’s Secure VPN is excellent. Earlier standalone versions nagged you if you attempted to use Bittorrent, even legal torrents. And it didn’t like some legitimate streaming services. There is no longer any of that nonsense. At least not in the time the VPN has been running.
The Password Manager does nothing for me. Similar functionality is part of Apple operating systems and there are excellent tools such as 1password that do a better job. Again, other people may find it helpful. I don’t.
My children have grown up and left home, so parental controls are not needed. It turns out that they are not part of the deal for Mac users although it does work with iOS.
Back-up missing in action
Norton’s cloud back-up is also missing in action for Mac users. In theory you get 100GB of online storage to play with on the NZ$200 a year plan. If you are a light Windows computer user this may be enough to back-up your files. You can get extra storage if you buy a more expensive plan, but the price seems high if that’s all you want.
Either way, there is no MacOS back-up software.
There’s an option to buy what Norton calls the Ultimate Help Desk for another $150 a year. It’s not clear from the website if that is US or NZ dollars.
It’s hard to love the way Norton wants a hefty up-front NZ$200 and then charge more for extras which you might reasonably expect to be part of the deal. But sadly that’s the way of the world, consumers seem to tolerate apps with in-app purchase, so may be I’m out of touch for even mentioning this.
In a package of this price and complexity, I’d expect to see something for protecting users against ransomware. Maybe that’s in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it.
I wasn’t a fan of parental controls when my children were young, they don’t seem to guard against the biggest risk which is online bullying. Yet not having a Mac version wipes some of the perceived value of Norton 360 for Apple users.
The lack of back-up also detracts from the product’s value for Mac owners. In effect only three of the five main feature groups are available for Mac owners. You have to wonder why these features are shown on the MacOS version of the MyNorton home page if they don’t exist.
From a MacOS point of view, Norton 360 is an expensive disappointment. The brightest spot is the Secure VPN. You get five one year VPN licences for $200. Norton sells a stand-alone VPN product, five one year licences purchased that way cost NZ$140, you have to ask yourself if the firewall and malware protection are worth another NZ$60. I’m not convinced they are.