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For its 2012 product, Kaspersky put a great deal of effort into making security management less intimidating. This is evident from the moment Kaspersky loads for the first time. It starts with the redesigned Windows widget (provided you’re running Windows 7 or Vista), which lets you know the status of your security software at a glance. You know the drill—green means all systems are go, yellow indicates a problem with security, and red means it’s time to panic (or press the button to fix whatever’s freaking Kaspersky out). You can customize each of the four quick launch buttons, and if you drag a file or folder on top of the widget, Kaspersky will scan the contents. It’s all very slick.
Rocking an all-in-one PC with a touch screen? You'll love Kaspersky's oversize tiles, which are easy to manipulate with a good old rodent, as well.
Kaspersky’s updated dashboard is equally user friendly and looks as though it was designed with touch screens in mind. Stifle the groans, because it’s a cinch to navigate with a mouse. The top portion is dominated by a status window that lets you know if there are any pressing matters that require your attention, and below that sits a scrollable row of oversize icons. Kaspersky displays four at a time, or you can press the up arrow to stretch the section up over the status window. Kaspersky didn’t forget about power users, and if you want to get your hands dirty, you can dig several layers deep by clicking Settings.
The changes in KIS go beyond the cosmetic. Kaspersky injected the scan engine with a much‑needed dose of nitrous oxide, but it might be a little too fast. Several dirty files went undetected as we downloaded them to the desktop, though Kaspersky sprang into action when we tried to execute them. Combined with high scores from independent testing labs, we remain fairly confident in Kaspersky’s ability to keep malware at bay.
It’s easy to forget you have Bitdefender installed on your system—that is, if you want to. One of the big new features in this year’s build is an Autopilot mode. When engaged, Bitdefender plops itself into the driver’s seat and navigates through potentially sticky security-related situations without any supervision. The idea is to provide protection in absolute silence, and this stealth approach works so well that we initially thought Bitdefender had fallen asleep at the wheel. Turns out Bitdefender had its eye on the road the entire time, though it was sometimes slow to react. What we mean is that Bitdefender didn’t always stop dirty downloads from reaching the desktop, nor did it block us from pulling foul files off our USB flash drive. Pretty soon our once‑clean desktop had turned into a virtual minefield of malware.
Bitdefender's awesome Autopilot will make you forget you're even running security software.
After a while, most of these files began to disappear one by one. It started with the ones we clicked and then spread to others we hadn’t. Bitdefender disarmed almost every threat and proved particularly adept at weeding out rootkits, though it did let a trojan add an entry to the registry. As far as we can tell the actual virus had been neutralized, and even though all the independent labs laud Bitdefender’s detection rates, its seemingly slow reaction time leaves us feeling a little uneasy.
Bitdefender is overflowing with features. All the essentials are there—antivirus, antispyware, antispam, firewall—and so are loads of extras like identity‑theft protection, parental controls, a rescue mode that reboots your PC in a trusted environment, social network scanning, a virtualized browser, and the list goes on. To top it off, the new menu layout is both easy to navigate and customizable. Bitdefender clearly understands what we want from a security suite.
It’s been three years since Symantec overhauled its Norton security line, yet we still feel compelled to mention it. Why? For the simple reason that it’s not easy reinventing yourself, and there are still those who view Norton as a bloated, flat-footed application built on shoddy code. The truth is Symantec turned its Norton product around in 2009 with a code base it rewrote from the ground up, and Norton’s been earning high marks ever since.
Symantec took it a step further last year by giving the UI a face‑lift. What emerged was sleek and sexy, and at the same time overwhelming for less experienced users or anyone uninterested in such fine-grain control. NIS 2012 solves this problem by removing most of the clutter from the main screen and sweeping it beneath the rug where power users can still get to it. The result is a user-friendly UI dominated by three main controls: Scan Now, LiveUpdate, and Advanced. If you happen to miss the way things used to look, Norton lets you pin the Advanced menu to the main window, which has the added bonus of covering up the goofy world map that shows cybercrime activity hotspots. Seriously, does anyone use this?
If Symantec ever removes Norton's real-time (and real hokey) Threat Map from the UI, we won't have anything left to piss and moan about.
Other changes in NIS 2012 are equally subtle and effective, like the small Windows gadget Norton installs. Also new is the ability to remotely manage multiple Norton subscriptions from the web (handy feature for updating mom’s machine), the ability to scan your Facebook wall for malicious links, and a Reputation scan for determining a file’s trustworthiness.
Norton added 16 seconds to our system’s startup time, tying for last place. If you want, you can disable or delay the start of programs through Norton’s new Startup Manager. It’s similar to the one built into Windows, but far more robust and easier to use, and it reports resource usage (displayed as Low, Medium, or High). As before, Norton skips scanning unaltered files after the first pass-through, so an initial eight-minute scan was reduced to a little more than two and a half minutes.
In terms of protection, Norton continues to impress, both during internal tests and also those conducted by independent testing labs. Symantec tells us it’s added 120 new rules to Norton’s Sonar module, which is now better at detecting not only non-process threats like those hiding in DLL files, but also fake AV programs. We tried our best to trip up Norton, but it stood tall throughout testing.