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Norton Antivirus 2021 Review

Steve Adams 15+ years experience in the tech, privacy and security space

norton logoIn this review, I’ll be exploring the range of antivirus software offered by Norton Antivirus.
Norton entered the antivirus market in 1991, historically holding a majority share of the US market. Currently, it claims to protect nearly 50 million consumers.
This review will explore the following points:

  • Does Norton Antivirus slow down my computer?
  • How effective is it against malware?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it offer value for money?

Norton provides a range of different protection packages. I will outline the various plans available and subject the most popular suite to industry-level tests. The review will explore Norton’s special features, breaking down exactly what kinds of antivirus protection it offers. I will also provide a summary of Norton’s customer support and other features that will assist potential subscribers in their decision-making process.

As part of our methodology we conduct a range of antivirus tests to see how effective each service is. In addition to this we use data from third part antivirus testing labs to complement our own research and analysis.

The following article will be an in depth review. In case you don’t have time to read it in its entirety, here’s a short summary of how Norton stood up to my tests.

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Summary

Pros:

  • Within the “advanced” band of antivirus software according to industry experts
  • Range of different price options
  • Additional features focus on protection against identity theft

Cons:

  • Mixed results on some of my own malware tests
  • No free version
  • Full scan significantly taxes PC performance

Norton plans and pricing

Norton offers a range of different pricing depending on your protection needs. These range from very economical offerings to more costly packages that come with greater levels of protection. Here is the breakdown of your options:

Norton 360 Standard

The cheapest package Norton offers covers basic AV protection needs, including:

  • Coverage against the most common malicious threats
  • Online protection whilst browsing the web
  • Smart firewall
  • 10GB of cloud backup
  • Password manager
  • Virus protection promise
  • Secure VPN
  • Webcam protection
  • A dark web monitor that scans for compromised personal information

The price to cover one device is $39.99 for the first year, increasing to $84.99 per year thereafter. For additional features and protection of more devices, other options are available.

Norton 360 Deluxe

The next step up in Norton’s suite is Norton 360 Deluxe. This suite offers all the features of the Standard option, but with some additional features. These include a more substantial 50GB of cloud backup, a parental control feature, and a “school time” feature. The latter allows parents to monitor their children’s devices to ensure they are staying on task whilst studying from home. There is also a privacy monitor feature that allows Norton to remove your personal information from online public databases.

Crucially, the Deluxe package allows you to protect up to five devices, ensuring you can guarantee a whole household’s safety online.

The Norton 360 Deluxe package is $104.99 annually, although a $55 discount makes the first year just $49.99.

Norton 360 with LifeLock Select

This package offers more premium protection, building upon the cheaper suites by offering the LifeLock Identity Alert™, which monitors use of your personal information online and sends you alerts for when your data is being used. Other features include a larger 100GB cloud backup, credit monitoring, and the “Million Dollar Protection Package” which provides legal assistance in cases of identity theft.

This service, unlike the previous two, allows you the option of paying annually or per month. The first year costs $99.48 when paid for upfront, increasing to $149.99 per year thereafter. The monthly price is $9.99 for the first 12 months, after which it rises to $14.99.

Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus

The most expensive option comes with a range of additional features. Among the bonus features is the ability to lock your credit file to prevent fraudsters opening credit-damaging accounts in your name, protection against phone hijacking, bank and credit card activity alerts, fictitious identity monitoring, court records scanning, investment account activity alerts, and home title monitoring, as well as a massive 500GB of cloud backup. An unlimited number of devices can be protected under this plan.

Such a comprehensive level of online protection comes at a cost. Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus is $299.88 for the first year, increasing to $349.99 afterwards. The monthly price is $29.99 for the first year, increasing to $34.99 after 12 months.

Norton antivirus free trial

Most of Norton’s antivirus options let you try before you buy. Norton 360 Standard, Norton 360 Deluxe, and Norton 360 with LifeLock Select all offer seven-day free trials. This is not the case, however, with Norton’s most premium package, Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus. If you choose this option, you must pay straight away.

Compatibility

The various iterations of Norton 360 are compatible with Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.

Windows:

  • Microsoft Windows 10 (all versions)
  • Microsoft Windows 8/8.1 (all versions). Some protection features are not available in Windows 8 Start screen browsers.
  • Microsoft Windows 7 (all versions) with Service Pack 1 (SP 1) or later.

MacOS:

  • Current and previous two versions of Mac OS.
  • Features not supported: Norton Cloud Backup, Norton Parental Control, Norton SafeCam.

Android™ Operating Systems

  • Android 6.0 or later. Must have Google Play app installed.

iOS Operating Systems:

  • Compatible with the previous two versions of iOS.

Effectiveness against malware

Norton’s antivirus programs offer an array of different features. However, how well does it stand up to performing its core task of preventing malware infections? First, I put Norton up against a series of my own tests. I then examined how well it performed in tests run by industry-leading independent antivirus review sites.

EICAR sample tests

The European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR) puts antivirus software to the test with specially-designed malware samples which simulate a malware infection. It does this without actually damaging your computer and is considered a benchmark in assessing the quality of antivirus programs.

There are many different forms of malware, and EICAR has created four samples of the most common forms of malicious virus. What I wanted to know was how well Norton performs in blocking these threats in real time, using its background scanning detection as opposed to an active scan.

The results below show how Norton performed:

Test FileEICAR Sample 1EICAR Sample 2EICAR Sample 3EICAR Sample 4
NortonBlockedAllowedAllowedAllowed

Unfortunately, Norton only blocked one of the four samples. At this stage, this raised my suspicions about its efficacy in blocking malware threats. This is not to say these viruses would not have been picked up in an active scan, but the results do paint a worrying picture of Norton’s ability to protect my device whilst running in the background.

I also devised a test of my own. I used three live samples of different types of malware: one adware and two different Trojans.

Adware is a very common form of malicious virus that displays unwanted adverts, usually within a web browser. Trojan horse malware is even more sinister. A Trojan works by disguising itself within apparently safe software, which once downloaded, can wreak havoc on your system.

With this in mind, how did Norton stand up to my tests?

Test FileLive Sample 1 (Adware)Live Sample 2 (Trojan)Live Sample 3
(Trojan)
NortonBlockedBlockedBlocked

Norton made up for its performance during the EICAR tests. It blocked all three of my malware samples in real time.

Effectiveness during scans

Norton has shown mixed results so far in its performance against viruses whilst running in the background. A key habit for keeping your computer safe is to periodically perform scans that search through your computer’s files and clean out any malicious threats buried in your hard drive.

To start, I wanted to know how thorough Norton’s deep scan is and how long it takes.

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
Norton121970000

Norton took two hours to scan almost a million files. At first glance these figures seem reassuring, but how do these results stand up to other players in the antivirus market? Bitdefender is another industry leader, and performed a full scan with the following stats:

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
Bitdefender1104200000

In roughly the same amount of time as Norton, Bitdefender scanned almost four times as many files.

Of course, it would not be fair to only use Bitdefender as a benchmark of comparison. The following table shows how Norton stacks up against other leaders in antivirus protection:

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
Kaspersky2272100000
Norton121970000
ESET68930000
Avast601870000
McAfee223785000

Among the five different programs, Norton performs roughly in the middle in terms of how quickly it scans. It is significantly quicker than its competitors Kaspersky and McAfee. And when we look at how many items Norton scans, again it performs around average in this sample.

AV-Comparatives tests

Moving away from my own research, I now want to test how well Norton stacks up in industry-leading tests. These tests are run by independent antivirus research labs and offer very reliable results.

One of the most respected antivirus software testers is AV-Comparatives, which carries out a number of comprehensive tests that check each programs’ reliability.

The Malware Protection Test mimics programs’ ability to detect pre-existing threats by inserting USB drives containing malicious files. In the March 2021 results, NortonLifeLock 360 detected 98.0 percent of viruses when running online, and 87.1 percent when offline.

The Real-World Protection Test examines how well antivirus programs defend your computer when browsing online. AV-Comparatives tested from February–March 2021, examining 354 live test cases of real-world viruses. Norton blocked 98.6 percent of online threats.

These impressive results show that despite some lacklustre results in my own devised tests, when stacked up against a large sample of viruses, Norton performs exceedingly well.

Additional features

Aside from the core features that offer comprehensive online protection, Norton 360 offers a suite of attractive additional features.

Norton Dark Web Monitoring

Compromise of personal data is a massive risk when browsing online. This can be incredibly damaging to consumers as thieves and hackers can steal your personal information and trade it online, whereby it can be used to create fraudulent accounts and take out loans in your name, potentially critically damaging your credit file. This data is often traded illegally on the dark web.

Norton offers preemptive protection against identity theft by scanning dark web markets and alerting you if your data is being sold online. Norton searches illegal markets and forums all the way back to 2008 in order to determine whether your information is being exposed.

Norton SafeCam

Over the past year, an increasing number of us have been working from home and using our personal computer’s webcam on a daily basis. Many users are rightly fearful of hackers accessing our cameras. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, but it can also lead to crimes of extortion and blackmail.

Rather than the rudimentary physical covering of our cameras, we can look to Norton’s SafeCam feature to protect our privacy. When this feature is enabled, it secures your device’s webcam whilst browsing the internet, preventing applications and hackers accessing footage of you.

Not only does it prevent the infiltration of your webcam, this feature also provides real-time notifications when applications attempt to gain access.

Norton Privacy Monitor (Norton 360 Deluxe and above)

This is one of the features contained in Norton’s premium antivirus programs that offers an additional level of online protection. I’ve already mentioned how Norton can protect you against the illegal trade of your information. But this feature also protects your online data that features on legal online databases.

Many legitimate public sites contain core personal data such as your name, home address, phone number, and date of birth. Often, this information alone can be used to create accounts in your name. It can also subject you to flurries of fraud attempts, such as text messages and written correspondence claiming to be from your bank or cell phone network provider.

Norton’s Privacy Monitor scans popular data broker sites, alerts you to where your information is featured, and gives you the option of opting-out of these databases.

Impact on PC performance

Although we want thorough levels of antivirus protection, we also don’t want software to dramatically slow down our devices’ performance. I carried out tests to ascertain how Norton affects PC power. These were run against a control measurement of my system’s CPU and memory utilization. Afterwards, I tested how much Norton slowed down my PC when carrying out quick and full scans.

Quick scan

The following table compares the quick scan’s lag on my system compared to when running with no scan in the background:

Control CPU Utilization %Control Memory Utilization %Control Disk Utilization (MB/seconds)Quick Scan CPU Utilization %Quick Scan Memory Utilization %Quick Scan Disk Utilization (MB/seconds)Quick Scan Time (seconds)
147213377641171

The quick scan is fairly rapid, taking just under three minutes. Aside from being fast, the scan didn’t excessively tax my system. Whilst carrying out the scan, my CPU was utilized at 37 percent, increasing 23 percentage points compared to the control settings. This 23 percent is a marginal price to pay relative to the benefits of the scan.

I was surprised to see the scan also had very minimal effects on my memory utilization, only increasing by a mere four percent. This demonstrates that Norton has created a comprehensive antivirus package that runs smoothly without taxing your system.

Full scan

How does Norton stack up on performance when carrying out a comprehensive scan?

Control CPU Utilization %Control Memory Utilization %Full Scan CPU Utilization %Full Scan Memory Utilization %Full Scan Time (minutes)
14728475121

As was to be expected, the full scan took a lot longer to execute, roughly two hours. In terms of CPU utilization, there was an increase of 70 percent. Using 84 percent of CPU is fairly taxing, so this is worth bearing in mind if you anticipate carrying out these scans while using your PC.

Similarly to during the quick scan, the increase in memory utilization was almost non-existent. There was an increase of just three percent.

The following table compares Norton’s impact on PC performance compared to its competitors.

Software% increase in CPU Utilization% increase in Memory Utilization
ESET362
Bitdefender247
Norton703
Avast101
McAfee8865
Kaspersky546

These results do show that Norton is one of the most taxing programs when it comes to CPU performance. It is, however, amongst the best performers when it comes to effects on memory utilization.

Usability

Norton’s user interface is refreshingly straightforward and efficient. It displays your overall protection status, as well as breaking down which areas are or are not protected. Additionally, it displays when your last scan was executed, helping you maintain a consistent scanning schedule. The display also links you to the settings page and the help section.

Norton’s customer support

When we opt for a paid program, we want to rest assured that assistance is on hold if we run into any problems. Norton offers comprehensive 24/7 customer support, 365 days of the year, on all its products. In addition, there is live chat support which allows for most day-to-day issues to be resolved without having to wait for long periods of time on the phone.

There are also live communities, FAQs, and support through Norton’s social media. The live communities are great resources because many users will at some point encounter the same problems. These common issues can often be resolved in a matter of minutes by quickly searching the community and seeing how other users have solved the issue.

What’s new in the latest version of Norton?

Norton 2021 adds a new feature that started rolling out in January 2021.

It’s called Phone Takeover Monitoring, and it prevents SIM-swapping and port-out scams. During these scams hackers hijack your phone number and most often the intention is to access mobile-payment accounts on your device. This is a worthwhile new feature that could help you avoid a very costly and upsetting attack.

The overall design of Norton’s interface has a light refresh but still looks very familiar with green, yellow and red colors.

There’s a new Launch interface with the image of a mountain climber on the left and a column of key security tasks listed on the right hand side. This includes Dark Web Monitoring, Password Manager, Secure VPN, Device Security, and cloud backup.

The latest tests on Norton’s VPN which is included in many of its antivirus packages, shows that despite access to many servers worldwide, it fails to unblock Netflix’s geo-restricted content. This is not that uncommon however, as Netflix is very proactive in blocking VPNs.

Antivirus Testing Methodology

You may be interested in how we arrive at our results and ratings for antivirus software. We run a number of benchmarking tests including test malware files from the European Institute for Computer Antivirus research. This allows us to provide a current picture of how each provider performs against malware threats.

In addition, we test all antivirus programs against live malware samples, including trojans and adware.

If you’d like to know more about how we analyze antivirus software, we have a dedicated post on our antivirus research and testing methodology.

Best Alternatives to Norton

Norton is one of the best-known names in the antivirus sector but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compare it with a few other contenders before making your decision.

I have shortlisted a few additional antivirus providers that can compete with the all-around package on offer from Norton.

Bitdefender: I’m always happy to shortlist Bitdefender as a potential antivirus suite because it consistently scores high protection against malware and viruses such as trojans and adware.

Avast: One of the best-known internet security brands around, Avast offers a comprehensive antivirus packaged with a large number of additional features. It is a good option for those who want all-around protection with tools such as a file shredder, VPN, and sandbox included with the premium version.

ESET: With an easy-to-use interface, excellent benchmarking scores in antivirus tests, and lower pricing than some providers, ESET is a good choice for many users. It is a good choice if you only have a few devices to cover.

Verdict

Overall, Norton stacks up as an effective antivirus program.

Although during my own tests there were some mixed results, we can give Norton the benefit of the doubt in this scenario as it performed exceeding well during comprehensive independent tests. These tests utilize large sample sizes, giving reliable indications of antivirus software’s efficacy, demonstrating that Norton is within the advanced band of programs on offer.

Norton carries out its core functions quickly and efficiently. For everyday computer use, I tend to use quick scans. Norton executed these fairly comprehensively without excessive costs to my computer’s power. It did tax my PC during a full scan but these aren’t the sort of scans I would carry out on a daily basis.

There are also some excellent additional layers of security available. Within its premium services, Norton puts the focus on identity protection and offers a range of features that allow you to safeguard your online privacy and data.

Norton offers all of this at competitive prices and allows you to trial all but its most expensive program.

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