Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our
review process here.
We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Intuitive, easy-to-use interface
24/7 phone support
Multiple daily virus definition updates
More expensive than some competitors
No file encryption
Doesn’t automatically scan newly connected portable storage
Norton Antivirus has had a reputation for being an unreliable system hog but changes to the Norton offerings have made great improvements in both security and system impact to keep you protected from viruses, malware, and more.
Norton Antivirus has been around nearly as long as there have been Internet threats, but that doesn’t automatically translate to an excellent protection application. In fact, Norton Antivirus has had its share of ups and downs. In the past, the application was well-known for being a system resource hog that didn’t play well with Microsoft Windows and that wasn’t always accurate. However, times have changed, and Norton Antivirus has worked to repair that image. In the recent past, Norton completely revamped its offerings and added a host of additional features. We took the software for a spin, thoroughly testing the service, so read on to see out complete findings.
Norton Antivirus still uses the Windows malware definition engine to power its security offerings, and those virus definitions are updated multiple times a day—as needed to stay effective against new threats that pop up. However, in addition to signature scanning, Norton also has heuristic capabilities, which means it’s always watching and "listening" to files on your hard drive to spot any kind of unusual behavior. This helps ensure you’re protected against Zero-Day attacks for which a virus definition does not yet exist.
Most antivirus applications have both a full scan and a quick scan. Typically, the full scan is something the user kicks off manually after the initial scan conducted during the installation of the antivirus applications. Norton Antivirus works in the same way. There are several types of scans available—Quick Scan, Full System Scan, Custom Scan—and the application seems to default to the quick scan. In most cases, this will be all you will need if your antivirus stays active and updated.
The fact that Norton Antivirus has been around a while means the software is more equipped than most to deal with the threats users face on a daily basis. The antivirus applications will protect your system against viruses, malware, Trojans, spyware, worms rootkit exploits, phishing, and SPAM. The addition of a two-way firewall also ensures you’re protected from attacks that try to leverage network weaknesses.
With the updates that Norton went through, they also seem to have made some changes to their antivirus application interface. When first installed, Norton Antivirus displays a dashboard that isn’t super useful. Fortunately, you can change that to a more traditional dashboard, which many users will find much more useful.
The traditional dashboard includes links to the most commonly accessed features, including Security, Internet Security, Backup, Performance, and My Norton. Click any of these buttons to dig deeper into the capabilities in that category.
Even more, features and capabilities are also hidden in the Settings menu. From Settings, users can dig into Antivirus controls, Firewall settings, AntiSpam controls, Task Scheduling, Administrative and Backup settings, and Exploit Prevention.
One of the best features we’ve found of the Norton Antivirus applications is the regular, multiple times daily, updates of the virus definitions and signature dictionaries.
One of the best features we’ve found of the Norton Antivirus applications is the regular, multiple times daily, updates of the virus definitions and signature dictionaries. Thousands of new threats appear on the Internet each day, and daily updates could leave you unprotected against a threat for close to a full day. Norton updates virus definitions when necessary, which means you’re protected from the newest threats on the Internet as soon as protection is available.
In the past, the biggest complaints users had against Norton Antivirus was that the application used a ton of system resources; so many that it would often cause a computer to freeze or crash. The people behind Norton have worked hard to change that and make the application more efficient. Even so, it’s still heavy on the use of system resources, and for users running older computer systems, it could mean the difference between a great antivirus application and a piece of software that is nothing more than a headache. On newer systems, like the one we tested on, however, the system impact is not noticeable in most cases.
The quick scan took less than five minutes to complete. The full scan of our test system, however, took more than an hour to complete, and when we ran a custom scan against a portable hard drive with more than 40,000 files on it, the scan took over two hours. None of these scans caused any lags in other computer use, including streaming audio and video content. For most users, the quick scan will be used most often and full scans and scans of portable drives only on an as-needed basis.
When it comes to how well Norton protects your system against threats, AV TEST (an independent testing lab) found that Norton scored nearly perfectly on catching and removing viruses. In the tests we conducted, we found nearly the same results, with one exception. In one instance, Norton recognized a malicious file but did not block it immediately. It did block the file before it caused any damage to our system, but we were surprised the response wasn’t immediate.
We also did not experience any false positives with Norton Antivirus, despite reports from users that Norton does occasionally flag legitimate files as possibly malicious.
One of the most significant improvements in Norton Antivirus is the number of tools and extras that are available.
One of the most significant improvements in Norton Antivirus is the number of tools and extras that are available with the antivirus. At the basic level (Norton Antivirus Plus), users have all the antivirus, malware, spyware, and ransomware protection they would expect, but they also get online threat protection (in the form of browser add-ons), as well as 2 GB cloud storage, a smart firewall, and password protection.
Jump up a tier, and you’ll gain webcam protection and dark web monitoring. The highest tier antivirus from Norton also comes with LifeLock protection, credit monitoring from one credit bureau, social security number and credit alerts, and data breach notifications.
Another feature of Norton Antivirus that’s usually reserved for premium subscribers of competitors’ products is the availability of 24/7 phone support and live help online. If you encounter a problem, you can pick up the phone and make a call to get the fastest resolution. Or if you prefer, the online chat support system is also staffed round the clock. And for issues that aren’t time-sensitive, an e-mail system will net you a response in less than a day in most cases. Norton does not have a support ticket system, but it doesn’t really need one with the other service options that are available.
A common complaint about Norton Antivirus is that it’s overly expensive. Based on our research, we’ve found Norton’s packages to be on the high-end of the mid-range. Norton Antivirus Plus, the bottom tier offering will cost users around $6 per month, however, that price can be reduced slightly when purchased annually for $40 to $50 per year.
The one exception to that is the highest tier offering which includes LifeLock Select and will cost users around $100 to $150 per year, depending on the discounts being offered at the time.
That’s also something to note about Norton Antivirus. The site where you purchase the antivirus software seems to run regular specials and discounts on products, so prices are subject to fluctuate from month to month.
Norton Antivirus has improved considerably over the years, but competitor Bitdefender is still rated the best in the industry by multiple testing labs and rating agencies. Bitdefender’s lowest tiered premium antivirus costs about the same as Norton Antivirus, but it includes a few additional features, including a file shredder, social network protection, and an anti-tracker that prevents anyone from tracking your movements online.
Where Norton wins in additional features is with the two-way firewall and cloud backup capabilities. These are features that will help users be more protected and recover in the even a threat does become a problem.
At the end of the day, however, because Bitdefender is noticeably easier on system resources and has consistently been ranked one of the best antivirus applications available, we recommend spending your money on Bitdefender instead of Norton.
It's gotten better, but it's still not the best.
Norton Antivirus has been around the block a few times, but that history doesn’t do the security application any favors. Instead, it makes users wary of protection they are going to get. While our tests found the protection to be very good, and the additional features nice to have, we still have a hard time recommending Norton Antivirus over other applications such as Bitdefender.