It was my fault, really.

I’d bought a laptop for my mother and like a good technology writer, I installed an anti-virus program before going on the Internet.

Funny, though, the Microsoft site blocked every attempt to access Windows Update. That’s because I’d become a victim of the Sobig.F

virus. I forgot to turn on Windows’ firewall; inside of 15 minutes online I’d been nailed.

It was time for a serious defence, so I got a copy of Norton Internet Security 2004. It can be used for Windows 98 and up, and with VPNs from Symantec, PGP, Nortel and others. But it has to be turned off during encrypted SSL e-mail connections.

In addition to the venerable anti-virus application, IS includes a configurable firewall (to use it Windows XP’s firewall has to be turn off), an anti-spam app with blocked and approved list capabilities, intrusion detection that can be programmed to stop outgoing as well as incoming attacks as well as gather information to track down attackers, Web ad blocking, a network detector that can be configured for different networks and a privacy control.

After the CD scanned the system for trouble, installation was straightforward. For those who like to test applications before registering, be warned: If you don’t register online within 15 days NIS will stop.

The application makes sure you can get to it by putting two icons in the system tray (one for Norton AV, and the other for IS) as well as one in the toolbars of Internet Explorer Windows Explorer. The AntiSpam app also puts an icon on the Outlook Express toolbar, as well as the ability to access it by right-clicking on an e-mail.

NIS has an easy-to-understand interface which is similar to Norton AntiVirus. Tools are grouped under security, personal firewall, intrusion detection and antivirus. Each can be configured separately.

In use, NIS was a treat. Left on its own, AntiSpam caught most junk e-mail and diverted it to a spam folder. For those it missed, it was a simple thing to hit the AntiSpam icon and add them to the blocked address list.

The intrusion detection was handy: in January, it warned a Trojan worm was attempting to access the computer, and automatically blocked it.

Easy to use and offering seemingly rock-solid protection after five months of use, NIS makes me feel safer online.

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