If you're concerned about computer security, Symantec Corp. has a nicely packaged bundle to satisfy even the most paranoid.
If this software had a mother, it would demand photo ID on every visit.
The Norton Internet Security Professional Edition controls Internet access to and from the computer.
Most of us worry about the "to" part, but there's danger in sending sensitive information from the computer as well.
I was surprised when the software told me that 87 programs on my office computer were set up for Internet access. These days, software you download can be programmed to send back data without you ever knowing.
Norton stops those transmissions and lets users choose whether to always permit a transmission from a particular software, to permit it once, to always deny it or to ask every time.
A separate component of Norton allows an administrator to block access by individual users to selected news groups. Parents may use it to keep kids out of "alt.sex" groups, without blocking themselves as well.
Norton can also filter out most online advertising and pop-up windows, making Web pages load faster. One type of ad that slips by is the plain-text hyperlink -- e.g. "Click here to get rich!"
Virus protection is, of course, a major component.
The software automatically updates itself to keep current with the crazies (though anti-virus companies sometimes need time to develop and distribute updates for the newest viruses). It checks both incoming and outgoing e-mail and automatically kills any detected viruses.
Particularly with always-on broadband Internet connections, there's a chance that someone might try to invade your system, whether for vandalism or criminal mischief. The software can automatically detect most common attempts, terminate the connection and block further attempts.
And for those who synchronize their PC with a Palm Pilot, there's virus protection there, too.
You may set a "confidential information filter" that will prevent sensitive information like credit card numbers from being sent over unprotected sites or links.
Although a 252-page manual is included, most of the functions are obvious and well explained.
All in all, a nice bit of work, but the $99.95 price may drive away some users.
If you're upgrading from a Symantec or a competitive product, there's a $30 mail-in rebate available. A version with only some of the features is available for $69.95.
Windows XP users require a 300-megahertz Pentium II or higher and 128 megabytes of RAM. Windows 2000 Professional needs a 150-megahertz or higher processor, 64 megabytes of RAM and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation with service pack 6a or higher. For the Windows ME and 98 crowd, 150 megahertz (at least) chip and 48 megabytes of RAM recommended.
A version for the Macintosh has only some of the features.
Questions and comments welcome. Larry Blasko, AP, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. E-mail lblasko(at)ap.org
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