Norton 360 fights drive-by downloads

Drive-by attacks now the primary way of distributing malware, says Symantec

Continuing its effort to persuade more novice computer users to install malware protection, Symantec has released to market version 2 of its Norton 360 product, aimed at simple installation and use. The new version introduces for the first time in this product measures to stop drive-by downloads.

These attacks, which happen automatically when visiting an infected website, are now the primary way of distributing malware, says Tom Powledge, Symantec’s vice president of product management in charge of the Norton product range. There are now more instances of these attacks detected than the older ploy of infected email, he says.

Nor is it simply a problem with visiting shady areas of the web; it can happen to almost any site. The Sydney Opera House site was recently hacked and a drive-by download script inserted, Powledge says. It is not enough to keep a list of suspect sites; the actual attempt to infect the user’s machine is detected and turned away.

Norton 360 Version 2 has been in public beta for several months with a free limited-time trial and has attracted a mixed reaction, with some users impressed and some suggesting the product still has gaps.

Reaction to the first version and the beta copy of version 2 has led Symantec to introduce better support for the Firefox browser and to introduce a password management repository similar to that in the company’s more advanced Norton Internet Security suite.

Like NIS, Norton 360 provides a wide spectrum of services, including anti-phishing and anti-spam measures and a back-up utility.

“We have simplified set-up and made it as automatic as we can,” Powledge says. It does, however, inevitably need some “feedback and prompting” during configuration and operation. The aim is to handle most problems quietly while not interfering with the user’s internet experience, he says. But if you do something particularly risky like visiting a known phishing site “then it’s very much in your face”.

The new version has also delivered on a frequently expressed user desire to reduce Symantec software’s demand on resources, Powledge says.

“We acknowledge that in the past our products have been big and bloated.” Norton 360 Version 2 takes up 7-10MB of RAM when running, a considerable reduction from the 45 MB of Version 1.

He disputes, however, that Symantec is a particularly bad performer in this respect. “Our surveys show the industry average is 33 MB.”

The new version adds only two running processes to the user’s workload: the industry average is four, he claims.

Online updating of malware information is scheduled to occur as far as possible when the machine is not busy with other tasks, Powledge says.

Norton 360 v2 is priced at $129.99 with a year’s update subscription.

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