With more of us exchanging files – which might potentially include malware, even the most curmudgeonly will concede the need for protection against viruses. So, if we need defending against viruses, we might need third-party protection against phishing, identity theft, and other such woes. Hence, the release of Norton Internet Security (NIS) 4.0 for Mac.

Long time coming

This version of Norton's online security suite has come more than five years after NIS 3.0. Why the delay?

Symantec says that the release of Norton Confidential – the anti-phishing element of NIS – and the updating of both Norton Firewall and Norton Antivirus (to take account of Leopard) kept them preoccupied for much of that time. Now, they say, 'it is time to integrate these three fundamental protections into Norton Internet Security for our Mac users'.

Once you've installed NIS and restarted your Mac, the NIS Setup Assistant will take you through each function of the software suite so that you can configure it to your liking. Symantec strongly recommends that you turn off Mac OS X's firewall (System Preferences > Security > Firewall), in order to avoid clashes with Norton Firewall.

So, how does Norton Internet Security stack up against other third-party internet security products – or, for that matter, a simple antivirus package plus Mac OS X's built-in protection? We were pleasantly surprised.

On the evidence of our previous acquaintance with both Mac and Windows versions of NIS we expected to find that our test systems (a 2.4GHz Intel iMac and a 2.16GHz MacBook) slowed down to a crawl. Thankfully, this wasn't the case here. We even made checks using Activity Monitor, and found that nothing was putting strain on either Mac. So far, so good.

When it comes to detecting viruses, Norton Antivirus (NAV) 11 is incorporated into NIS to handle the task and it does it well. It detected our selection of nasties when presented with them in emails or on a USB flash drive. Incidentally, you can also prevent NAV from scanning certain locations.

Norton Confidential also does a good job, placing a banner in Safari notifying the user that a website isn't an impostor. However, the latest versions of Safari and Firefox incorporate a similar feature, so we wonder at paying extra for Norton Internet Security over Norton AntiVirus.

Alternatives

Overall, Symantec's experience of producing utilities for the corporate sector shines through in Norton Internet Security 4.0 for Mac's slick interface. It seems, the company has noted they could be heavy on system resources, though we'd be intrigued to learn how much this was down to testing the software on dual-core Intel Macs.

However, we're still left with the feeling that in buying NIS 4.0 you'd be paying to address the wrong issues: after all, Mac OS X already has a decent software firewall (and if you have an Ethernet router you'll most likely have a hardware firewall).

In addition, there's antivirus software available for free (see the iAntiVirus review). If you're using Windows under Boot Camp or in a virtualisation environment such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, you can obtain free Windows antivirus protection from AVG.

Ultimately though unless you've got an old PowerPC Mac, as good as NIS 4.0 for Mac is, we really couldn't justify the expense when there are free solutions for the home user that do just as good a job.