NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2008
Broadband ISPs provide Free Security Software
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Recently on my weekly radio show on KLVI 560AM (6-7pm Mondays, also streaming live over the net at KLVI.COM), I was asked about the security software offered by our local broadband internet service providers (ISPs). At present locally, there is an oligopoly of only two major broadband internet service providers, AT&T Yahoo! DSL, and Time Warner Road Runner. Both provide adequate broadband service, and a suite of internet security products that are free to their respective subscribers.

AT&T Yahoo! DSL offers as a free option to its subscribers a comprehensive security suite consisting of the very popular Norton Antispyware, Norton Antivirus, and Norton Personal Firewall, Parental Controls, and AT&T Yahoo! Mail Protection. AT&T claims that this suite has a retail value of $120 (annual subscription rates), but is offered at no additional cost to AT&T Yahoo! DSL subscribers.

Norton security products are among the top sellers of retail computer security products, and have a very large and loyal following of faithful users. While there are many who rely on Norton and praise its protection, there are also many users, including some computer magazines and technical websites, who have some issues with Norton products. Most professional reviewers, including the popular CNet, agree that Norton products offer solid protection to the user and his computer, but there are some issues with it. One issue reported by many reviewers, which I have also personally encountered, is that the protective Norton utilities take a toll on computer performance, which may be quite noticeable. Simply put, there is a good chance that the user will sacrifice computer performance for computer security. Many users have reported a noticeable computer slowdown when Norton protective utilities are installed and running, as they are very demanding on system resources. There are also issues reported in the computer magazines where some of the Norton components, such as the antivirus, firewall, and anti-spyware, do not work well together. Norton uses a “LiveUpdate” feature to periodically check for updates, and download them when available; there are documented accounts where the LiveUpdate itself saps the computer of its resources, slowing the computer down even more while it is running. In my experience, LiveUpdate is fast and necessarily frequent, but often requires a reboot after updating the program and data files.

The Norton Antivirus offers very good protection from the viruses in circulation. In published reviews, the virus protection is sound and reliable, and rates around the middle when compared to competitive products. Now that spyware is a greater threat to personal computer security and safety than viruses, good spyware protection is a necessity. In a series of three tests by CNet, the Norton Antispyware was only able to detect and remove 60%, 55%, and 50% of the spyware that was infecting sample machines, which was in the middle of anti-spyware products tested by CNet. On a one to ten rating scale, CNet editors give the Norton products an overall score of 6.8 (Good), while users responding to the published reviews give it a 6.1. CNet rated just the antivirus component as “Very Good 7.3”.

AT&T Yahoo! DSL Parental Controls are very good and comprehensive, and provides the parent a great deal of flexibility in controlling the online activities of his children. A variety of controls can be emplaced, including filtering of chats, instant messaging, internet access times, and web browsing. A series of reports can be provided to the parent informing him of the online activities of the child. This utility works well on XP computers, but does not work on Vista machines. This is not a significant problem, as Vista has an integral parental control function that is nearly identical to that provided to XP users by AT&T.

AT&T Yahoo! Mail Protection offers excellent filtering for spam, and scans all attached files with Norton before the user can download them to his computer. I use the Mail Protection feature on a daily basis, and have found it extremely effective in detecting and segregating spam and malware laden email, with only a small number of false positives (non-spam email blocked). To its credit, almost no spam email has erroneously made it through the filter and into my main inbox.

Subscribers of AT&T Yahoo! DSL should consider downloading and installing the free provided security package. Users who are willing to research third party security applications and purchase them, may find that some of them may outperform the Norton components provided by AT&T. It is a matter of personal choice.

The other major broadband carrier available locally is the Time Warner Road Runner Service. Road Runner offers its subscribers the Computer Associates (CA) EZ Armor Suite or its nearly identical companion product, CA Internet Security Suite 2007 at no additional charge. EZ Armor is a comprehensive and widely respected security suite that offers anti-spyware, antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, and a pop-up blocker, along with frequent product upgrades and updates, and online technical support. To supplement the EZ Armor, Road Runner claims to also scan and clean all incoming email and attachments for viruses, worms, and Trojans at the network level before it can reach the users’ computer.

CA’s antivirus component is installed on the computers provided by my employer, and I have personally found it effective at stopping viruses from infecting both my notebook and desktop computers. My own personal experience, plus published performance reviews such as CNet’s, indicate that the CA virus scanner is fast, and does not materially degrade the performance of the computer. In published comparisons, in terms of protection and detection of viruses, CA’s antivirus component ranked around the middle of competitive products tested, and about the same as Norton Antivirus.

One strong feature in the CA suite is the anti-spyware component which incorporates features of what was one of the best independent anti-spyware products, PestPatrol, which was subsequently purchased by CA several years ago. Recent comparative tests of the CA anti-spyware put it about average with its competitors, but it still offers satisfactory protection. The firewall integrated with the CA suite is adequate, and offers reasonable protection, and incorporates the pop-up blocker with it. The anti-spam utility integrates with major email programs, and offers real-time spam filtering as email is downloaded.

CNet rates the CA suite a score of 6.0 (Good) on a scale of 10, but the readers who rated it on CNet generally did not like the product. It should be noted that there were not enough reader reviews for CNet to give it an overall reader rating.

If cost is a factor, then Road Runner users should download and install the CA suite offered. If cost is not a major factor, then the user should research the alternative third party suites from companies such as Trend Micro, Kaspersky, BitDefender, Panda, AVG (Grisoft), McAfee, and others, and consider using one of them instead.

Even though third party internet security suites may outperform the free offerings of the broadband providers, the security offered by the free offerings is at least adequate and should be downloaded and installed unless another option is desired.

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