Norton Internet Security 2006 from Cupertino, Cal.-based Symantec is a suite of bundled security software applications that provides a basic level of security for most agencies and other small insurance offices that must protect valuable customer data from unauthorized access.

The suite integrates Norton AntiVirus, Norton Personal Firewall, Norton AntiSpam, and Norton Privacy Control, providing a full range of protection against the most common threats to computers systems and the data they hold.

New for this year’s edition of Norton Internet Security is Norton Protection Center, a feature that aggregates and summarizes what users need to know about their systems’ security in one place. It uses simple, everyday language to relay security messages to users who may not be computer experts.

Beyond that, Norton AntiVirus offers the basic protection you would expect from such a well-known name in security software. A significant upgrade for this year over the 2005 version, however, is protection against spyware and adware–growing threats that some IT experts consider far more dangerous than garden-variety viruses.

A multifaceted security solution is a must for today’s Web-connected insurance operations, and Norton Internet Security fits the bill in many ways. We found the interfaces intuitive and easy to negotiate. We especially liked the Live Update feature, which searches for updates to all of the installed Symantec products, instead of making the user update them one at a time.

Personal Firewall gives the user the option to adjust the level of protection desired. The “high” setting flashes an alert when any program attempts to access the Internet, or before loading any ActiveX controls or Java applets. That will certainly prevent most intrusions, but it could also interfere with legitimate transactions that use such controls.

The “low” setting, on the other hand, allows all outgoing connections, which is probably a bit more wide open than most of us would like to be. Users will likely find a practical level of protection–versus practicality–in the middle.

The suite’s intrusion prevention feature matches incoming messages against known “attack signatures,” automatically discarding a suspect packet and severing the connection with the company or individual who sent the data. Pretty neat, we’d say.

Security Check, another useful standard feature, lets the user test his or her computer’s exposure to online security threats. It includes a hacker exposure check, Windows vulnerability check, Trojan horse check, a check for presence of an anti-virus solution, and a check to make sure that virus protection is updated.

The suite’s Spyware Protector, as mentioned, is a welcome addition, but it has both good and bad points. On the negative side, if you want to scan for spyware, you need to do a scan for viruses at the same time. Since scanning for spyware probably needs to be done more frequently than looking for viruses, we’d rather see this broken out as a separate function.

On the positive side, the software allows the user to “restore” items that may have previously been blocked in error.

Also, a word of caution about stopping spyware. We used the Norton suite to do a full scan of our computer, then ran another spyware program to check the results. Sure enough, there were still some tracking programs that were not detected the first time. This doesn’t mean the Norton program didn’t work; it simply means that you can’t count on one anti-spyware program to protect your systems completely.

Another caution is that the “quick” scan for viruses, while it will take less time, may miss something important. The quick scan tends to look for problems in “the most likely places,” but virus disseminators are sometimes clever enough to have their works install themselves in unlikely places.

We tried the quick version in the Norton Suite, found nothing threatening, then did a full scan and unearthed a nasty little piece of code called Hacktool.NetCat. This is a tool that is used for transmitting data across network connections. It is also commonly installed by the bad guys to allow unauthorized remote access to systems.

Overall, Norton Internet Security 2006 offers a good level of protection for smaller enterprises in agencies and small insurance offices. Pricing is more than reasonable for the protection provided. A single license is available for an estimated price of $69.99, while 5- and 10-user Small Office Packs are priced at an estimated $244.99 and $454.99, respectively.