Norton continues to protect a very large number of computer users around the globe - and Internet Security 2005 provides the latest complete bundle for protecting yourself online. But do you really need the whole package or can you live without it?

The core of Internet Security is the Antivirus software, and on this function, its difficult to fault Norton AV - Symantec remains one of the most diligent virus hunters out there. Of course, virus scanners are only effective if kept up-to-date, which the entire Internet Security package does automatically. It has done for years, and little has changed in that respect.

The real changes here are not in the core elements but the additional features the package now offers. The next on the list is the firewall. Ok, firewalls are coming into their own with the growth of broadband and file sharing and so on - so much so that MS has incorporated a firewall into XP SP2 - in essence, for free. The Norton firewall claims to be more comprehensive, and I’m sure that it is, but some may want to take their chances with what’s free, even though it only blocks incoming traffic.

The third element in the security package is Privacy Control - which works to protect your personal information, such as the contents of Outlook, and all the convenient functions that Microsoft include to remember details such as your credit card numbers and so on.

The fourth element is AntiSpam, which is something that is becoming more and more useful in this day and age - although if you are careful where you enter your email address and use the latest version of Outlook Express, then you can stay fairly free of spam anyway. I say that, but if you have your email address on a public website, you’ll love to cut out the rubbish offering your pills and porn.

The final listed feature in the bundle is Parental Control. Again, if your children use the internet you might be able to stop them accessing inappropriate material with this feature, but with all these things, you can get round it in a second if you know the right password. In addition some parents may just decide to monitor their children’s internet use without adding another password to remember.

So do you really need software like this? We went onto the internet without any protection at all - just to download an update for Windows. At the end of 5 minutes online, there was already spyware appearing. The threat is real. If you have children, or teenagers in particular, many fansites for bands or celebrities and dubious music downloading sites are riddled with viruses. If you’re on the internet and using email - you need protection. However NIS 2005 is the first confirmed edition where if you don’t have broadband, the tens of megabytes you need to download upon purchasing at retail can make it too much hassle, depending on your ISP’s 56K cutoff times.

Price when reviewed:

It's difficult to be critical of something that we are going to recommend as essential, but the hard truth is that some of the elements are unnecessary if you are an XP user. True to form, there have been reports of that common Norton problem of slowing down your PC in order to run all this stuff in the background. It’s a common problem with this type of software - more likely to affect older operating systems - certainly it was a notable problem with Win98. On top of that, there’s the need to have broadband to make your life easier when updating the software. XP users should evaluate if they need to replicate the security features, especially if running SP2. Be warned, you’ll need to watch for conflicts between the XP features and those of Mr Norton.

We recommend that you take the 30-day evaluation of the bundle before stumping for the whole lot - you might not want or need it all. I’ll give the antivirus 9/10, but the rest drags down the average to 7/10 - look for the offers on Antivirus and Internet security, you can often get just what you want for less than you think, with at least one well-known retail chain almost halving the price at the end of last year. As this is Symantec we’re talking about, you can also get Antivirus alone and then choose any firewall software you like.