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5 Great, Lesser-Known Security Suites

While big-name security suites such as Norton and McAfee dominate the market, there are others out there that may be just as good -- or better. We look at five alternative security suites.

Security Suites

•  Introduction

•  Dr. Web Antivirus

•  ESET Smart Security

•  MS Live OneCare

•  TrustPort Workstation

•  ZoneAlarm Security Suite

•  Image Gallery

•  Features Chart

ESET Smart Security is a protection suite from the folks who gave us the NOD32 antivirus product. NOD32's been around for a while now and gets high accolades from people who use it, but this is ESET's first attempt at building a whole suite of protection, with NOD32's antivirus protection as part of that.

The installation process gives you the option of simply accepting all the program's defaults or allowing some degree of expert option-setting (which always can be done later, too). I chose to use the "simple" setting at first, just to see how well the program behaved. The only real decision I had to make was whether to allow file sharing for my computer in my local network, something the program advertised as being best for wireless connections.

The program's protection consists of a real-time file-system and Internet monitor, scans for Microsoft Office documents and Outlook e-mail, and a number of peripheral threat-detection technologies (the "ThreatSense Scanning Engine"). ESET only announces its presence when there's something newsworthy, like the interception of a virus in a user download. Most of the time it runs silently; by default, the virus signature database updates itself quietly in the background without user prompting. The program's tray icon can pop up a notification balloon to tell you that a new set of definitions or program updates have been applied. Scans initiated from a right-click context menu can be run in the foreground or sent to the system tray to run silently in the background.

ESET Smart Security
(click image to see larger view)
ESET Smart Security
$59.99 for 1 PC/year
View the image gallery
The mail scanner checks both incoming and outgoing messages and also scans Outlook mail (cleaning and moving any infected messages to their own folder). The mail module also includes a few other options to make handling Outlook e-mail that much easier: e-mail bodies can be converted to plain text by default, and you can elect to have any already-scanned e-mail rescanned by default after a signature update. Sadly, the anti-spam module doesn't give you very detailed control over how messages are classified, but it does intelligently detect mail sent from people in your address book as being good, and also automatically whitelists recipients to whom you reply.

If you're not using Outlook, NOD32 also can scan whatever port is used for POP3 traffic (110 by default; it's editable). You also can set the level of modification made to inbound e-mail depending on what your e-mail client can handle. The default setting is maximum efficiency, so only people using an older e-mail client (older than three years, say) might need to tinker with this setting.

Anything downloaded from the Web is automatically scanned. An advanced user also can configure ESET to scan traffic from different Web clients using one of two modes: passive, for higher compatibility; or active, for more effective filtering. I tried both modes and noticed little, if any, difference in speed or behavior. Finally, you can whitelist or blacklist HTTP addresses (i.e., pre-emptively designate given sites as "good" or "bad"), and ESET lets you feed in a plain text file to define those lists rather than just punch them in by hand.

The firewall's default protections are entirely automatic. I didn't have to touch much of anything to do my usual Web browsing or to work with applications that needed the network. Aside from automatic mode, the firewall also can work in interactive mode, where program behaviors that aren't already covered by existing rules can have rules generated for them based on user feedback, or policy-based mode, where behaviors not covered by a predefined rule are automatically blocked. You also can define network zones, where anything in a given zone (such as your LAN) is handled with an assumed level of trust.

If you've already used the NOD32 products before, ESET Smart Security makes for a good step up to something more comprehensive. And if you haven't used ESET's products before, you're liable to be impressed: the whole suite runs with the same quiet efficiency that NOD32 itself did.

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