Symantec Unveils Norton Safe Web Search Security Tool Beta

Symantec Norton Safe Web aims to challenge McAfee's lead in the Web reputation space with a new beta. Norton Safe Web is a Web reputation service supported by an online directory of site reports and a user community. It rates Web site reputations and provides visual safety ratings of search results from engines such as Google and Yahoo.

Symantec has opened up a beta program for Norton Safe Web that puts the company on course to challenge a similar offering from security rival McAfee.

According to Symantec, Norton Safe Web is available starting today, July 28, as a plug-in for the beta version of NIS (Norton Internet Security) 2009. Safe Web functions as a Web site rating service, providing visual safety ratings of search results from engines such as Google and Yahoo by assessing Web security and leveraging information from members of Norton Community Watch.

"Going to search the Web to find something malicious is a little bit like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Bill Rosenkrantz, Symantec's director of product management for Norton Safe Web. "What this allows us to do is really focus our energies ... we augment that approach by analyzing popular sites and utilizing third-party data. So we kind of built some sophisticated rules into our process in how we go recrawl sites, what sites we look at [and] how frequently we crawl them to make sure our ratings are the most accurate."

For example, if a site that has traditionally been considered safe is suddenly flagged as suspicious, Symantec will go back and reanalyze that quickly, Rosenkrantz said. On the other hand, if it is a known bad site, the priority of going back and reanalyzing it is low, he added.

While Symantec is entering the secure searching fray with Norton Safe Web, its main security rival has already started down this trail. McAfee offers similar capabilities in its SiteAdvisor product, and recently teamed with Yahoo to extend its capabilities to help make Web searching more secure. Google has also made some strides on this front of late, with the development of a Safe Browsing Diagnostic Page for Web masters interested in additional information on sites Google determines are malicious.

Like SiteAdvisor, Safe Web uses the colors green, yellow and red in its site ratings. Safe Web also marks both organic and paid links on search pages and warns users if they attempt to visit rogue sites.

"If you roll over any of the search results, you'll see that there's a little popup, a rollover that has access to a full report ... so users can get access to more details in search by rolling over, or on a page itself by going to the Norton tool bar itself," Rosenkrantz said.

Symantec officials also disclosed other plans they said they felt would take Safe Web a step beyond rival products, but declined to discuss them publicly. In addition to the beta, Symantec has created a free community site where anyone can look up the safety rating of a site and submit Web site reviews.