Norton logo on cybersecurity technology and digital data protection concept background

Gen Senior Systems Engineer at Norton Dean Williams breaks down the key pillars of Norton 360, the dangers of AI in phishing attacks and how valuable your personal data is to cybercriminals.

Many hands make light work, so they say, and it takes a whole lot of hands to keep people safe from the millions of cybersecurity threats seen on a daily basis. That’s where antivirus software like Norton 360 comes in, part of the multinational cybersecurity software company Gen.

These experts have been at it for a while, over 30 years to be exact, and they continue to thwart the unending efforts of threat actors using ransomware, spyware, zero-day exploits and more to invade people’s devices. But the war on cybercrime is forever changing, and with it comes new threats to counter.

An estimated 3.4 billion phishing emails are sent on a daily basis, as Norton has sourced. And what’s the primary source of loot these sketchy messages try to swipe? Not just your banking details but also your data. “It’s no longer about the device anymore,” Gen Senior Systems Engineer at Norton Dean Williams warns. “It’s now about the data; when I say data, I mean their personal information.”

Of course, it isn’t just phishing emails Norton, and the other cybersecurity brands under Gen, have to contend with. But whether it’s ransomware blackmailing users over private information or spyware running off with personal details, your data is the main objective.

Norton has more than a few tricks up its sleeve to manage these cyber threats, though, and Williams gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s all done.

Norton Senior Systems Engineer Dean Williams
Norton Senior Systems Engineer Dean Williams

Norton’s pillars of safety

So, about those “many hands”, Williams is a senior systems engineer for Gen, meaning it isn’t just Norton he works on. Avast, AVG, Avira, CCleaner and more are also part of that group.

“Avast and Norton merged in 2022 to create Gen. We still operate under those brands, being consumer brands. What the consumer doesn’t see in the back end, by bringing such predominant players in the cybersecurity market together, we inadvertently or directly created a key differentiator by creating one of the largest threat detection networks globally.”

The more, the merrier, right? Having several leading cybersecurity brands under one roof makes finding threats around the globe, from dangerous cyber attacks to low-level scams, much easier. That means these brands can react in unison, keeping millions of consumers safe.

Williams continues: “Across the house of brands we supply cyber safety services to, its 500 million people across more than 150 countries. To have such visibility on such a threat network, we have the ability to see more, see quicker and adapt, and then help our consumers and keep [them] safe.”

This bundle of online security know-how is one key to the success of these brands, with Norton 360 achieving top marks across the board in multiple lab tests from professional antivirus testing companies every year. But Williams describes another part of how the antivirus continues to protect its customers: four key pillars.

“Norton 360 is made up of four key pillars. Device security, which was the bread and butter right back from 1982 when we wrote our first antivirus right up to the award-winning products and services we sell today. Online privacy, which is Norton Secure VPN and other components of privacy tools. We also have identity – I’ll elaborate on that a little bit more – and then home and family: productive, constructive parental controls that help keep your kids within a safe guardrail online while still being able to enjoy themselves.”

So, device security, online privacy, digital identity, and home and family. In terms of cybersecurity for everyone online, this covers all bases. Unfortunately, the world of cybercrime continues to evolve. New malware types are born, variants of successful hacks are created, and threat actors pine after more data. Sometimes, these key pillars can take more importance over others, and right now, digital identity goes for a pretty penny.

“As the four key pillars evolve, one that comes to be a highlight is identity,” Williams says. “So we look at Norton 360 Premium, a more mature product in the marketplace. The identity pillar it offers is dark web monitoring. Personal information, through no fault of our own as consumers, can leak onto the dark web for sale via a data breach. We will monitor the dark web in real-time, and if we think the information belongs to you, we will notify you.

Williams continues: “We go to the more evolved product like Norton 360 Platinum, which comprises all of the four key pillars, but under the identity pillar goes a little bit further on identity with identity restoration services. So in the event that you couldn’t be notified in time with dark web monitoring to close out any accounts or change passwords in the event that there is identity theft, you’ve got highly trained and dedicated restoration agents to help resolve the identity theft and reclaim the identity.”

Phish in a barrel

When asked about the most prominent threats Norton faces, Williams goes over how ransomware, spyware and stalkerware can affect individuals, small businesses and big corporations. As an antivirus and online security app, Norton 360 has the tools to detect and protect your device (another one of those key pillars), along with features such as social media monitoring, dark web monitoring and identity restoration services to keep your personal information locked down.

n the topic of phishing, however, it’s clear that it’s becoming harder for potential victims to discern what is real and what isn’t. And that’s all thanks to new-found access to AI.

“Phishing is just another way we call social engineering. To be able to social engineer, you or me, we don’t necessarily need to be a master hacker. We just need to be a master manipulator. This is why scams and phishing is becoming so popular because they can reel us in using tactics like a call to action, an offer that’s too good to be true or impersonating a friend or family member in their time of need. They literally trick us into either letting them in or divulging our personal information.

“Before AI, the rule of thumb was to pick out poor spelling or poor grammar in an email. Now, that still applies, but we can’t rest on that tactic as a consumer alone because there are large-scale AI tools that have the ability to create a very convincing, very accurate message with context very quickly. And because they can distribute the data and create it very quickly, they also have the ability to distribute it at scale very quickly. So this is where AI is becoming a problem now.”

Scam email alert on phone

As Williams states, it’s getting harder to filter between what is a legitimate text message, email and social media post and what is a scam generated by AI. A simple line in AI bots like the ever-popular ChatGPT will get you an official-looking message that can fool unsuspecting victims. But Norton also has a countermeasure in place as a first line of defence for these types of scams, making it easier for individuals to pick up on what is actually a scam.

When asked about the stats of different kinds of cyber threats Norton has to deal with, Williams says they are “quite intimidating.” Still, Norton continues to intervene and protect its consumers and small businesses.

“We’re looking at a total threats blocked of over three and a half billion. If we cut that down to per day, that’s over nine and a half million,” Williams says.

“You go a little bit further into those stats, and we’re seeing the continued or the traditional form of attacks. [For] file-based malware, there’s still a significant number there. We’re also continuing wild, wild ransomware season. Ransomware doesn’t just target enterprises and small businesses. It still can find its way to a consumer as well. Within those numbers as well is a significant amount of mobile malware detections.”

Plenty of stories of ransomware attacks still emerge today, and we’ve seen several malware threats make their way onto iPhone and Android phones this year alone. But the key takeaway here is “total threats blocked,” showcasing that security software like Norton 360 is doing its job.

Your data is where the money is

One key point Williams wanted to hammer home is data. Not only is it one of the easiest for cybercriminals to steal, like through a simple phishing email, but it’s also one of the most valuable.

“You’ve got to remember that the industry has evolved, and it’s gone beyond just protecting the device. It’s now about the data; when I say data, I mean their personal information. Not just the device,” Williams explains. “Data is where the real currency is. That’s why cybercriminals, or criminals, have pivoted to trying to steal or acquire this personal information – to use against this. That’s why, across the four pillars that Norton 360 provides, the identity piece is important. It’s no longer about the device anymore.

It’s one of the things Norton, or any cybersecurity company, doesn’t have control over. No one knows when a company will experience a data breach and what company that will be. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. When it does, it isn’t just your username or password you should be worried about.

“You have a look at the type of information that is exposed as part of a data breach. A lot of the time, it goes much further than just a username and password. It can be a driver’s licence, physical address, mobile number or credit card bank details. Whether a scammer or a cybercriminal gets their hands on this information, they’ve got three options: They can either try and steal your identity, impersonate you online and try to access your online accounts or your social media, or they then can try financial theft.”

Williams signs off by saying: “It’s one thing to lock the device down and keep it safe, but we need to protect the personal information. That’s why we’ve got dark web monitoring and identity theft services. But just as a general recommendation, we need to be cautious of the personal information we share online.”

For more about what an antivirus can do for you, check out the best antivirus in NZ.