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Kim Komando walks through several tell-tale signs that one of your devices or accounts may have been hacked.

USA TODAY

The new year will bring a new computer security problem for some Comcast users when the Philadelphia cable firm’s Xfinity internet service drops the Norton security-software bundle it began including in 2010. 

In a late October post, Comcast said its rollout of free, whole-home security protection to the 20 million subscribers renting its xFi gateways made the Norton freebie redundant.

“Because of the protection xFi Advanced Security provides, we’ve decided to no longer include Norton Security Online with our Xfinity Internet service beginning January 1, 2021,” the post read. “If you wish to continue using Norton, you’ll need to purchase a subscription from them.”

For the vast majority of Comcast’s nearly 28 million residential broadband customers who already pay $14 a month for an xFi gateway, the choice should be simple: Go with Comcast’s protection, which covers every device on your home network instead of just those with Norton Windows, Mac, Android and iOS anti-malware apps installed.

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“Placing more protection on the network side makes a lot of sense,” said Sean Gallagher, senior threat researcher at Sophos. That Oxford, U.K., firm offers security tools for home use but mostly sells to businesses. He endorsed the idea of Comcast focusing on one security solution: “They’re going to be able to consolidate their resources.” 

Tempe, Arizona-based NortonLifeLock is offering Comcast users two discounts on expanded bundles of services – each of which, somewhat like Comcast’s own rates, feature significantly higher prices after those promotions expire. 

 (Photo: Norton LifeLock Inc)

Norton 360 Deluxe includes the Comcast bundle’s anti-malware apps and adds such tools as a password manager, parental control tools, virtual

private network encryption for untrusted connections and 50 gigabytes of cloud backup. It will go for $14.99 for one year (the usual first-year rate is $39.99) and then renew for $104.99 annually.

The other option for Comcast customers, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select, includes everything in Deluxe but doubles the cloud backup to 100 GB and adds a set of identity-theft defenses. They can get it free for six months, then a year at $74.99 (the usual first-year rate is $95.88) and $149.99/year from then on.

But while those bundles include a wide range of tools, your devices offer free and built-in equivalents for many of them. 

Windows 10, for example, includes Microsoft’s free Windows Defender anti-virus software, the “best value” pick of USA TODAY’s Reviewed.com, while on a Mac, dangerous malware remains scarce. In Android and iOS, the app stores already screen for malware. 

On any platform, your best defense is to let your operating system, browser and other apps install security updates automatically.

If you need parental control tools, Windows 10, macOS, iOS, and Android provide some already. VPN protection is available for less from outside vendors, but you don’t need it on a home broadband connection – not least one from Comcast, which has moved faster than other providers to support encrypted site lookups that hide your online tracks. 

Norton’s inclusion of a password manager is a good idea, as using one is the easiest way to stop reusing passwords. But third parties such as Bitwarden and LastPass offer capable password managers for free, subsidized by premium versions they sell to more intensive users.

Gallagher noted that many online attacks target not any vulnerability in your software but your own willingness to trust a dialog or an invitation that was written to coax you into disclosing one of your more important online logins. His advice: “Read things with some incredulity.” 

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

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