Security vendors, keen on nudging users to full Internet security suites, are raising subscription prices on older, standalone products to make them more unattractive.

Symantec recently increased renewal prices for subscriptions to its Norton AntiVirus and Norton System Works software to $20 - a 33 percent increase following similar increases in previous years. But even as it raises these prices, it is keeping the subscription renewal price on its Norton Internet Security suite flat at $30 - just $10 more than the renewal fee for the stand-alone anti-virus product.

McAfee has also increased renewal prices for off-the-shelf versions of its VirusScan product. From $5 in 2000 to $20 today.

Symantec and McAfee officials say the fee increases are the result of an increasingly dangerous computing environment that demands solutions for threats such as spam, Trojan horses, and spyware.

"In the last year, we had Blaster, Welchia, and Sobig - three huge worms in eight days. Our infrastructure has to handle over three million hits an hour, and 1.1 million [anti-virus signature] updates in one hour alone. Subscription renewals help us make the incremental investments necessary to handle those demands," Garcia-Manrique says.

But upgrading to a full security suite may not be the best course for consumers, either financially or from a security standpoint. While it is important for most users to have a firewall and spam protection, PC World's testing has found that security suites often offer inferior protection to that provided by a set of stand-alone products.

And many PC users appear to be living with the subscription price hikes: McAfee's Kerrigan says renewal rates for VirusScan subscriptions are more than 80 percent. But at least some users are choosing to upgrade - whether to the latest versions of a standalone package or to the suite.

Industry experts say that factors other than new Internet threats may be behind the price hikes, including competition in the anti-virus market from Microsoft, which has made no secret of its intentions to enter the market.

Smaller competitors of the big two anti-virus companies, and even some industry experts, say that consumers are already paying a hefty premium for brand-name recognition.

Annie Chen, product marketing manager for consumer products at security software vendor Trend Micro says her company has added many of the same features to its PC-cillin Internet Security product suite that Symantec and McAfee added to their product suites in recent years, including anti-spam capabilities and Web pop-up blocking. But the company hasn't increased the $50 price of its product suite or the $25 annual subscription cost in three years.

Customers may be willing to sacrifice brand recognition if cheaper options are available. But, the message for PC users is to shop around - and not let software vendors pressure them into getting a suite.