While Symantec’s 2007 version of Norton is slimming down on the bloat, McAfee’s latest lays it on thick. Do you really want system performance and full data backup suites integrated into your security protection? How about a secure file shredder and data cleanup? Despite all this, at 125MB, McAfee still manages to have the smallest disk footprint of the three suites tested this month.
Thankfully, McAfee’s newly-designed SecurityCenter provides a clear overview of system security status, offers the ability to quick-fix any problems, and allows you to explore and configure components as required from an advanced menu. McAfee also has plenty of what you do want from a security suite. The anti-virus protection remains as solid as ever, and anti-spyware is much improved on last year thanks to improvements in the scanning engine and the inclusion of SystemGuards to monitor for suspicious behaviour. Despite the addition of rootkit detection using McAfee X-Ray, it still can’t match Webroot Spy Sweeper for accuracy or effectiveness.
The SystemGuards require positive user confirmation before allowing changes to start-up sequences, the HOSTS file, ActiveX installations and so on, but the browser guards are less impressive, pop-up alerts default to allow rather than block, and the information provided is poor. For example, instead of informing of a change to homepage settings, it flags a Registry key change with full details — meaningless to most people. And they only work in IE, although the SiteAdvisor add-on also works in Firefox, giving a clear indication via a rating scheme for potentially dangerous websites. Other anti-phishing measures include a combination of behavioural checks and blacklists, which work well. Where it fails is that you simply get yet another pop-up alert that gently recommends not visiting the site rather than the big “blocked” Web page thrown up by Symantec.
A new firewall stealth mode successfully closes and cloaks all ports, hiding your presence on the Internet effectively, but the default security level leaves some ports closed but visible. It isn’t as silent as Symantec’s software (that is, you’re occasionally prompted to accept/deny), but the smart recommendations feature keeps it quieter than most. It’s a solid firewall, though, which remained unharmed by our attempts to kill it from the Registry or by turning off various McAfee processes.
Unfortunately, other aspects of the suite pop up even more alerts and dialogs, especially in relation to adware and spyware, which really do become annoying. The only exception is automatic updates, which are handled silently in the background for both signature files and application upgrades. You also get a network manager to monitor security weaknesses across all systems on the network, not just the user’s PC — assuming you buy the three-user licence.
SpamKiller works with Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora and Thunderbird, and our testing proved a pleasant surprise. Not only did it perform better than on previous occasions (false positives in particular were much improved), but with a lot less impact on POP3 email downloading. Although it can’t compete with the best standalone clients, it was the best-performing anti-spam of the three suites on test.
Privacy protection also worked well — add confidential data such as credit card details, and they can’t be “leaked” via Web, email or IM, as McAfee will strip them out before sending. Unlike Norton, credit card numbers are masked as well as encrypted in the listing and editing windows for extra security. The parental controls feature a new image-analysis system to block potentially offensive pictures, but it was hit and miss in practice, as well as affecting browsing performance. The combination of keyword scanning and blacklists otherwise proved effective and can either be applied by user or by category.
With the sheer amount of features packed into the McAfee suite, it’s decent value at $77. You’ve also the option of paying $130 (via the website) for a three-user licence, the norm for most households with at least one desktop and one laptop to protect. However, F-Secure matches this while avoiding McAfee’s penchant for pointless default options and the noise of all those alerts. As such, we simply can’t recommend Internet Security Suite 2007. The only people who will be happy are those who pay $50 for the upgrade.
McAfee Internet Security Suite 2007
By Davey Winder
Jan 23, 2007 5:26PM
Jan 23, 2007 5:26PM