capsule review

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2009 Security Software

At a Glance
  • McAfee Internet Security Suite 2009

    PCWorld Rating

    A mix of pluses and minuses land McAfee only in the middle of the pack.

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2009 ($60 for three users as of 12/23/08) landed smack dab in the middle of the rankings for "Paying for Protection," our 2009 roundup of security suites, ranking fifth out of the nine tested products. The 2009 version features Artemis, a new Internet-based malware detection feature. Offsetting Artemis and McAfee's otherwise generally good malware detection rate, however, were its slow scanning speed, its interface annoyances, and its very poor performance in proactive, behavioral detection tests.

In AV-Test.org's malware-detection tests, which use 654,914 collected malware samples and then measure how well antivirus detects the nasties, McAfee's suite performed respectably. It caught 97.4 percent of malware thrown at it, though it lagged with a 90 percent success rate at identifying spyware varieties that steal passwords and financial information. That doesn't quite compare to the score of about 99 percent for top performers such as the Avira security suite and the Norton security suite, but is much better than the sorry 55.7 percent rate that the Trend Micro package produced with password stealers.

The new Artemis feature sends a signature of to-be-scanned files over the Internet to McAfee's servers, which can then compare the files against a much larger and more up-to-date signature database that the one that resides on your PC. Artemis likely contributed to the McAfee suite's decent showing.

On the other hand, this suite's performance in behavioral tests, which examine how well antivirus products can identify unknown malware based solely on how it acts, was dismal. McAfee's package was able to warn about some aspect of malware behavior for only 2 out of 15 samples, or 13 percent of the time. All of the other suites but one (F-Secure, at 33 percent) were able to display a behavior-based warning at least half the time.

McAfee's suite also failed in scan speed tests. It was second to last for on-access scan speed, which refers to how quickly files are scanned when you access or open them. It did somewhat better in on-demand speed, which involves scheduled and manually run scans, with a fifth-place finish.

In line with the suite's inconsistent performance, McAfee's interface was good in some ways and less appealing in others. The suite does a good job at organizing features into intuitive categories such as ‘Computer & Files' or ‘Internet & Network', and generally it provides good information up front. But surprisingly it lacks context-sensitive help, so if you click the help link while viewing the useful network map, for instance, you won't go straight to the relevant help section; instead you'll have to manually search or sift through the topics to find the information you need.

That said, McAfee does offer some convenient touches. Most notable: On the aforementioned network map, you can click the icon for your home network router to bring up its Web configuration page in your browser. McAfee's suite was the only one of the group to offer this minor but well-conceived feature.

Less well-designed is McAfee's handling of a common adware file. When we attempted to download a screen saver from Zango that installs adware that most people would prefer to keep off their PCs, McAfee's suite correctly displayed a warning about the download attempt, but the only remediation option was to remove the program. Electing to do so brought up a McAfee uninstaller, which failed because the Zango program wasn't actually installed.

McAfee's suite did the same thing when we scanned the Zango adware on an attached thumb drive. The suite might have become confused by Registry entries added by the site or download, but other suites were able to successfully get rid of the entries and the file.

You'll find a wide array of features in McAfee's suite, including backups, parental controls and antispam, along with smaller offerings such as a file shredder. And the suite did a decent job at detecting malicious software in tests. But for protecting your PC, you have superior alternatives.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A mix of pluses and minuses land McAfee only in the middle of the pack.

    Pros

    • Internet-based malware detection
    • Good network map

    Cons

    • Slow scan speed
    • Poor behavioral detection
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