Security Suites: Big Protection, Little Fuss

Kaspersky Internet Security 2010

Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs is well known to the IT community: The company has been making security products since 1997, it reported revenue of $480 million in 2009, and it claims to have a user base of more than 300 million. Its premium PC product is Kaspersky Internet Security 2010, which offers a comprehensive suite of security features that should meet any PC user's needs.

Internet protection

Most users will like how Kaspersky's firewall works. It's easy to define simple firewall policies, yet you can delve deeper down into the firewall functions and block individual ports, requests or other types of traffic.

Like BitDefender, Kaspersky has a digital sandbox -- it's called Safe Run -- that allows you to run new applications and browser sessions in a sandbox.

I found that the firewall was less intrusive than others on the market, thanks mostly to its efficient use of its whitelist of approved programs. The product also offers antispam capabilities which, unlike some other antispam tools, work with IMAP-based e-mail accounts as well as common POP3 accounts.

Users in households with underage humans will appreciate the parental controls, which are easy to set up and are capable of blocking access to the Web by categories or even by a schedule -- making sure that innocent eyes don't glance upon the seamy side of the Web. And an integrated link scanner warns users of suspect Web sites and other browser-related issues before an actual problem arises.

Usability

Of the suites reviewed here, Kaspersky Internet Security 2010 was one of the easiest to install. A wizard steps you through the process, and only one reboot is required. The default settings and policies will prove quite adequate for most users.

The software proved to be relatively easy to work with as well -- most of the typical technobabble has been eliminated and plain English explanations abound, making it easy for even people who are new to PC security to effectively configure the software. For those who need help, Kaspersky offers several options for support: phone, e-mail or online chat sessions. Users also have the option of accessing a community of users, where they can get advice from Kaspersky staffers.

The interface contains several submenus and is divided up cleanly by task. The scanning options are easy to locate and are split up in a logical fashion, making it easy to find a particular scan and execute it quickly.

Product specs

Kaspersky Internet Security 2010

Company: Kaspersky Lab ZAO

Price: $59.95 for as many as three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS 10.4.11 or later, Symbian 9.1 or later, Windows Mobile 5.0 or later

Scanning runs as a background process, allowing you to continue to work while a comprehensive scan takes place. On my test system, scanning went unnoticed; it had little impact on my ability to perform other tasks. A glance at the Windows Task Manager showed processor utilization increased less than 10% during an active scan. I found that the active notifications kept me well informed of potential problems without hounding me constantly.

I was able to run the full suite on a netbook with no problems.

Coming soon

Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 is currently in private beta and should be available sometime in August.

New features will include a desktop gadget that will offer customizable buttons for quick access to product features and will display the current security status using red, yellow, or green indicators.

In addition, new tools will allow installation of the product on systems that have active infections. A new feature called "Safe Surf" will assess the reputation of an IP address and assign it a "trusted," "suspicious" or "banned" status. Enhancements will also be made to rescue disk, parental controls and rootkit detection.

Conclusion

Kaspersky Internet Security 2010 is a good value and covers all the bases well for users of Windows 7, Vista or XP PCs. Purchasers will be happy with the fast performance and the ability to limit the barrage of security messages that most competing products unleash. The next version of the product promises important improvements that could make the Kaspersky Internet Security one of the best security suites on the market.

McAfee Internet Security 2010

McAfee software has undergone quite a few enhancements since the company started offering security products in 1987. The latest incarnation, McAfee Internet Security 2010, has a completely new interface, feel and installation process. That's a good thing, since many neophyte users complained about all of those elements in previous versions, leaving only advanced users enamored with the product's capabilities.

Internet protection

McAfee Internet Security 2010 offers a variety of malware scanning options, including on-demand, real-time or according to a schedule. As with most Internet security products, McAfee Internet Security 2010 offers a firewall, parental controls, antispam tools and filters.

The firewall monitors all data that enters or leaves your PC and keeps an eye on your computer's ports, as a firewall should. Basic setup was easy; McAfee uses predefined settings to get your PC secured quickly. On the other hand, manually setting up firewall rules and policies was complicated, definitely more so than with competing products. The process lacks effective help and choices, and it assumes that users have advanced knowledge of how a firewall should work.

In addition, users will want to make sure to set the firewall to standard mode, because the default, out-of-the-box settings don't block all critical ports on the firewall, leaving some open, such as FTP and POP3. McAfee should consider making the firewall's standard mode the default mode -- currently, the product leaves too many things unprotected in its default configuration, probably to suit the needs of gamers and those that have fewer concerns about security when accessing the Web.

On the other hand, you can block all network traffic between your computer and the Internet with a single click. That's a handy way to keep your computer secure when you're not actively using the Internet.

Out of the box, the integrated antispam application works with Outlook and Thunderbird, with no need for additional integration steps. Since the antispam application supports both IMAP and POP3, it is easily configured to work with other e-mail products that are not predefined in the product.

Parental control options are limited and only offer basic protection. I was able to block Web sites, limit time on the Internet and filter keywords, but not much more. The keyword filter lets you assign an age group to any keyword you choose. If a site has the keyword, parental controls will block it.

McAfee's SiteAdvisor component installs into your browser and warns you about dangerous sites. SiteAdvisor uses McAfee's Global Threat Intelligence network to identify phishing or hacked sites and warns the user before any damage can occur.

Usability

Installation was easy and the configuration wizard did a decent job of stepping me through the options. However, many of the help screens, notifications and warnings were somewhat cryptic and felt like they had been thrown together quickly -- or translated from another language.

Product specs

McAfee Internet Security 2010

Company:McAfee Inc.

Price: $44.99 for up to three PCs (includes one year of updates and support)

Operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7

McAfee has put a great deal of work into improving the user experience, and those efforts do show in the product's new interface. The GUI is divvied up into logical sections; with only a quick glance, I could tell the status of the system thanks to the color-coded status screens and bold messages that said either "No Action Required" or, if there was a problem, "Action Required."

Each primary menu choice launches a submenu that features options that allow you to configure the product. You choose each option simply by clicking on a dialog box, which offers a green circle when enabled. However, if you are looking to set up a custom rule or setting, figuring out how to do that is a challenge -- after something of a hunt, I found that I had to drill down through several menu levels to locate the custom settings.

Performance-wise, the product was fairly effective -- most of the scans on the test system only increased CPU utilization a few percentage points. However, utilization spiked to almost a 100% when doing a manual scan of compressed files.

Overall, most users should not experience any slowdowns that affect day-to-day activities, with the exception of the system boot which, as was the case with most of the other suites in this roundup, increased after the product was installed.

Those looking for help with McAfee's software will be disappointed that the company charges for technical phone support, with prices ranging from $9.95 to $59.95. The company does offer online support, user groups and the usual bevy of free support options, but if you want a human being on the phone, you have to pay.

Coming soon

Like most vendors of Internet security software, McAfee frequently upgrades its products. However, the company has not released any information on what's in store for McAfee Internet Security 2011.

Conclusion

McAfee Internet Security 2010 covers the basics well, offers an interface that's easy to use and comes at an affordable price. However, the lack of free technical support and the inability to easily set up custom rules and policies makes McAfee Internet Security 2010 a product to avoid for most power users.

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