McAfee LiveSafe review: Blanket security protects PCs, Macs, mobile devices, and the cloud

Antivirus programs used to be simple: They protected your PC from malware, viruses, and suspicious Internet sites, and that was that. But now we’re using multiple devices—often interchangeably—and we’re trusting our data to the cloud. What’s a security company to do?

For McAfee, the answer is a security suite that offers protection for every aspect of your digital life. LiveSafe isn’t just an antivirus program—it’s comprehensive digital security for your cloud files, your passwords, and your many, many devices.

Installation

LiveSafe ($80 for a one-year subscription, $20 if purchased with an Intel Ultrabook) comes as a small plastic card with a product key. The key lets you download and install the program on as many computers, tablets, and phones as you like (McAfee tells me there is no limit, though the company does reserve the right to investigate suspicious activity). LiveSafe is compatible with most platforms, including Windows PCs; Macs; and Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices.  It’s not yet available for Chromebooks or Windows Phones, but that may change in the future as the market shifts.

The only hitch I ran into—and it was a pretty big one—was trying to install the program on computers that already had an antivirus program installed: a desktop running Windows Vista with Norton 360, and a laptop running Windows 8 with a 60-day trial version of Norton Internet Security. In both cases, LiveSafe appeared to flag Norton’s security programs as dangerous and then proceeded to shut down.

While this response is not abnormal—after all, antivirus programs act a lot like viruses themselves, digging deep into your PC’s underbelly and accessing root files in order to sniff out malware—LiveSafe’s response was. Instead of prompting me to uninstall the offending Norton programs, LiveSafe crashed. On the Windows 8 laptop, the program gave me an error message and then shut down; on the Vista desktop, the program caused my computer to go into a blue-screen fit and then LiveSafe shut down. When I asked McAfee about this, I was told there should be a warning that asks you to uninstall Norton before proceeding. However, I never received one despite several installation attempts. Uninstalling Norton’s programs first allowed me to install LiveSafe smoothly in both cases, but I would have preferred that LiveSafe alert me more gently to the Norton issue.

Design and features

LiveSafe has optimized its interface for Windows 8 users, which essentially means you get large buttons for features and navigation instead of small, difficult-to-press links. The optimization peters out quickly, though: I noticed a few link-heavy menus (such as the Navigation Center).

LiveSafe displays the most important information in its main window. A color-coded bar along the top indicates whether your computer is secure or vulnerable. From here, you can also quickly access protection for viruses, spyware, Web content, and email—as well as check that your software updates are current and your subscription is still active.

LiveSafe’s most distinctive feature is McAfee Personal Locker, a secure cloud storage space (1GB) designed specifically for highly sensitive documents. Personal Locker uses biometric protection—facial and voice authentication—along with a PIN. Facial recognition is fairly simple: You take a photo of yourself on the device you’re using, and Personal Locker compares it to a photo of you it has on file. Voice recognition is a little more complicated, featuring two sentences that you must read aloud to the machine. The first sentence is the same every time. The second sentence is randomly generated from Personal Locker’s archives, to check for “alive-ness.” This way, nobody can crack your Personal Locker with a photo and a voice recording.

Personal Locker also lets you set different levels of security for different files: a PIN only for less-sensitive documents, and full facial and voice authentication for more valuable assets. Best of all, even if your subscription lapses, you’ll still have access to your account for three months afterward.

Another interesting feature is McAfee SafeKey, which creates and stores unique, secure passwords and syncs them across all your devices. You can install it as an add-on to your Web browser or as an app on your devices.

LiveSafe also comes with 24/7 tech support, and if you purchase LiveSafe with an Intel-branded Ultrabook, you’ll get an extra perk: a McAfee tip and help hotline.

Protection

LiveSafe offers antivirus, antimalware, and hardware-enhanced antitheft protection. The antitheft protection is similar to Apple’s Find My iPhone feature and other device-tracking software: It lets you locate and remotely lock lost or stolen devices, remotely secure data, and protect data against uninstalls.

We consulted independent data from AV-Test’s July/August 2013 antivirus tests. AV-Test ran 26 consumer products and nine business products on a computer running Windows 7 (SP1). The test used the free Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) as the baseline, which offered 91 percent protection against zero-day malware attacks in a real-world testing environment.

By comparison, McAfee LiveSafe Internet Security offered 97 percent protection against zero-day malware attacks in real-world tests, which is better than MSE but not as good as other products on the market. LiveSafe detected false positives and false warning messages, flagging only one case of legitimate software as dangerous.

AV-Test did not test the mobile (phone and tablet) segments of LiveSafe. The Android version of LiveSafe offers a security scan, as well as privacy tests (the app can check other apps for exposure), automatic Web monitoring, backup, and device tracking.

The bottom line

McAfee’s LiveSafe is a great deal for a multi-device individual or family, as it allows an unlimited number of devices per subscription. Its antivirus performance is pretty good, but its protected cloud storage and password manager really make it stand out from the competition.

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