4 security suites that protect all your devices
OSes protected: Windows, OS X, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian
No. of devices protected: No limitations for a single user
McAfee All Access offers the widest range of security tools of the suites in this roundup. With one subscription, you get protection software for an unlimited number of Windows PCs, Macs, Android smartphones and tablets, and BlackBerry and Symbian smartphones. Because it covers more mobile operating systems than its competitors, it's the one to choose if you have multiple types of smartphones -- unless it's an iPhone.
As with most of the suites reviewed here, McAfee's Web dashboard doesn't really live up to its name. Unlike Webroot's dashboard, it doesn't show you any potential security issues on any device, or make recommendations about how to fix those issues. Instead, it's a central location from which you can see what modules you have installed, and install them on any device.
So if you log in from your Mac, you can download Mac software; log in on your Windows PC to download Windows software.
Android is a little trickier. If you want to install the software on, say, a tablet, you're sent a link via email from which you can download the software. If you want to install it on a smartphone, you're sent a text message with a link to download the software.
For some reason, the text message never got sent to my phone, even though I tried several times. But I was able to install the software by writing down the link sent to my tablet and typing it into my smartphone's browser.
As with the Norton suite, I rarely used the Web interface, simply because it didn't offer much of value.
On PCs, McAfee gives you malware protection, a firewall, anti-spam software, Web security, parental controls, a system cleanup tool, online backup, a "digital vault" that protects files you don't want seen by anyone else, a disk defragmenter...and yes, more as well. It's all presented in a neat, compact interface that makes it simple for you to see at a glance what tools you're currently using and to turn any on or off. McAfee Total Protection also lets you customize the way those tools work to a significant degree.
One of All Access' more intriguing tools is what it calls Home Network Defense, which lists every device connected to your network and provides details on each (if it can find out those details, which isn't always). If you find any devices you don't recognize, you can use Home Network Defense to block them from the network. In addition, whenever a new device makes a connection to your network you get a warning. You can then examine the alert, decide whether it's an intruder, and can block it if that's the case.
For each device, Home Network Defense can give you the device's name, type (Windows computer, for example) manufacturer, model, IP address and MAC address (a universal ID for devices that connect to the Internet). If it can't find out many details about the device, it provides bare bones information -- just the IP address and MAC address.
The tool is a useful one, although not nearly as useful as it could be. During testing, I found that it only rarely provided details about most devices connected to my network. In almost every case, it merely reported the IP address and MAC address.
It makes sense that it couldn't identify devices such as the Sonos wireless speakers that I've got connected to my home network. But it also couldn't identify many common pieces of hardware, such as a MacBook Air and an Acer Aspire One netbook. It did, however, properly identify my Linksys WRT160N router and a computer on which I'd installed Windows Home Server.
Home Network Defense shows not just basic information, but details about the security state of each device on your system, such as whether it has security software installed or whether it has file- and printer-sharing turned on (which can be a security risk).
But I found this feature to be only partially useful. Although the software claims to show the "protection status" of each device, in my tests it only reported whether the devices were using McAfee security software. It showed several of my PCs as being unprotected, even though they had non-McAfee security software installed.
It also couldn't properly identify my main desktop as a Windows-based computer. And for the vast majority of devices, it merely called them unidentified, which on my home network meant the device could be a Mac, an Android tablet, a Nook tablet, an Android smartphone, an iPad or wireless Sonos speakers. For today's complex home networks, this simply isn't good enough.
The Windows software also includes a Traffic Monitor, which I found much more useful. It graphs incoming and outgoing traffic use over time, and reports on average incoming and outgoing transfer rates, the current transfer rate and the maximum transfer rate. It does the same thing for traffic volume. So, for example, it has a pie chart that shows which applications have used the Internet the most over the last 24 hours, as well as details about which applications are currently using the Internet.
This can help you determine whether you've having connectivity issues. It also shows which apps use the network the most over time, and which are currently using it. Keep in mind, though, that this is only for the device on which you've installed McAfee; it doesn't include traffic from devices that may not have McAfee on them -- such as iPhones -- so it's somewhat limited in scope
I found one drawback to the Windows protection: When it was performing a scan, the rest of my system slowed down significantly. In fact, at times it was so slow that I paused or cancelled scans and scheduled them to be performed when I wasn't using the computer.
OS X protection
You don't get nearly the same suite of tools on a Mac that you do on a PC -- nothing beyond basic protection. That means no Traffic Monitor, no Home Network Defense, no digital vault and no disk defragmenter.
However, you do get a straightforward malware scanner that scans your Mac for threats. You can schedule and customize scans so that only certain folders are scanned. And you also get a quarantine area where you can isolate suspect files. There's also a scan history and log. The software includes real-time scanning, spyware scanning, and a firewall.
McAfee's Android app offers a malware scanner and a way to locate a lost or stolen device and lock it or wipe its data. These features are considerably better than those provided by Norton One, because they can be done from any Web browser. Simply go into your McAfee Web dashboard, click the Android device that you've lost, and then click what you want to do -- locate the device, lock it remotely, or wipe its data remotely. It also supports backing up contacts and SMS messages to the cloud and restoring them.
However, McAfee is missing other useful features, such as Webroot's app inspector and its ability to check your device for potential security holes. Still, for a basic Android malware protector, McAfee Android does the job.
If you're looking for a suite that protects a wide variety of devices, McAfee All Access is the one for you. In addition, it has some very useful PC protection modules, particularly for home networks, although they're somewhat of a mixed bag.
Like the other suites reviewed here, McAfee won't clog up your system by using too much RAM or system resources. However, if you're looking for a useful Web-based dashboard, or a more complete Android solution, you'd best look elsewhere, notably to Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete.
Next page: Norton's solution...