4 security suites that protect all your devices
$79.95 (until September 6, 2012, price covers 15 months) OSes protected: Windows, Android, iOS No. of devices protected: Up to three PCs, and an unlimited number of Android and iOS devices
Webroot SecureAnywhere has a simple, clean, straightforward interface combined with the ability to dig deep and customize how the software works. Unlike some of its competitors, Webroot's Web-based console actually does what it promises -- shows you the state of all of your systems at a glance, and offers recommendations on how to fix any potential problems. On the other hand, it is the only package among the four covered here that doesn't have any kind of OS X coverage.
Unlike the other all-in-one-suites in this roundup, the Webroot Web-based dashboard truly is a dashboard, and does more than merely list what devices use the software. For each device, it shows you the state of its security, including past history. For example, for each PC, it lists the last malware scan, how long the scan took, the results of the scan, when it was last infected, and a history of past scans.
It presents similar security information for mobile devices, and includes the phone number associated with the device, the manufacturer and version it's running. You can also use the dashboard to locate a missing device, as well as remotely lock it, wipe it or make it "scream" to scare away someone who might have stolen it.
In addition to all that, it reports if any of your devices has a security issue, and if so, it recommends how to fix it. This is a dashboard that has been built for actual use, rather than one constructed so that it can be a checkmark on a marketing feature list. Because of that, I frequently checked it, so that I could see the security state of my various devices.
Webroot's basic Windows security offers exactly what you'd expect -- malware scanning and real-time protection, including a firewall and a variety of shields such as checking any system modifications to make sure nothing is being done that might compromise your security.
Also included are privacy tools, such as protecting against so-called "man-in-the-middle" attacks in which hackers take control of an Internet connection and route all data through the victims' computers. You can also download an additional module to back up your data to the cloud and synchronize the data among the devices running Webroot SecureAnywhere. Each PC can back up a maximum of 10GB of data.
In addition, there's a useful feature that cleans your Registry and deletes duplicate and unnecessary files. It's not quite as useful as a similar tool in Trend Micro Titanium, which can also keep unnecessary programs from loading at startup, but still, it's a good addition.
Webroot packs all of that into a compact main screen divided into five sections: Overview, PC Security, Identity & Privacy, Backup & Sync and System Tools. Click any section and you can change settings and take actions such as launching a scan or system cleanup. You can also dig quite deeply into your settings -- in fact, it offers a higher degree of customization than any of the other packages covered in this roundup. I found that it offered the best balance between depth of customization and ease of use.
Overall, Webroot's mobile security is top-notch -- but first you'll have to get past the potentially problematic setup process.
You first download the free version from Google Play. During the installation process, you have to enter the user name and password you used to register with Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete. After that, you'll need to upgrade (since you are entitled to use the paid version of the products).
But careful -- it's not as simple a process as you would expect. Don't tap anything that asks you to upgrade to the paid version; if you do that, you'll end up paying again for something you've already paid for. Instead, press the app's menu button, select Register, and from the screen that appears type in your Webroot user name and the 20-character keycode you used to register your Webroot product with. After that, you'll have to download the paid app and have the free app removed. And then you have to type in your Webroot user name and 20-character keycode yet again. Clearly, this awkward setup needs to be fixed.
Once installed, the app itself is comprehensive, well laid out and thorough, and includes not just malware scanning, but also the ability to find a stolen or lost phone and remotely lock and wipe it, block Web sites that are security threats, and block unwanted calls and texts, among other features. It also examines all of your devices' settings and warns you about any that might present a security risk -- for example, it warned me that my USB debugging feature was enabled, something that none of the other apps covered here did.
The most unusual feature that Webroot includes is an App Inspector; it lists any apps that might present a security concern based on the access it has to your data and the kinds of network connections it makes. The Inspector also shows you which apps use the most battery power, and what types of network connections different apps make.
Overall, I found Webroot's Android security app to be the best of all I reviewed.
Webroot's iOS protection, called SecureWeb, doesn't nearly come up to the standards of its Android protection. In fact, it's a stretch to call it a security tool for iOS, because it does one thing, and one thing only: It protects your iOS device from dangers while you surf.
It's a tabbed Web browser that identifies malicious Web sites and phishing sites, so that you avoid visiting them. As with Trend Micro's Safe Surfing iOS app, SecureWeb doesn't protect you if you're using another browser such as Safari.
That's certainly useful. But it's also certainly not a comprehensive security tool.
Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete lives up to its name -- unless you want to protect any OS X equipment. It offers top-notch, simple-to-use and simple-to-customize PC protection as well as the best Android security app of any reviewed in this roundup. Its Web-based dashboard is the best as well, letting you see the security state of all your devices, and getting recommendations on how to improve it.
It doesn't take the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of competitors, though, and so doesn't have every module some others do. For example, there are aren't parental controls, so if that's important to you, you'll want to look elsewhere. Its iOS protection is minimal and it won't protect Macs. Aside from that, though, this is a great all-in-one security suite.
If you're one of the many people who own several computers and mobile devices, using one of these suites is your best bet for keeping them all secure. You'll find that you'll save a substantial amount of money, and to a greater or lesser extent you also get a Web-based dashboard for managing the devices individually.
These dashboards are still in their infancy, and in several of the suites do little more than give you a common way to install the apps and a glance at what devices are using the software. However, I expect that to change in the future, and eventually they may offer more features, including in-depth information about each device.
In addition, if you're looking for protection for an iPhone or iPad, don't expect much. Even the two suites that offer apps for iOS devices -- Trend Micro and Webroot -- don't offer much more than very basic protection through their own built-in browsers.
As for which of the suites is best, they're all so different that there's no true overall winner. My favorite was Webroot SecureAnywhere because of the suite's simplicity and excellent protection, and because its Web dashboard showed detailed information about all of the covered systems, as well as recommendations about how to fix problems. But Webroot doesn't include Mac protection.
If you're looking for Mac coverage in addition to security features for Windows PCs and mobile devices, the Norton and McAfee offerings are your best bet. Although Trend Micro offers a good sets of tools and a well-designed, easy-to-use interface, its Mac support is limited. Norton and McAfee have a better balance between comprehensive protection and ease of use.
However, Trend Micro costs $47 less per year than McAfee All Access, which costs $50 less per year than Norton One. So if you're budget-minded, Trend Micro is an affordable compromise that offers some OS X protection, even if its OS X protection isn't as complete as that offered by the more expensive suites.
Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).
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4 security suites that protect all your...