capsule review

McAfee Internet Security Suite

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At a Glance
  • McAfee Internet Security Suite

Though McAfee Internet Security Suite ($70 for up to three PCs) packs a multitude of features, such as backup software, it needs to improve its focus on a security suite most vital task: stopping malware.

When German security research company pitted each suite in our "All-in-One Security Suites: Tried and Tested" story against a giant zoo of 674,589 dormant malware files, McAfee detected only 86 percent of them. That relatively poor showing put it in sixth place on that test among the eight programs we tested for our roundup. It showed similarly limited effectiveness in catching spyware and adware, identifying 85 percent for those threats, a below-average score.

The suite performed somewhat better in tests against unknown malware. Relying on a one-month-old virus definition database, it caught 17 percent of new (and hence unknown) malware files, good for third place among the eight suites. But when the task turned to cleaning up infected PCs, the McAfee package removed only half of the files and Registry entries implanted by malicious software.

In addition, McAfee was one of the slower scanners we tested, scanning a 723MB set of files for malware at a rate of 6 megabytes per second and finishing in sixth place on that test.

The suite's firewall successfully masked a protected PC from attempts to scan it from the outside. And by default, it allows all programs to connect to the Internet. To accommodate users who want the additional protection (but potential annoyance) of blocking unknown programs, McAfee uses a list of known applications to minimize pop-up alerts.

The suite also offers tie-ins for its anti-spam features to a good range of e-mail programs, placing buttons and a spam filtering folder for Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Eudora, and Thunderbird. But if you install one of those programs after installing McAfee's suite, you won't get the anti-spam add-ins.

McAfee's parental controls display good, informative messages explaining why the program blocked a particular site--and it might be stricter than you are. It blocked a relatively straight-laced World of Warcraft fan site because the word "boner" appeared on one of the site's pages.

Other McAfee extras are data privacy options (you'll need to manually enter the data--such as credit card numbers--that you want to protect), and an EasyNetwork applet to help you set up a home network. You also get a full backup program that lets you schedule regular backups; this separate app didn't work the first time we installed the suite, but after reinstalling it, it allowed me to back up individual files and folders quickly.

You have to be on your toes to catch the quick-fading pop-up warning that appears when the suite finds a threat on your computer. You might expect to the program to post a record of such an important event in the top-level 'View Recent Events' window, in case you don't catch the entire warning the first time around--but you won't find the information there. Instead you have to dig down to the scan log to get it.

One last shortcoming: After correctly identifying a malware sample on a thumb drive connected to the protected PC, the suite reported that it had deleted the sample. But, the thumb drive was write-protected, so the file stayed in place. McAfee could more clearly communicate its actions to the user, both here and in logs.

McAfee Internet Security Suite has numerous useful extra features, but we wish that it had posted better malware detection scores.

Erik Larkin

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Ample features
    • Has backup program


    • Threat detection could be better
    • undefined
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