CA Technologies has been around since the 1970s. Their strength has traditionally been, and continues to be, in the development of mainframe and business software. While their focus may be primarily on the business user, they do provide a line of security products for the home user as well. Today in the Security for Everyone series we will look at Internet Security Suite Plus version 7, the most complete security solution offered by CA Technologies to the home user.
CA makes their 150 Mb trial readily available and doesn’t require any information from you before or during installation. The setup provides for some customization which allows you to exclude different components, among them: Antivirus and Antimalware protection, Personal Firewall, File Backup and Parental Controls. For this review all options were left at their default. You’ll also notice that CA has defaulted an initial scan of your system before installation. This last is a nice opportunity to identify and correct any issues that may have rendered other solutions or safeguards inoperable.
Continuing along with the installation seemed without issue at first, however after the initial scan completed the installation reached a point where it stalled and would not continue. I was able to recreate this a couple of times and ultimately decided to restore the test system in the likely event that other testing had made the system less than stable. When the restore completed I was able to start the installation and it completed normally.
When setup completes, you will be presented with the rather unorthodox main screen. I can only describe it as something of a rotating tile attempt at navigation. The tile you select becomes the focus which causes the remainder of the tiles to shift in the “dial". I do applaud the effort to do something different with the interface but I think CA has fallen short here and created something that is more confusing than it is helpful or intuitive. The very general labels applied to each tile fail to provide much insight into which functions might be found, therefore leaving the user at a bit of a disadvantage.
The main screen is effective at drawing your attention to the single alert in the My Computer section as well as the Fix Now button. Selecting either the alert or Fix Now will present a dialog encouraging you to perform a complete scan.
CA Internet Security Suite Plus performs an initial update and appears to update for a few days following installation. Eventually though the software will fail to update and you will be required to activate the software. This involves submitting a key to CA that was generated during the installation. You’ll also be presented with a registration form which you can thankfully choose to skip.
Lastly, CA does a good job of ending the Windows Firewall but does not take the step of ending the Windows Defender service. Surprisingly, I was able to kill the CA processes and every security related service with little to no effort. This last is quite troubling indeed.
My first impression is not good. I was willing to look beyond my dislike of the interface but the poor security around running processes and services has cemented this poor initial impression. Let’s change our focus to configuration and usability and see if this solution fares better.
Ease of Use and Configuration
As mentioned previously, the main screen is different from anything I’ve encountered and will take more than a moment or two to become familiar. There are four tiles on the main screen: My Computer, My Files, My Internet and My Kids.
My Computer contains options associated with detecting and cleaning viruses and malware. My Files refers to backup functionality built into CA Internet Security Suite Plus. My Internet is where you will find options related to network and browser security. My Kids allows for the configuration of parental controls. Each tile has a link to related configuration and reporting options. Selecting the link will deliver you to the appropriate area which includes the challenge of a different, yet more standard, interface.
Within the My Computer section you can access the quarantine and choose among the standard scanning types. You can also access a detailed report of recent scans. The icons at the bottom of the My Computer section (as in all sections) will take you back to the Home screen or the other areas of configuration.
In addition to scanning options, the My Computer section allows for setting program access and program rules. These rules define which applications should be allowed or denied network access as well those that should prompt for access.
The Internet section is where you configure the majority of your security settings. This includes defining the network you’re connecting to as well as setting network rules, browser protection and more.
I was rather impressed by the number of easy to access and understand options in the Internet section. One can easily choose whether or not they want to use CA Internet Security Suite Plus as a pop-up blocker or as a tool for controlling the cookies left behind by websites. Reporting and history is also available as well as a section dedicated to parental control settings.
When configuring network rules much of what you find will be the standard fare: port mapping, remote IPs to react to etc. One unique feature lies in the ability to schedule a network rule to be enforced at certain times. Another unique set of options exists within the browser protection section where you can define privacy controls for individual sites.
During the process of testing CA Internet Security, there were several Windows updates applied. At one particular point CA became unusable and would crash each time the main interface attempted to load. This crash would also take the CA security services offline thus rendering the system without any protection at all. A bit of searching found the culprit to be Internet Explorer 9 or rather CA’s lack of compatibility with it. More searching uncovered a documented fix and update on the CA support site. It should be noted that I had CA installed for several days and this update was never applied automatically but required me to go looking for it. Not good.
I think the more savvy user may find they can navigate and use CA easily enough. I’m not so sure the novice user would have the same experience. There are certainly more user friendly security solutions available.
With all I’ve learned and experienced with CA Internet Security Plus thus far, I entered into the firewall testing fully expecting to be disappointed. It turns out I was wrong.
CA appears to have a quite capable firewall component. The settings available are not the most abundant nor do they allow for the granular control found in other suites but they are adequate and will fill the needs of most quite nicely.
When testing a firewall I like to force a few intrusive scans against the test system to see just what kind of information is being allowed by the firewall. For this test I used the nMap scanner and scanned the system in both the Home and Public network profiles.
The scan against the Home profile allowed for some information to get through such as the operating system and details around how long the system has been up and when it was last booted. The open ports were very few though and should be considered protected.
When scanning against the Public profile I had to force the scan without checking for a ping response since the Public profile blocks all ICMP requests. This scan found zero open ports and was not successful in divulging any information, no matter how inconsequential it may be. Web browsing and other normal network activity continued to perform well while in this locked down state. Very impressive!
The firewall has proven, to me at least, to be a solid performer that provides good protection at the default settings.
Antivirus and Antimalware features
CA makes available all the standard settings and options associated with good scanning solutions. These include the ability to add file or folder exclusions, manage the quarantine with ease, set heuristic scanning options and identify the default actions to take when a threat is detected.
You’ll also find plenty of setting around program access and rules. These setting allow you to edit the programs CA considers safe and define rules of your own. You can allow or deny actions on both inbound and outbound application activity which include allowing traffic, blocking traffic or choosing to be prompted whenever a conversation ensues.
When testing a scanning solution, I like to plant several malicious files to help determine the effectiveness of the scanner. CA did very well in this regard. Each file was identified during the complete scan. Several more were identified when transferring threats from a flash drive as well.
Where CA fell short was in identifying and cleaning zero day threats. I monitor several sites that maintain a list of sites that have been found to host malware, fake antivirus solutions and trojans. The lists are very current, sometimes up the hour and always up to the current day. Using Internet Explorer, with the CA toolbar installed, I was able to visit many of these nefarious sites and download the malware or be redirected to a phishing site. In each case Internet Explorer warned of the danger but I forged ahead to see how CA would respond. The results were quite poor. Forcing a local scan of the saved threats also failed to identify any issue.
Configuring the scan options and managing scan activity are relatively easy tasks. Unfortunately, CA anitivirus seems to handle older threats well enough but the latest threats pass through undetected. There are certainly better solutions available
CA has a long and rich history developing and supporting applications for the business customer. The level of detail they act upon for business customers has not been passed along to the home consumer, at least not where CA Internet Security Suite Plus is concerned. The ability to easily stop CA security services is enough to keep this from being a recommendation for normal users. When you add the poor implementation of the Internet Explorer 9 fix and below average scanning, it really becomes a questionable choice, even for geeks. Even they should use the trial version before deciding to purchase it.