McAfee is among the real heavyweights in desktop security. The McAfee roots date back to 1989 with a history that has included several key acquisitions. Today McAfee remains a well known and respected source of desktop security software. With this wealth of history and experience, has the security giant managed to maintain a suite of security applications for the every day user or have they found themselves in a territory only the geek is comfortable traversing?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came time to review McAfee Internet Security 2010. My introduction to McAfee software started in the mid 1990’s. At that time it was the main antivirus application at my place of employment and did a fine job of keeping viruses from running rampant. As the years progressed I remember well the bloat that ensued as McAfee worked into a suite of security software. The application became sluggish and impacted performance poorly. This was at a time when terms like spyware and malware had yet to make it into the everyday vernacular. Eventually we moved away from McAfee in favor of lighter solutions. Times have changed.
The McAfee Internet Security 2010 download weighed in at just under 130 MB. Heavy! The installation process is straightforward and allows for up to three installs on different PCs. You may also customize the install. These customizations give you the opportunity to cancel the installation of individual features. Since all features are selected for install by default this review was done with all features installed.
The installation wizard progresses presenting the opportunity to opt out of sending anonymous usage statistics (enabled by default). You will also be prompted by Windows 7 once McAfee has turned off the Microsoft Defender application. It is best to keep Defender off. Multiple security solutions running at once can bring more harm than good. In short order the installation is complete and the process of activating the software begins.
Just prior to activating the software McAfee will likely identify your Internet connection. This will prompt McAfee to ask you to identify the Internet connection as one that is Public, Home or Work. You may also choose to not be prompted about the Internet connection again. This is not something I would advise. The occasional Internet connection prompt may be just the thing to keep you from inadvertently accessing an unsecured or unintended network.
The activation process is required to ensure that McAfee downloads the latest updates in order to keep your computer safe from threats. Thankfully activation is relatively easy. All that is required is a bit of personal information, though not too personal. Once the activation is complete McAfee will perform an initial update.
The McAfee Internet Security home screen provides access to the various features installed: Virus and Spyware Protection, Web and Email Protection, Data Protection, Home Network , PC Optimization and Parental Controls. Hovering your mouse pointer over any feature gives you a quick status indicating whether or not the feature is active or requires attention. The Home screen also has a notification area that cycles through a couple of stats regarding the last scan performed, the number of files scanned and the number of threats identified. This same notification area is used to display options associated with the top four areas on the Home screen, namely Real Time Scanning, Updates, Firewall and Subscription.
McAfee has done a good job of utilizing the real estate on the Home screen. A more detailed navigation has even been made available for those wishing to see some explanation of the features and configuration options in one place with less clicking. This can be found by selecting the Navigation link in the upper right corner of the Home screen.
McAfee Internet Security 2010 also integrates right into Firefox and Internet Explorer via the SiteAdvisor plugin/add-on. You do have the option to remove this feature during the installation.
SiteAdvisor adds an icon next to Google and Bing search results (Yahoo search results did not have the SiteAdvisor icons) indicating whether or not McAfee has scanned the site and if it is safe or a possible threat. It also has a secure search built in that didn’t seem to offer any different results than a search from the toolbar or search engine site. Search results do take a moment longer to populate as site Advisor validates them. If you choose to visit a site McAfee has determined may be a threat the toolbar icon (Internet Explorer) or Status bar icon (Firefox) is displayed in red indicating possible doom at each turn within the suspect site.
As far as first Impressions go, McAfee Internet Security 2010 has left me with a good initial impression. All the basics seem to be covered and the system performance hasn’t taken a serious dive. However, a quick check of running processes does remind you that a full suite of security software is running.
I should note that McAfee did require a reboot twice, each after an update was downloaded and applied. The first reboot resulted in a crash and the second took much longer than normal. I have rebooted on several occasions since, though not at McAfee’s request, and the system has been behaving normally.
Ease of use and configuration
As I mentioned, the Home screen is well organized and provides access to the configuration of each feature within McAfee Internet Security 2010. The scan settings are the ones you’d expect and include the ability to start a quick, full or custom scan as well as an opportunity to change or set the scheduled scan settings. A quick scan took less than 10 minutes and the complete scan almost an hour on a 220 GB drive with 70 GB of data. The default scheduled scan occurs each Friday at 4 AM but can be set to run any time you choose. You may even elect to have the scheduled scan run every other week or the first of the month. The real time scan settings include email (local client) and instant messenger attachments and even allow for scanning of network drives (disabled by default).
The Web and Email Protection feature includes the Firewall, Anti-Spam and SiteAdvisor. The firewall has several security levels that you can choose from. The least restrictive is Full Access and the most restrictive is Lockdown. The default level selected is Outgoing Access. Outgoing Access allows your applications full outbound access but will prompt you to allow access once an application requires a connection back to your computer. There are enough security levels to satisfy even the most paranoid among us and switching between them is an easy task.
The McAfee Internet Security 2010 firewall allows you to easily add or edit programs that have access to your PC via Program Permissions. Connections can also be edited or added. Remember when you identified your Internet Connection as Home, Public or Work? Connections is where you could change this so more restrictive or open access is defined. McAfee also has an option called Smart Advice which is enabled by default. Smart Advice allows McAfee to determine which programs should connect to the Internet. This is done in conjunction with HackerWatch.org a community site that records patterns around identified threats.
If you identify symptoms that indicate your PC may be under attack there is a rather handy Attack Detection area within the firewall for just such an occasion. McAfee lists several types of attacks for which it can turn on detection, such as Denial of Service, DNS exploits, malformed IP packets and many more. Attack detection is disabled by default since it may block many types of normally allowed traffic.
If you’re the type that likes to define access at the port level McAfee firewall provides the interface to get this done. It’s rather minimal and gives you the nice option of choosing to only allow a specific port rule between home and work connections or among all connections. There is even an option that allows you to forward port activity to another PC using the ICS (Internet Connection Sharing) service. This option goes hand in hand with the 3 PC license included in the purchase.
I was rather surprised by the Anti-Spam feature built into McAfee Internet Security 2010. I have not used a local client like Outlook Express or Thunderbird for any sustained period of time in many years. It seems obvious by the plethora of options that many people may and for them McAfee seems to have the spam issue well covered.
You have the option of setting how aggressively McAfee filters spam and how spam should be handled when it is identified. McAfee can insert a spam toolbar into many popular desktop clients including Outlook, Outlook Express/Windows Mail, Eudora and Thunderbird. While noticing all the integration with the desktop I thought webmail options like Gmail, Live or Yahoo! might not have been a consideration. I was wrong. You also have the opportunity to add the pop3 address of your preferred webmail solution (assuming they support pop3) and McAfee will also scan these messages for spam. The anti-spam feature does provide an interface for you to see which webmail messages may have been identified as spam so they can be recovered.
You also have all the custom anti-spam settings you might expect. You can create rules to allow specific types of messages from certain people or with certain words, identify friends and even create similar rules for your webmail filtering needs. Quite extensive.
I already mentioned a good bit regarding Site Advisor, the other area within the Web and Email Protection feature. The only thing the Site Advisor link does here is take you to the website. There is no option to disable it from within the interface or not one I could find. Disabling Site Advisor seems to require either visiting each browser and disabling add-on’s or plug-ins or choosing to uninstall McAfee Internet Security 2010 and only selecting Site Advisor. It certainly seems like McAfee could have made removing Site Advisor a lot easier.
Once upon a time McAfee offered a local backup and restore option which has since been replaced by an option to backup online. This is one of the options available within the Data Protection feature. It seems a partnership with Mozy was established as Mozy is the only online backup option available. Another data protection feature is found in the Shredder.
The Shredder is useful for fully deleting an item and provides several levels of removal to make your shredded data difficult to near impossible to recover. Each level increases the number of times the data is deleted, from 2 passes with Basic to 10 passes with Complete. I do wish the shredder were integrated into Windows so files could be shredded from any explorer window via right click and not only from within the McAfee interface.
With Home Network, McAfee again provides a feature that makes the most of the 3 PC license. Home Network allows for the management of two other computers running McAfee Internet Security 2010. There is also basic insight into other devices on your network.
The PC Optimization feature provides one click access to the built in Windows Defragmenter and the previously mentioned Shredder. You will also find the Quick Clean option which handles cleaning the basics such as the Recycle Bin, Temporary Internet files, Windows History and more. Quick Clean can also reach into your email to clean deleted and sent items. Lastly, there is an option to schedule the Quick Clean.
The final feature to be configured is Parental Controls. With Parental Controls you first create an administrator password to prevent access to the settings without authorization. Once the password has been set, you can define parental control for an individual user. You first select the user and then select the user's age range from the drop down list. Once an age range is selected the default allowed and blocked categories of websites are displayed. Adding additional blocked categories, or allowing them, is as easy as selecting the category and clicking the appropriate button to move the category into the applicable column. The optional settings allow you to define specific sites to block or allow as well as set a web browsing schedule. The latter would be useful when implementing a no Internet rule when chores or homework should be getting done, unless they need the Internet to complete the homework that is.
As you’ve seen in the previous section, the firewall options are plentiful but do not come across as daunting or too difficult for the novice user to configure. The default configuration doesn’t display too many prompts yet when a prompt is displayed it is easy to decipher and respond to.
The ability to dig into port forwarding and application access exist within a straightforward interface. The options available seem to be a nice fit between the very basic and very advanced.
McAfee Internet Security 2010 disables ICMP (ping responses) by default, therefore I performed a Nmap scan against the system using the ’intense with no ping’ option. The scan prompted a single alert for access to a local Windows service which I blocked. Despite this effort, the scan produced far more results than I was happy with. Nmap was able to easily identify the operating system, computer name, workgroup or domain membership as well as a dozen open ports. This is all the information a possible attacker might need to begin a more targeted attack focusing on specific exploits. A Nessus scan provided similar results.
I placed the firewall in stealth mode and re-ran the Nmap scan. Amazingly, the results were exactly the same, even after a reboot. Very disappointing.
Antivirus and Antispyware features
The Antivirus and Antispyware features seem to perform a bit better than the firewall. I copied several infected files from a USB drive and each were identified and quarantined. The same was true when accessing sites with nefarious code Site Advisor warned me of the dangers of each site but it was the AntiVirus application that prevented the download and installation of rogue applications.
The Antivirus and Antispyware options are among the lightest within McAfee Internet Security 2010. One item that is missing, though prevalent in most other antivirus applications, is the ability to exclude a file type or directory. I’ve always appreciated this option in other solutions. False positives do happen and the ability to bring a file back into good graces is occasionally required.
I had to access the McAfee online help to determine if there was a way to restore files from quarantine. It turns out there is a way yet the option is a bit hidden. To manage quarantined items you must select Navigation from the Home screen and then select Quarantine and Trusted Items. From this interface you can restore files and see any cookies that are being quarantined as well. This is another good minimal interface but should have been included with the real-time scanning options.
More formal testing done by the likes of AV-Comparatives gave McAfee a rating of Standard (two rungs below the top rated Advanced+). The McAfee site prefers to tout the Advanced+ rating they received in February 2009 but choose not to share how the rating has fallen to Advanced in February 2010 and now to Standard in May 2010.
McAfee Internet Security 2010 is a decent solution that doesn’t take one too deep into the jungle when it comes time to fine tune the settings. The firewall is non-intrusive but unfortunately provides average protection at best. The same can be said of the antivirus and antispyware features. The availability of Site Advisor is a nice bridge between the desktop and browsing online and could be the one thing that protects the most by simply reminding you to be cautious online. It would be nice to award the “BUY for Grandma!” based on the clean interface but that simply wouldn’t be keeping Grandma’s best interests in mind.