At first glance, McAfee Internet Security 2009 appears not much different from last year's offering, a truth that masks some improvements in programming under the hood. In our tests, we found McAfee Internet Security 2009 to be as fast as the much improved Norton Internet Security 2009. What McAfee adds to the competitive landscape is faster malicious software detection. With Active Protection, they're neither talking about hourly signature file updates nor five minute updates like rival Symantec; at McAfee they're talking about instant updates. In terms of features, we found that McAfee has the most tools of any suite we reviewed. In addition to antivirus, antiphishing, antispyware, and a personal firewall, McAfee provides a backup-and-restore feature and several handy utilities. We still have minor issues with McAfee's technical support, although it has improved over last year. For a full protection suite, we were impressed with McAfee Internet Security 2009.
McAfee Internet Security 2009 offers three-user licenses for $69.95, with $10 off; street prices may be even less. McAfee Internet Security 2009 runs on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista, while Norton Internet Security 2009 only runs on Windows XP and Vista.
McAfee continues to use a bootstrap method of downloading code to your machine, it then installs the suite module by module. This year, the process was much faster in our informal tests. According to McAfee, this method allows it to offer the latest build; the alternative is to install the product, then immediately update. We experienced an unusual problem, one that most users won't. We found that by having Internet Explorer 8 beta 2 installed on our test machine, we could launch McAfee Internet Security 2009 but not see or use any of its features; the Security Center interface was blank. By removing IE 8 Beta 2, we were able to use the product. While this is not expected to be a problem once the final version of IE8 is released, it is worth noting.
Should you want to remove McAfee Internet Security 2009, there is no uninstall option for McAfee in the Start menu listing. Instead, you'll need to use the Windows Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs option. Again this year, after a reboot, we were pleased to find little evidence on our machine.
We continue to like that McAfee integrates all of its tools--security, utility, and networking--in one interface. The McAfee Security Center offers a left-hand navigation for all tools, with a right-hand windowpane for system status. There are two tables of contents: one lists basic features, which should be sufficient for most people, while a second lists tools that are more advanced.
Like other security suites, McAfee Internet Security 2009 includes all the features within its McAfee VirusScan Plus, then it adds additional protection for the Internet suite. Like McAfee VirusScan Plus, McAfee Internet Security 2009 includes McAfee SiteAdvisor, an antiphishing protection package.
What's new is McAfee's Active Protection (also known as Artemis) that lets the product detect and remove a new threat that is only minutes old. How it works is the application uses its heuristics and built-in signature files to detect and remove known threats. When McAfee Internet Security finds a new threat, it sends it back over the Internet to the up-to-date McAfee AVERT Labs database, then receives an update for that one new threat. McAfee states that the process is almost "instantaneous." McAfee will continue to send down daily signature file updates to McAfee Internet Security, but will move toward using the instant feedback mechanism of its Active Protection in future releases.
Also new is enterprise-class spam protection. McAfee includes support for Outlook, Eudora, and Thunderbird in its protection, as well as POP3, MAPI, and Web connections.
Another new feature is Active Protection, McAfee's near-instant communication with the master signature database back at McAfee. Whenever a new malicious software is trapped by McAfee Internet Security, rather than wait for the new update, protection is sent back to the desktop. Trend Micro is offering something similar, using "in the Cloud" technology. By comparison, Norton is sending mini database updates every few minutes.