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McAfee Firewall 4.0 installs in seconds. A new wizard helps set up the firewall on a home network, quickly detecting other computers that share connections. The program automatically creates rules so that popular programs, such as browsers and instant messengers, can access the Internet automatically; this way, you see fewer nagging alerts. McAfee Firewall will even build such rules for new programs that you install after it's already in place.
Catching up with its competition, McAfee Firewall 4.0 has added several new tools. McAfee now traces hack attacks back to their origin, although it doesn't display them on a map like Norton's firewall does. It also includes an intrusion-detection system that not only automatically blocks port scanners--favorite tools of malicious users--but also, like Norton Personal Firewall, examines every inbound and outbound data packet.
Once McAfee Firewall examines these packets, it compares the transmission to a database of the behavior of known worms. McAfee refreshes this database when you do an Instant Update, McAfee's online update service. If the transmission looks suspicious, Firewall blocks that connection either indefinitely or for the period of time that you designate. The initial setting for that period, however, is 0 minutes, so if you're not paying attention, the intrusion detection is worthless.
When we ran our standard tests from the ShieldsUp site and the shareware Port Scanner program, McAfee Firewall passed without a problem, hiding, or stealthing, all 65,000 PC ports from malicious users.
But some of the problems we spotted last year still remain. The technique of rescanning the drive to detect new Internet-able applications requires you to click down several levels. And customizing the firewall-access rules for an individual application continues to be difficult. McAfee claims that it uses a wizard, but it's less that and more a series of dialog boxes written in geekspeak. ZoneAlarm and Norton Personal Firewall are written in plain English and are easier to customize.
McAfee's online support documents and FAQs include a too-meager collection of Firewall 4.0 FAQs and troubleshooting tips on McAfee's Web site. In fact, we couldn't locate anything about Firewall except instructions on how to uninstall it. The 24/7, real-time-chat support option, however, more than makes up for this omission. The tech rep we spoke to was knowledgeable and answered our questions quickly. (Note: www.mcafee-at-home.com, not www.mcafee.com, is the site that offers live technical support.) Phone support isn't free: it's $3 per minute or $39 per call. But unlike with Symantec, the lines are staffed seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. PT.
McAfee Firewall 4.0 provides excellent protection from Internet maladies. But if you're in the market for your first firewall product, you will be much happier with ZoneAlarm's overall ease of use.