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.
Although not new, we like McAfee's home networking feature; it's much easier to use than Norton's. Also enhanced over last year's version is the integration of antivirus, antispyware, firewall, and antiphishing. The heuristics, or System Guards, have also been improved. Returning are home network monitoring, parental controls, and backup and recovery. McAfee remains one of the few suites to include system utilities such as secure file shredding, which we think should be a part of every Internet Security suite
In CNET Labs' performance tests, McAfee Internet Security 2009, in general, scored considerably better than last year's version, and on one test it scored better than Norton Internet Security 2009. In third-party, independent antivirus testing using live viruses, McAfee Internet Security 2009 scored in the upper ranks, although not always at the top position. On the CNET iTunes test, McAfee Internet Security 2009 came in at 271 seconds, 3 seconds above the test system but one second faster than Norton Internet Security 2009. On the CNET Microsoft Office test, McAfee Internet Security 2009 finished at 1,495 seconds, squarely in the middle of the pact. In a test scanning a single folder with compressed and media files, McAfee Internet Security 2009 completed this test in a fast 200 seconds, virtually tying Norton Internet Security 2009. In terms of boot speed, McAfee Internet Security 2009 took only 30 seconds, faster than Norton and most of the other suites we tested.
To find out how we test antivirus software, visit CNET Labs' How we test: Antivirus software page.
In terms of whether McAfee Internet Security 2009 will protect your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the September 2008 AV-test.org results, McAfee Internet Security 2008 scored well, having a few false positives, but is scored toward the bottom of the list in response times to new threats (something that the new Active Protection features should address in the 2009 version). In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org for on-demand scans, McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 earned an Advanced (second highest) rating, catching 94 percent of all malicious software tested, falling behind Norton, Kaspersky, Eset Nod32, and others. The same is true for the Retrospective/Proactive test, McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 earned an Advanced rating, proactively stopping 32 percent of the "new samples" in the test.
Once again, McAfee comes up a little short on the technical support end. Unlike Trend Micro and Norton, which both offer free telephone support, McAfee only offers its support for a limited time. The 30-day free phone support is available daily from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Pacific. Afterward, telephone support is listed under fee-based support, with a variety of per-minute or per-incident plans starting at $9.
McAfee Virtual Technician is an optional plug-in that , when downloaded, will diagnose the state of your McAfee product, the computer's health, and then make recommendations on how to fix it--for free. It seems unnecessary, but then again you can't argue with the price. User support forums remain hidden, not easily accessible from the technical support area where it is expected. McAfee doesn't have a tutorial or online manual. By comparison, Kaspersky offers a complete 321-page manual, a robust user forum, and toll-free telephone support.
In a strictly Norton versus McAfee universe, McAfee Internet Security 2009 once again offers more features than Norton Internet Security 2009 and integrates them with a more intuitive user interface, one that allows you to understand the specific feature as well as tweak its settings. Although independent security test scores could be higher and the technical support could be better, McAfee provides you with more than adequate protection.