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McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 review: McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006


McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 adds several new weapons to its defensive arsenal, including automatic spyware detection, an antiphishing plug-in for Internet Explorer, daily viral signature updates, and a Gaming Suspend feature that turns off firewall pop-up messages when a program is in full-screen mode. Despite its impressive security lineup and competitive $70 list price, McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 is a bloated sentry that slows system performance, particularly boot times. McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006's laggardly virus scans take far longer than those of Symantec Norton Internet Security 2006. McAfee says this is by design; a longer scan, it argues, uses fewer system resources and allows you to run your PC normally. McAfee also needs better-trained tech-support reps. During one support chat, our rep wasn't aware that McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 had a file shredder. McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 is good for loyal McAfee users, but its slow performance makes it a so-so choice for everybody else. We recommend ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2006 instead.

6.3

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006

The Good

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 provides automatic spyware blocking, an antiphishing plug-in for Internet Explorer, and pop-up-message suspension during full-screen activities.

The Bad

Slow system scans and a poorly trained tech-support staff detract from McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006.

The Bottom Line

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 packs a powerful protection arsenal--but it's far too slow. Loyal McAfee users should upgrade for the automatic spyware and phishing blockers, but the rest of us should seek security elsewhere, such as ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.
McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 installs in a jiffy--5 minutes in our tests. As with Norton Internet Security 2006, however, once you've rebooted and configured McAfee's various security settings, setup becomes at least a 30-minute job. McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 speeds setup by making its postinstallation antivirus scan optional. This is smart, as McAfee VirusScan 2006 took 2 hours, 15 minutes to scan a 19GB disk partition on our test PC. (By comparison, the postsetup scan is also optional with Norton Internet Security 2006, but that program scanned the same partition in 1 hour, 45 minutes--30 minutes faster.)

The interface for McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 retains last year's clean, organized appearance. The Security Index on the main screen uses colored bars--green means good security, red means bad--to display your current vulnerability to viruses, spam, spyware, and hacker attacks. McAfee's security components hook into other programs, too. For example, McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 adds a bare-bones toolbar to Internet Explorer that allows you to start an antivirus scan. Its McAfee SpamKiller 2006 toolbar for Microsoft Outlook is much improved this year, adding new buttons that can quickly rescue e-mail from the spam folder or keep spam out of your in-box. Unfortunately, unlike Norton's antispam feature, McAfee SpamKiller 2006 doesn't provide a toolbar for Eudora users.



McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 retains its familiar Security Index, which summarizes your PC's safety status.

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 is big on pop-up messages--and sometimes they get bloody annoying. Pop-ups tell you when virus definitions are downloading, and they seek your advice when the firewall is learning which programs need Internet access. (Thankfully, the firewall learns fast, and its pop-ups vanish after a day or two.) While it's nice to know the security suite is working, chances are you'll want to deactivate these alerts by clicking "Turn off this alert type" within the pop-up message box.

One interface gripe: McAfee Shredder, which overwrites deleted files to prevent snoops from recovering their contents, is too difficult to find. Hint: it's accessible via the Run The Utilities link on the Privacy Service menu. We'd like to see this handy utility displayed more prominently. Another tip: when you right-click a file within Windows Explorer or on the desktop, you can access McAfee Shredder through the Send To submenu.

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 provides a complete toolkit for protecting your Windows PC: virus, spyware, and spam blockers, a firewall, and an Internet Explorer plug-in to block access to known phishing sites. New features include automatic spyware detection, which dynamically blocks programs that secretly download and install themselves on your PC. In our tests, McAfee prevented us from downloading WeatherCast, a free program known to contain, in McAfee parlance, a potentially unwanted program, or PUP. Want to download it anyway? Click "Continue what I was doing" in the McAfee pop-up box. Prior McAfee versions didn't offer real-time protection.



McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 automatically blocks spyware from downloading and installing on your PC.

The McAfee AntiPhishing plug-in, a new tool for Internet Explorer, blocks access to phishing sites and is handy for naïve users who may click links in fraudulent e-mail. McAfee maintains a list of outlaw sites, many of which come from the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry association devoted to wiping out e-mail fraud. How does the McAfee antiphishing feature work? If you click on a known phishing site, McAfee blocks IE from loading the page and posts a warning within your browser window. We liked this feature, which worked well and required no user setup. We've seen a beta for a similar feature in the Internet Explorer browser that will ship with Windows Vista in late 2006.

While we can't knock McAfee's talents as a PC protector--it does that job well--we take issue with how McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 transforms a reasonably fast computer into a sluggish heap of silicon. Off the top, it added another minute to our test PC's boot time. It also made common actions--launching applications, loading files, jumping between programs--perceptibly slower. And with the McAfee Privacy Service enabled, we couldn't access the Internet without first logging in--an annoying detour. Although McAfee's philosophy is to use fewer system resources during scans--our 19GB virus scan took more than two hours to complete--our system's overall performance took a noticeable hit as well. For instance, Microsoft Word, which normally loads in 6 seconds on our test PC without McAfee running, took 26 seconds to load with McAfee VirusScan 2006. Then again, 26 seconds is a heck of a lot faster than the 125 seconds it took Word to load with Norton Internet Security 2006.

McAfee provides various kinds of free support, including online chat and e-mail, as well as Web-based user forums, tips, and FAQs--more options than Symantec provides for Norton users. But like Norton's online support, McAfee's disappointed us. For example, we asked our tech rep if McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 comes with a built-in file shredder; he said it doesn't (it does). Our tech promptly recommended that we buy McAfee QuickClean, which he said shreds files. Next time, we'll go straight to the online knowledge base.

Another similarity to Norton: McAfee charges extra for phone help: $2.95 per minute via an 800 number (credit card required) or $3.95 per minute via a 900 number. With either option, the first two minutes are free. Another option is to pay a flat-rate fee of $39 per incident. Daily call-center hours are from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. PT.

6.3

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 7Support 5