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Mcafee Security 2007 review: Mcafee Security 2007

McAfee Total Protection feels like a grab bag of security and performance tools without any clear focus, which will likely frustrate the average user.

Robert Vamosi Former Editor
As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.
Robert Vamosi
7 min read
McAfee Total Protection

Code-named Falcon, McAfee Total Protection is the penultimate security product from this longtime security vendor, offering a complete suite of security and system-maintenance tools, including various wireless security tools absent from Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare and Symantec Norton 360. Certainly McAfee Total Protection provides the most security and performance features, however it is hobbled by some design and program flaws. It feels like a grab bag of security and performance tools without any clear focus, which will likely frustrate the average user. While it bests Windows Live OneCare, McAfee Total Protection could learn a few things from Norton 360.


Mcafee Security 2007

The Good

McAfee Total Protection includes antivirus, antiphishing, antispyware, and antirootkit protection, as well as wireless security.

The Bad

McAfee Total Protection lacks focus; tools are scattered across two menus.

The Bottom Line

McAfee Total Protection feels like a grab bag of security and performance tools without any clear focus, which will likely frustrate the average user.

Setup and Interface
We downloaded and installed McAfee Total Protection without a problem, although we thought the process was needlessly confusing. From the McAfee.com site, we entered our ID and password, then downloaded the Download Manager onto our desktop. Despite choosing McAfee Total Protection from the McAfee.com site, we were again presented with a list of options and ended up downloading the McAfee VirusScan Plus application instead of the McAfee Total Protection application. If you are not paying attention, you might download the wrong application. Once we downloaded the correct application, however, the installation process was smooth.

McAfee Total Protection requires a mere 175MB, almost half of what Norton 360 requires, and nearly one quarter the size of Windows Live OneCare. Like the others, McAfee Total Protection requires 256MB of RAM. Only McAfee Total Protection works on Windows 2000 through Windows Vista, while both Norton 360 and Windows Live OneCare work on only Windows XP and Windows Vista. Like the other super security suites, the price for McAfee Total Protection includes installation on up to three different PCs (for example, two desktops and a laptop).

McAfee Total Protection lacks sophistication in its interface, spreading tools across two different menus.

The interface for McAfee Total Protection is shared among all the 2007 product offerings. It features a gray border with a left navigation for various tools, and a right main window to display the current security status of your PC. We take issue with the left navigation panel, which displays by default what McAfee calls the "basic" options with a button to display the more-advanced settings. There are duplicated between the two menus, and it gets easy to confuse them.

Should you ever decide to remove McAfee Total Protection, you'll need to use the Microsoft Windows Add/Remove Programs; there was no uninstall icon provided in the All Programs listing. However, you will need to check which of the eight applications you want to remove. Fortunately, this did the trick. After uninstalling the application and rebooting, we were impressed to find a relatively clean uninstall, with only one empty McAfee folder in the Program Files directory, which we manually deleted, and no traces remaining within our test PC system registry.

McAfee Total Protection represents all the consumer security and performance tools available for Windows XP and Windows Vista users. But rather than redesign the interface to make access user friendly and intuitive, as Norton 360 did, McAfee simply added more options to its already crowded left navigation panel. Thus it's possible to overlook some useful features among the less-useful eye candy offered along the way, such as the Virus Map feature.

The Maintain Computer feature is another good idea that could stand to have more McAfee-specific tools in the future. McAfee QuickClean clears cookies and junk from your Internet browsers and removes deleted applications from the system registry. It is no longer available as a standalone application and finds a new home here. However, the other two items on the computer maintenance page are Windows utilities that are already available within Windows XP, Disk Defragmenter and Task Scheduler, both of which you can run for free from the Start menu in Windows. On a separate page, under Advanced, is the McAfee Shredder, a valuable security feature for writing over deleted files with 1s and 0s to ensure that no one can read what you've deleted. Here, too, there are free options are available, including Eraser, but it's nice to see the feature included within the suite. In the future, we'd like to see the Maintain Computer feature dispense with the free Windows applicationss and combine the McAfee-specific QuickClean and Shredder onto one page.

The traffic monitor, a visual interpretation of your firewall activity, is valuable, as are the virus information library and HackerWatch, McAfee's site that logs recent Internet attacks. However, some of the other features are of questionable security value. The Virus Map is superfluous. It's a real-time map showing where virus outbreaks are occurring, according to McAfee. And McAfee Visual Tracer is a Traceroute-like application with a map of the world so that you can see who it is that's attacking you (although the end point isn't necessarily the origin of the attack, just the last hop that's traceable through McAfee's servers).

Operating behind the scenes are some useful new tools: McAfee SystemGuards and McAfee X-ray for Windows. McAfee SystemGuards are behavioral monitors that check for unusual system activity and enlist the appropriate protection when necessary. McAfee X-ray for Windows detects and removes rootkits, malicious code that hides deep within the Windows system kernel. McAfee's current approach to both the behavioral analysis and rootkit prevention is conventional, and perhaps future releases of McAfee Total Protection will include more advanced enterprise technology from Citadel, a recent McAfee acquisition.

McAfee's Parental Controls feature includes new methods of discerning and blocking offensive images from e-mails. Despite the name, even households without children may have use for this feature. Norton makes its parental controls optional, via download, but ZoneAlarm includes them within its suite.

Unlike Windows Live OneCare and Norton 360, McAfee Total Protection includes its McAfee Wireless Protection application. On a public network, there's little use for the setup features as Windows contains its own network manager that identifies, associates, and disassociates you from a public hot spot. On a home network, however, McAfee Wireless Protection is much more useful. Before you purchase the product, check this wireless router/AP compatibility list to see whether your wireless router is supported by McAfee. If it is, you'll be able to make almost all your security configuration changes through McAfee. On a test system, we were able to connect to a Linksys WRT54GS router with no problem.

If you haven't already changed your router's SSID, which is how the router identifies itself, or enabled WEP or WPA encryption to make it harder for attackers to eavesdrop on your wireless sessions, McAfee Wireless Protection can help with that. One cool feature within McAfee Wireless Protection rotates your WEP key every few hours for added security, with the option to suspend this feature while you're playing online games or using other services that might be disrupted. For everything else, however, vendor-supplied software and even the Windows XP Wireless Network connection console already provide the basic security tools needed; McAfee just puts them all in one place. Unlike Windows Live OneCare and Norton 360, McAfee Total Protection supports Internet Explorer and Firefox. None of the three suites support Opera.

Overall, there is very little missing from McAfee Total Protection.

McAfee VirusScan improves its scores on our CNET Labs' performance tests over those of last year in all cases, except in our boot-time test. On our iTunes test, VirusScan Plus gained ground compared with last year, taking 196 seconds as opposed to 243 seconds last year. On our Sorensen Squeeze test, VirusScan Plus also improved, taking 329 seconds compared to 337 seconds last year. McAfee showed the most improvement with individual file scans, taking only 116 seconds this year as opposed to 368 seconds last year. But in terms of boot speed, McAfee lost the most ground, taking 88 seconds--the most of any antivirus product we tested; it took 62 seconds last year. To find out how we test, see CNET Labs' How we test antivirus software page.

To determine how well a product will protect your PC, we refer to test results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, McAfee VirusScan 2006 earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating, catching 92 percent of all malware tested, and from Checkvir.com, McAfee VirusScan 2006 was one of eight products to earn its Standard (highest) rating.

Check back to read about CNET Labs' tests of the McAfee firewall and antispyware protection in the coming weeks.

Like Symantec, McAfee put its resources into improving its technical support. McAfee Total Protection Suite 2007 doesn't offer any downloadable manuals nor a tutorial. What McAfee does provide is a contextual knowledge base that asks you a series of questions. Should the knowledge base fail to answer your question, you're taken to another window where a remote scan will attempt to diagnose what is wrong. If none of these solutions work, you're given more options, including online chat, user forums, e-mail, and finally live technical support at $45.95 per incident (one of the highest technical support fees we've seen).

McAfee Total Protection feels like a grab bag of security and system performance tools. By refocusing its product line on fewer individual consumer products, McAfee is on the right path, but McAfee Total Protection could be leaner, should run with fewer processes across all computers, and McAfee needs to simplify its interface even more next year, dispensing with the two tables of content and submerging the eye candy in favor of the tools that are most useful. In our opinion, Norton 360 strikes the right balance between overall ease of use and the right tools for today's threats.


Mcafee Security 2007

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 8Support 7