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McAfee Internet Security 5.0 review:

McAfee Internet Security 5.0

  • 1
MSRP: $59.99

McAfee Internet Security 5.0

(Part #: MIS50E001RAA)
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The Good Firewall and virus killer effectively defend your PC; intrusion-detection system sniffs out suspicious data exchanges; automatically creates rules for popular apps.

The Bad Firewall not enabled by default after installation; pricey; rebate, as opposed to up-front upgrade discount.

The Bottom Line McAfee has made many improvements, but its products are still harder to use than those of Norton. If you're new to security software, best stick to Norton for now.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall

From the looks of it, McAfee Internet Security 5.0 (MIS)--a $70 suite that includes a firewall, an antivirus program, and a host of other tools--promises to give industry standard Norton Internet Security 2003 (NIS) a run for its money. McAfee has armed itself with top-notch tools such as McAfee Firewall 4.0, plus McAfee's top-quality McAfee VirusScan 7.0 antivirus app. MIS 5.0 matches Norton on almost every PC security count. Unfortunately, it's still harder to use than NIS, so if you're new to security software, stick with Norton for now. Also, there is no competitive upgrade pricing for McAfee Internet Security, however, previous users of MIS or NIS can send in their receipt and proof of ownership for both the old or new apps to receive a $20 rebate. Frankly, we'd prefer the cash up front. From the looks of it, McAfee Internet Security 5.0 (MIS)--a $70 suite that includes a firewall, an antivirus program, and a host of other tools--promises to give industry standard Norton Internet Security 2003 (NIS) a run for its money. McAfee has armed itself with top-notch tools such as McAfee Firewall 4.0, plus McAfee's top-quality McAfee VirusScan 7.0 antivirus app. MIS 5.0 matches Norton on almost every PC security count. Unfortunately, it's still harder to use than NIS, so if you're new to security software, stick with Norton for now. Also, there is no competitive upgrade pricing for McAfee Internet Security, however, previous users of MIS or NIS can send in their receipt and proof of ownership for both the old or new apps to receive a $20 rebate. Frankly, we'd prefer the cash up front.

Installation
MIS 5.0 comes equipped with a wizard that walks you through the initial setup of security and privacy options, so MIS 5.0 takes even less time to get up and running than last year's version--we had it installed and protecting our PC in about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, you must turn on the firewall yourself by using the configuration options.

Like last year's version, MIS 5.0's interface looks much like Windows Explorer in Windows XP, with tasks groups--links to McAfee's various features--at the left of the window and status indicators that take up the bulk of the room at the right. Even so, MIS 5.0 is still somewhat confusing. For example, McAfee's technique of rescanning the drive to detect new Internet-able applications requires clicking down a level, and McAfee claims it uses a wizard to walk you through the process of telling it which of your apps--say, your browser and e-mail client--get to access the Internet freely. However, this so-called wizard is actually just a series of dialog boxes.

Features
MIS 5.0, like most Internet security suites provides all-around protection by including an excellent software firewall, McAfee Firewall 4.0, and a top-notch virus hunter/killer, VirusScan 7.0. Together, these two apps protect against most types of security breaches, including hack attacks and destructive Internet-borne viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.

So, in other words, the only reason to pick McAfee Internet Security is for its extras. And of these security and privacy extras, most are holdovers from last year's MIS, including tools that automatically erase your browser cache after you've surfed and that prevent personal info such as credit card numbers from being discovered on your PC at a later date.

New tools are included with the Security Check feature, which sniffs out ad-serving software, the ability to block pop-up and pop-under windows, and the ability to prevent selected users from accessing certain applications--great for families that want to lock out young kids from online apps such as instant messengers. Unfortunately, many of these tools are buried under several layers of dialog boxes. The user-specific content-blocking feature, for instance, takes four clicks to find.

Performance
McAfee Firewall passed our standard firewall performance tests--from the ShieldsUp Web site--without a problem (see our Labs results for more detail). In CNET Labs' performance tests, VirusScan 7.0 beat Norton AntiVirus 2003 soundly in scanning speed, the amount of time it takes to search your PC for viruses, while each antivirus app minimally affected overall PC performance.

Technical support
Using McAfee's online support documents and FAQs, we couldn't locate anything specific to MIS 5.0 except for instructions on how to uninstall the thing. Yikes. But we came away from a real-time chat session with a tech-support rep (available 24/7) much happier. The representative was knowledgeable and answered our questions quickly. (Note: www.mcafee-at-home.com, not www.mcafee.com, is the site that offers the live technical support.) Phone support isn't free--it's $3 per minute or $39 per call--but the lines are staffed seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. PT.

In years past, we've been underwhelmed by McAfee Internet Security. This time, though, it has caught up to Norton by adding sophisticated features, slicker wizards, and an easier-to-use interface. Norton had better watch out; MIS is coming up in its rearview mirror.

McAfee Internet Security 5.0's interface looks like Windows Explorer's, with tasks on the left.

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