McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 review

Price when reviewed

The 2006 edition of McAfee’s security suite is notable for what it leaves out as much as what it puts in – a fact emphasised by the precious few headline changes from last year’s model. Daily automated anti-virus definition updates are certainly a welcome change, as is the new ‘gaming mode’ – this only stops the firewall from popping up unwanted dialogs during that oh-so-vital fragging session, but if you need it you’ll appreciate it. We like the inclusion of a new anti-phishing plug-in to block ID theft sites more, though, as well as the overall reduction in the hit on system resources while still managing to improve scanning times.

Left out is a copy of the new AntiSpyware 2006 product, which is a shame, as it’s spyware detection that really differentiates security suites now. Last year, spyware was becoming a big problem, now it’s the big problem; consequently, security vendors have invested a lot of time and money into getting this component right. Yes, McAfee VirusScan 2006 is included and does detect and remove spyware, or Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP) as McAfee refers to it.

You can scan separately for viruses or a combination of viruses and PUPs and, although painfully slow, it performed only reasonably well in our tests by detecting 66 per cent, removing 71 per cent and blocking 55 per cent. However, none of these ratings are enough to pass the high standards we set for our spyware tests.

Unlike the standalone AntiSpyware product, this integrated version doesn’t have the ability to monitor changes to your system that are indicative of spyware/malware. So changes to browser settings, system files, search page, homepage hijacking and so on will go unnoticed. To get this level of protection will cost another £30 if you stick with McAfee. In such a value-aware market as this, we can’t help but think that McAfee has misjudged this issue.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case with VirusScan 2006, which is as impressive as ever, relatively slow in scanning but 100 per cent dependable. The ScriptStopper and WormStopper functions have now been copied by the competition, but McAfee pioneered these techniques and their application is faultless here. Needless to say, it sailed though our anti-virus testing.

The same can be said of the Privacy Service, which bundles the same functionality as the ZoneAlarm ID lock, privacy and parental control functions within one integrated module. This keeps private data within an encrypted database and prevents unauthorised leakage via email, IM or the Web. It also handles pop-ups, advert blocking and web-bug detection, and there’s an anti-phishing toolbar, although only Outlook, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer users can play with it.

McAfee outshines ZoneAlarm considerably when it comes to parental-control features, allowing a fine level of control over the censorship configuration, applied on a per-user basis. Web content can be filtered using an age-related automatic option, logging of activity, and even time-limited usage restraints.

The firewall remains fire-and-forget thanks to the excellent internal database of known ‘good’ applications – more than 4,000 of them. For applications and processes not recognised by McAfee, prompts are simple and informative. Playing hunt the hacker using the track-and-trace function is useful, the world map plotting attack locations pure eye candy.

The SpamKiller component started badly, significantly slowing mail download speeds in Outlook; admittedly, though, our payload was larger than most users see in a single hit unless they’ve been away for a week. Spam detection has improved since last year, up from 82 to 88 per cent, but unfortunately just fell short of the 90 per cent benchmark required to pass our toughest test regime to date.

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