9 security suites: maximum protection, minimum fuss

We look at 9 of the most comprehensive security suites to see how they rate.

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McAfee Internet Security 2010

McAfee software has undergone quite a few enhancements since the company started offering security products in 1987. The latest incarnation, McAfee Internet Security 2010, has a completely new interface, feel and installation process. That's a good thing, since many neophyte users complained about all of those elements in previous versions, leaving only advanced users enamored with the product's capabilities.

Internet protection

McAfee Internet Security 2010 offers a variety of malware scanning options, including on-demand, real-time or according to a schedule. As with most Internet security products, McAfee Internet Security 2010 offers a firewall, parental controls, antispam tools and filters.

The firewall monitors all data that enters or leaves your PC and keeps an eye on your computer's ports, as a firewall should. Basic setup was easy; McAfee uses predefined settings to get your PC secured quickly. On the other hand, manually setting up firewall rules and policies was complicated, definitely more so than with competing products. The process lacks effective help and choices, and it assumes that users have advanced knowledge of how a firewall should work.

In addition, users will want to make sure to set the firewall to standard mode, because the default, out-of-the-box settings don't block all critical ports on the firewall, leaving some open, such as FTP and POP3. McAfee should consider making the firewall's standard mode the default mode -- currently, the product leaves too many things unprotected in its default configuration, probably to suit the needs of gamers and those that have fewer concerns about security when accessing the Web.

On the other hand, you can block all network traffic between your computer and the Internet with a single click. That's a handy way to keep your computer secure when you're not actively using the Internet.

Out of the box, the integrated antispam application works with Outlook and Thunderbird, with no need for additional integration steps. Since the antispam application supports both IMAP and POP3, it is easily configured to work with other e-mail products that are not predefined in the product.

Parental control options are limited and only offer basic protection. I was able to block Web sites, limit time on the Internet and filter keywords, but not much more. The keyword filter lets you assign an age group to any keyword you choose. If a site has the keyword, parental controls will block it.

McAfee's SiteAdvisor component installs into your browser and warns you about dangerous sites. SiteAdvisor uses McAfee's Global Threat Intelligence network to identify phishing or hacked sites and warns the user before any damage can occur.


Installation was easy and the configuration wizard did a decent job of stepping me through the options. However, many of the help screens, notifications and warnings were somewhat cryptic and felt like they had been thrown together quickly -- or translated from another language.

McAfee has put a great deal of work into improving the user experience, and those efforts do show in the product's new interface. The GUI is divvied up into logical sections; with only a quick glance, I could tell the status of the system thanks to the color-coded status screens and bold messages that said either "No Action Required" or, if there was a problem, "Action Required."

Each primary menu choice launches a submenu that features options that allow you to configure the product. You choose each option simply by clicking on a dialog box, which offers a green circle when enabled. However, if you are looking to set up a custom rule or setting, figuring out how to do that is a challenge -- after something of a hunt, I found that I had to drill down through several menu levels to locate the custom settings.

Performance-wise, the product was fairly effective -- most of the scans on the test system only increased CPU utilization a few percentage points. However, utilization spiked to almost a 100% when doing a manual scan of compressed files.

Overall, most users should not experience any slowdowns that affect day-to-day activities, with the exception of the system boot which, as was the case with most of the other suites in this roundup, increased after the product was installed.

Those looking for help with McAfee's software will be disappointed that the company charges for technical phone support, with prices ranging from $9.95 to $59.95. The company does offer online support, user groups and the usual bevy of free support options, but if you want a human being on the phone, you have to pay.

Coming soon

Like most vendors of Internet security software, McAfee frequently upgrades its products. However, the company has not released any information on what's in store for McAfee Internet Security 2011.


McAfee Internet Security 2010 covers the basics well, offers an interface that's easy to use and comes at an affordable price. However, the lack of free technical support and the inability to easily set up custom rules and policies makes McAfee Internet Security 2010 a product to avoid for most power users.

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