McAfee Antivirus Review
McAfee users have enjoyed seamless, automatic updates to their security suite and antivirus products for years. Normally, the user doesn't notice anything different, especially since the appearance of the product hardly alters with each update. Well, when they find McAfee Antivirus 2013 on their desktops, they may be in for a cheer.
- Antvirus/Antispyware detects, blocks, and removes viruses, spyware, adware, even rootkits.
- McAfee SiteAdvisor helps you know about a website's risks before you click to stop malware threats.
- New and emerging threats are analyzed and blocked in milliseconds.
- Reserve security scans and updates for when you are not using your PC, for less disruptions.
- Rely on real time scanning to automatically protect you against threats to your PC.
- Subsequent full system scan speed is faster so you won't be slowed down.
For one thing, the name is different (previously 'McAfee VirusScan Plus'). More importantly, the user-interface has received a major overhaul to make it more intuitive and user-friendly. Because the appearance is so radically different, the product includes links to instructional videos and online help.
The new interface is brighter and friendlier than the old beige, gray and black interface, and is designed to give the user the exact information he needs in any given situation. The old "green for safe" indicator is still present, but McAfee has taken notice user surveys and focus group feedback, and added "(no action required)" to this indicator.
At the top is a status panel providing quick access to information about updates, subscription, scanning and firewall. That's right - although not a full Internet security suite, this antivirus software offers firewall protection. Also included on the status panel is a set of rotating statistics, including the number of viruses found during the last scan, and the number of PCs on the network protected by McAfee. A full security report can also be invoked.
It takes just a couple of clicks to access all the features, and there are multiple routes to many of them. An on-demand scan, for instance, can be triggered by clicking on the Virus and Spyware Protection strip in the features area, or by clicking on the top panel. You can also launch a full scan from the "Navigation Center", which also gives access to several more obscure features.
Unlike many antivirus products, McAfee's installer downloads the latest product code and virus definitions during the initial installation. This means that the installation can be quite a lengthy process. On the other hand, once it's installed, you have immediate access, without having to subsequently download the updates. Also, the new user interface appears immediately when you call it up, which is a big improvement over earlier versions.
We installed McAfee Antivirus on our malware-infested test systems, but the installation completed successfully on only few of them. On the other systems, installation was blocked, or the installed program was unable to run properly. The good news is, McAfee comes with a set of tools to help in these situations. The bad news is, fixing the problems on all systems required every tool available.
McAfee's Virtual Technician is your first point of call for any installation problem. This tool will check for problems with McAfee, or, if McAfee is not yet installed, for any malware which might interfere with the installation. We found that Virtual Technician solved the installation problem on one of the problematic systems.
Stinger is a McAfee tool which can see off some common threats without needing a lengthy installation process. We found that Stinger resolved issues on several of their problematic systems. After running it, McAfee was successfully installed on two more systems, but it wasn't able to run on one of those systems. McAfee's online FreeScan and pre-scan preparation tool cleared up a few more problems, but we were still left with two problematic machines. On one, McAfee would simply not install, on the other, it installed but did not work.
The first-level agent manning McAfee's chat-based support was unable to resolve the issues on these two computers, so the issue was escalated to McAfee's virus removal service. McAfee's virus removal experts remotely connected to the two computers, and, after a few hours, they eventually managed to install the antivirus software.
If you're trying to install antivirus software on a system you know is already infested with malware, McAfee may not be the best choice for the initial cleanup. However, using all the available tools, and the excellent support, we finally managed to install McAfee on all our test computers.
The big independent test labs use many computers and have lots of employees working to test the effectiveness of antivirus software. In their latest tests, McAfee performed well, but did not take top place.
AV Comparatives tested the efficacy of 16 security products. More than half the products, including Norton Antivirus, Kaspersky Antivirus and McAfee, scored the top rating of ADVANCED+, though McAfee did so with the lowest test score.
AV-Test.org recently spent 60 days running a real-world parallel test of 12 security products. Each product was confronted with the same malware threats to see how they would cope. Norton Internet Security 2010, PC Tools Internet Security 2010 and Kaspersky Internet Security 2010 performed the best. McAfee Antivirus scored somewhere in the middle for both detection and removal of malware.
In AV-Comparatives' latest test for on-demand malware removal, McAfee scored ADVANCED, and it achieved STANDARD, the lowest passing score, in their test of non-signature-based malware detection.
West Coast Labs and ICSA Labs both certified McAfee's software for detection and removal of viruses, with several other checkmark certifications awarded by West Coast Labs. Virus Bulletin also awarded McAfee their VB 100% award in nine out of ten of their last windows-based tests.
To detect malware, McAfee connects online to McAfee servers. This system is known as 'Active Protection' and it has to be fast, because it receives a massive number of queries every day. On our standard clean system, a full scan took 40 minutes. But McAfee's 'smart scan' technology reduces subsequent scans to around 10 minutes. McAfee will also clean up your system even if you never launch a manual scan, because it runs an automatic weekly scan.
As noted before, getting McAfee Antivirus installed on all of our test systems was somewhat problematic. One of the systems continued to have a problem. McAfee detected a Trojan and requested a reboot to complete removal, and the same thing happened over and over again, until the we ignored the prompt and let the scan run to completion. This would be a problem for a normal user, as they would have no way of knowing if McAfee removed the Trojan or not.
Viruses, Trojans, and other serious threats are removed as soon as the scanner detects them. If a less serious threat, what McAfee terms "potentially unwanted programs", is found, the user is asked what to do at the end of the scan. We always opted for "Quarantine all". During scanning, a reboot was occasionally requested to finish cleanup.
We awarded McAfee 7.0 points in their malware removal test. Microsoft Security Essentials 1.0 achieved the same. Norton Antivirus achieved 7.5, and PC Tools came top with 8.3 points.
McAfee scored 4.7 points in our separate test of commercial keylogger removal. Double Anti-Spy Professional 1.4 gained 7.4 points and Norton came top with 7.5. However, malware removal is much more important than commercial keylogger removal.
In the rootkit removal test, McAfee was awarded 6.0 points. All the samples were detected, but some were left actively running. PC Tools earned 7.7. points, and Norton Antivirus scored highest with 7.9 points. For removing scareware (rogue security software), McAfee came in just below average with 5.8 points. Ad-Aware Pro 8.1 was the best in this test, scoring 8.8 points.
On the whole, McAfee did well at malware removal, though other products performed better here.
SiteAdvisor is integral to McAfee's protection for clean systems. It warns you if the site you are visiting has been marked as dangerous. This is not SiteAdvisor Plus, just the free SiteAdvisor anyone can download, so it can't actually block access to bad sites, it can only warn you. It's important to pay attention to its messages.
When we tried to download malware samples again, SiteAdvisor issued warnings about more than half the sites. We found the new SiteAdvisor much more effective than last year's version, because it now interacts with Active Protection online. As soon as Active Protection detects a threat, SiteAdvisor is immediately updated (previously, it depended on the service's spiders re-examining suspicious domains before it was updated). The new version can also issue warnings related to specific URLs, not just whole domains.
Every download is examined and the moment McAfee identifies a threat, a big warning flashes up. We found every malware download was identified as malicious. The warnings sometimes appeared as soon as the download began, sometimes at the end of the download, but the warnings always appeared (with the exception of a couple of commercial keyloggers).
We proceeded to see how McAfee would handle a folder containing previously downloaded malware samples. McAfee's real-time scan was triggered by a single click on one of the samples. 90 percent of the samples were flagged and deleted (McAfee asked permission to remove those identified as "potentially unwanted programs").Of the remaining samples, none installed correctly, although a couple of them managed to leave executable on the system. A second test with hand-modified copies of the samples produced exactly the same outcome.
During these tests, one anomaly occurred. McAfee opened a dialog box several times stating that it was unable to remove "this program", suggesting the user to use Add/Remove Programs, which made no sense because the samples were all static files, not installed and running applications. Nor was the program identified.
In previous versions, McAfee included a feature called SystemGuards. The role of SystemGuards was to ask the user whether or not to allow changes to the system requested by any program. With Active Protection and other security layers in the current version, McAfee no longer deems this necessary, and has done away with the annoying SystemGuards.
McAfee scored extremely well in our malware blocking test, achieving 9.5 out of 10 points. However, it wasn't the highest scorer here - Norton Antivirus came second with 9.6, and PC Tools and Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.0 both received 9.7 points.
For its commercial keylogger blocking abilities, McAfee scored above average with 7.4 points - Panda Cloud Antivirus and Double Anti-Spy both receiving 9.0 points. (The keylogger score is nowhere near as important as the overall malware score.)
When it came to blocking scareware, McAfee, along with eight other products, blocked every single example, achieving a perfect score - 10.0 points. In the rootkit test, McAfee came in above average with 7.9 points (Panda Cloud Antivirus receiving 10.0 points).
Overall, we found that McAfee Antivirus Plus performed much better at protecting clean systems than cleaning up systems that were already infected with malware, especially considering the problems their reviewer encountered installing McAfee on some of the test systems. The overall verdict was that, if you can get your system cleaned up, or have a new clean system, McAfee will maintain it that way.
There are a number of online resources you can access directly from the McAfee interface, including their anti-hacker community, interactive virus map and virus information library.
A fully functional firewall is included. There is also a "shredder" to safely dispose of any sensitive files. The McAfee QuickClean system tune-up utility is included, and there is a network map feature to identify other McAfee-protected computers on the network - any security issues can be fixed remotely using this tool.
These bonus features, especially the firewall, would normally be found in a security suite, not a standalone antivirus product, so they add significantly to the value.
If you have McAfee VirusScan Plus already on your system, an upgrade to McAfee Antivirus 2013 will give you a streamlined, attractive user interface, and better malware protection than before. If your system is already infected with malware, installing McAfee could be a challenge, although there are many tools and resources in the product to help overcome any problems encountered. All in all, McAfee is an extremely good antivirus product with some very useful bonus features.