Security For Everyone - Reviewing McAfee Total Security 2015
The last time we tested McAfee's security products we were quite disappointed. However, a new version is now available, so things might have changed in the meantime. We thoroughly tested McAfee Total Security 2015 for a week and we're ready to share our conclusions with you. Read this review to learn about "the good, the bad & the ugly" of using McAfee security products on your Windows computer.
The first step you'll have to take in order to use McAfee Total Security 2015 is to download it. Unfortunately, the download is a very painful process. McAfee first asks you to create an account on their website. Then, after you agree with their usage terms, you can download an executable file of about 4.9MB. Running this file will trigger the download of a downloader. This downloader, which has 2.81MB in size, will finally download and install the actual security suite. This process is way too convoluted if you ask us. At this step, McAfee lets you choose whether you want to make a complete install or a custom one. We chose to make a complete one, in order to be able to test everything the suite has to offer. On our test computer, installing all the protection features meant that we had to download 147.65MB of data, thus growing the total size of downloaded files to 155.36MB.
When all is done, the suite loads and starts protecting your computer. We've noticed that a reboot wasn't required in order for McAfee Total Security 2015 to start its protection services. A positive was the fact that an automatic update was scheduled to run automatically. However, it was scheduled to run four hours later, after the installation. That is a big waiting time if you ask us and the update should be performed within minutes of installing the suite. Also, even if we manually rebooted our test computer, the suite didn't change its update behavior. We strongly recommend that users run a manual update as soon as possible, so that the protection you get is as up to date as possible. While the suite downloaded its updates without any problems, it does ask users to confirm that they are OK with the suite shutting down its user interface window, during the update process. In our view, this is not a great user experience.
The large number of steps involved, the redundancy of the download and install process and the annoying user experience we had when installing this product, made us skeptical about using McAfee Total Security 2015.
Integration With Windows 8.1 & Modern Apps
McAfee Total Security 2015 is well integrated with Windows 8.1 and everything that's related to its security and networking features. While the suite installs itself, it disables both Windows Firewall and Windows Defender, so that performance issues or any possible conflicts are eliminated. While having McAfee Total Security 2015 installed and running on our test computer, we were able to run common networking tasks like accessing the local network, joining the homegroup, sharing files and folders, streaming media or playing online games, without any problems. We also didn't have problems when installing, running or updating modern Windows 8.1 apps from the Windows Store. When it comes to the integration with the most popular web browsers, McAfee Total Security 2015 chooses to offer an extension called SiteAdvisor. It's available for Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. However, there is no support for Opera and the suite does not do any automatic scanning of your HTTP traffic. This is a problem for Opera users because they are left unprotected.
We've also measured the amount of RAM required by McAfee Total Security 2015 to run in normal conditions. We've seen it use anywhere between 120 MB and 180 MB of RAM. At times, it even used 270MB of RAM without doing anything out of the ordinary like disinfecting or scanning the system.
McAfee Total Security 2015 does a good job when it comes to protecting its services. They are well guarded and the only service that we could easily kill was the SiteAdvisor. The suite added almost 4 seconds to the boot times of our system, which is a large increase. However, in terms of general computer performance, we didn't notice any slowdowns. This was also confirmed by the benchmarks we've run using PCMark 8. The average performance scores remained the same after installing McAfee Total Security 2015.
McAfee Total Security 2015 is well integrated with Windows 8.1 and its networking and security features. However, the amount of memory consumed is rather large and the boot times increase quite a lot. Except these issues, the overall impact on your computer's performance is rather negligible.
Ease Of Use & Configuration
McAfee's main user interface seems OK at first sight. It's organized in several large sections which you can use to quickly access the main protection modules like the antivirus, the firewall or the updates.
Opening any protection module will give you access to its main configuration options. However, if you want to see all the sub-modules, settings, and features a protection module has to offer, you will have to use the Navigation link on the right side of the window. This way of managing navigating advanced settings is odd and feels unnatural.
Also, the Back button is annoying. While it may seem normal that pressing this button will take you to the previous screen, in McAfee Total Security 2015 it doesn't work like that. Instead, Back will always take you to the main screen of the suite. It's more of a Home button with the wrong name. The suite's main user interface cannot be resized or maximized. You will have to scroll pretty often in order to get to a setting or a certain feature.
A positive aspect, from a usability perspective, is the fact that you can set all kinds of advanced behaviors when it comes to antivirus scanning options, all kinds of rules for exclusions, firewall settings, etc. A weak point we've found is that, even if you can schedule scans, you cannot set what will be scanned and you have no idea whether you are scheduling a quick scan or a full system scan. That's another bad user experience.
Help and documentation are available directly from the main user interface. However, it's available only when you're online and the content is loaded really slowly. Other support options include online support, chat and phone support. However, in order to get access to these features, you'll have to use a browser and go to McAfee's website.
McAfee Total Security 2015 does offers logs and some details of what happens on your computer. However, we couldn't find any detailed logs of everything that this suite does. Advanced users will not enjoy this.
The suite is rather silent when it comes to the number of alerts shown and the number of times you need to make a decision. If McAfee Total Security 2015 detects any malware on your computer, it usually informs you and makes a decision on how to handle it by itself. If a network attack occurs, you won't know anything, as the suite remains silent.
McAfee Total Security 2015 doesn't offer a good user interface that's easy to navigate. It uses old paradigms and it hasn't really evolved in recent years. This "new" version looks the same as the last couple of versions, which is disappointing.
The last version of McAfee that we tested didn't monitor the network profile assigned by users in Windows. We were happy to see that things have changed since then. McAfee Total Security 2015 automatically sets its firewall protection profile based on how you set the network location in Windows. This means that if you use Windows to set your network connection as private or public, McAfee will do the same and apply the appropriate protection settings.
In order to see how well you are protected by McAfee's firewall, we've put it to the test against several network scans made with Nessus and Nmap. When the network was set as private, Nessus found 5 open ports and when it was set as public, only 2. It also managed to identify the MAC address and the operating system that we used. It also discovered that our test computer was vulnerable to "man-in-the-middle" attacks. Nmap scans discovered 2 open ports when running on a public network profile and 10 open ports when using a private one. It also managed to find the MAC address but failed to correctly identify the operating system used in both network profile scenarios. These are average results which can be easily beaten by other firewall products, including free ones.
The protection offered by McAfee's firewall is not the best you can get from a security suite. It's decent, but the fact that you are vulnerable to "man-in-the-middle" attacks and that an attacker can easily identify your operating system, makes your computer more vulnerable than it should be when using a commercial security product.
Antivirus & Antispyware Protection
The first thing we've tested about the malware protection offered by McAfee Total Security 2015 was its behavior when browsing malicious websites. We visited the same malicious pages on all the major web browsers: Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. First of all, we must remind you that McAfee doesn't scan your HTTP traffic and it relies on its SiteAdvisor browser extension in order to protect you when browsing the web. Because this extension is available only for Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox, it means you won't be protected if you're using other browsers like Opera. However, we found that the SiteAdvisor works pretty well. When we tried to load malicious websites or download suspicious files, they were promptly blocked.
The next thing that we tested is how McAfee Total Security 2015 handles removable drives like USB memory sticks, CD/DVDs or portable HDDs that have malicious files on them. McAfee chooses to inform the user about the new hardware that was detected and asks if you want to perform a scan. That is a good approach from our point of view. We used a USB memory stick filled with lots of malware samples and let McAfee Total Security 2015 scan it. The result was that it managed to remove every piece of malware that we placed on it.
The next test was to install McAfee Total Security 2015 on a Windows computer that was already infected with lots of malware samples (about 20). While McAfee managed to install itself, it wasn't able to disinfect the system. The suite was not able to start its real time scanning and firewall services. We couldn't perform any manual scans of the system and McAfee Total Security 2015 ended up not being useful at all. It simply couldn't cope with the malware that was found on our test computer.
Next, we've wanted to test the antivirus module from a performance perspective. That's why we ran a couple of system scans on our test computer. We asked it to scan the partition where Windows was installed. It had 38 GB in size, with a total of 32.2GB files on it. The first time we've run the scan, it took a huge 35 minutes and the scan just hung at 99%. We waited another 10 minutes and nothing happened.
This behavior made us ask ourselves if something is wrong with the antivirus module. So, we did a Google search. Boy, we were in a big surprise. It seems this problem is known by McAfee. To cite them "While uncommon, this is expected behavior". Really? In order to be able to correct this bug, you have to follow a series of steps that they document here: VirusScan stops scanning at 98% or 99% complete. Wow! We couldn't believe how bad this product is. After correcting this bug, we went on, ran three scans and measured how long they took. The first scan took 25 minutes to complete, while the second and third ended in only 5 minutes.
Lastly, we've looked at how other independent security organizations rank McAfee Total Security 2015:
- AV-Test awarded McAfee Total Security 2015 with a score of 5.5 out of 6 for protection, a 5 out of 6 for performance and 6 out of 6 for the usability it offers. Looking at our experience with this product, we really don't agree with them.
- AV-Comparatives didn't yet test McAfee Total Security 2015. However, McAfee's 2014 version was awarded an average rating of Advanced. That's more realistic if you ask us.
- Virus Bulletin didn't include McAfee security products in their recent tests. That is a bad sign. It means that McAfee refused to participate in their tests. Looking at the bad experience we had, we understand why this has happened.
McAfee Total Security 2015 has a few ups and many downs when it comes to the malware protection offered. It does a good job at detecting and removing threats from your computer and it can also protect you when surfing the web, but only if you are using a web browser that's compatible with their SiteAdvisor extension. However, this suite cannot help you disinfect computers that are infected prior to installing the suite. Also, it has a very annoying bug that doesn't allow users to finish a simple system scan.
McAfee Total Security 2015 includes a few additional features that should enhance its price per value ratio:
- Data Protection consists of 2 tools called File Lock and Shredder. File Lock is designed to help you lock files you deem important so that only you will be able to access them. Shredder is a tool that lets you permanently delete files that you don't want to be recovered easily or at all.
- PC and Home Network Tools includes: Home Network Defense, QuickClean and Vulnerability Scanner. Home Network Defense shows you a visual of what your network looks like and manage remotely other network computers that run McAfee. QuickClean sweeps your computer of unnecessary system files. Vulnerability Scanner checks for and installs software updates for Windows and other programs installed on your computer.
- Parental Controls lets you set how much time your children are allowed to use the Internet and also what kind of websites they can access. We felt the need to test how good the Internet restrictions are, so we tried to load a few websites that are not suitable for children. McAfee did a good job at blocking them.
McAfee Total Security 2015 doesn't offer many additional features. Some features are duplicates of what Windows offers while others are similar to what other security vendors offer. We appreciated the fact that they work reasonably well and do what you expect them to do.
Default Settings You Might Want To Adjust
There are few settings that you should adjust when using McAfee Total Security 2015:
- Enable the use of Intrusion Detection. By default, this option is disabled, but enabling it will protect you from hackers trying to exploit the weaknesses found in Windows or the programs that you have installed, in order to take control of your computer. You can find this setting in the Firewall module, in the Intrusion Detection section.
- Change the default scheduled scans times. McAfee sets the default to every Saturday at 4 AM. While making a scan every week is a good way of ensuring your computer's security, scheduling it for 4 AM may mean that it never runs, unless you keep your computer on overnight.
Because McAfee Total Security 2015 doesn't offer too many advanced settings, there are very few things to improve in its default configuration.
McAfee Total Security 2015 has disappointed us once again. There are very few things that work well, like the detection and disinfection rate when making regular scans with its antivirus module. You are protected while browsing the web only if you use a supported browser and only if you enable their SiteAdvisor extension. However, things turn grim when you look at how complicated and intrusive the download and install procedure is, the user interface and its poor navigability or annoying bugs like not being able to complete a normal system scan. Combine these problems with the fact that you can't use McAfee Total Security 2015 to disinfect a computer which is infected with malware prior to installing the suite and you will understand why we can't recommend this product to our readers. We think that you should stay away from McAfee Total Security 2015 and choose a better security product.