In fact, the Home screen in this product is a list of all the devices you've protected, along with a button that scours your network to find unprotected devices and bring them into the fold. A panel at the top summarizes the status of your current device, and clicking Manage Security opens the local installation's main window.
The main window looks, for the most part, like that of McAfee's antivirus. Both have four squarish green-edged panels representing Virus and Spyware Protection, Web and Email Protection, McAfee Updates, and Your Subscription. To the right of these, the antivirus displays smaller panels for Data Protection and for PC and Home Network Tools. Those appear in this suite too, along with Parental Controls and the True Key password manager. It should look reassuringly familiar to existing users.
Shared Antivirus Features
As is often the case, this suite's antivirus protection is precisely the same as that of the corresponding standalone antivirus, McAfee AntiVirus Plus. That review goes into greater detail than the summary that follows.
McAfee's scores in independent lab tests are generally mediocre. It received an A-level certification from Simon Edwards Labs, which sounds good until you realize that AA and AAA are even better. Of three tests by AV-Comparatives, it earned one passing grade and two grades a notch above passing. The three-part test by AV-Test Institute maxes out at 18 points; McAfee got 16, and in particular scored only 4.5 of 6 points for protection. Finally, in the banking Trojan test and all-types tests by MRG-Effitas, it simply failed.
My lab test score aggregation algorithm yields 7.9 of 10 possible points for McAfee. Kaspersky took a perfect 10, while Norton and Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 came out at 9.7 and 9.3 respectively.
This year's McAfee products use an entirely new antivirus detection method called Real Protect. Real Protect is focused on behavior, so as to catch even zero-day malware. Like Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus, when it sees an unknown file behaving suspiciously, it starts journaling that file's actions and queries the cloud for advice. If cloud-based analysis red-flags the file, McAfee rolls back all of its actions. The new engine has been rolling out piecemeal over the last few months, so we can't know whether these tests included the new engine. Perhaps McAfee will score better going forward.
In my own hands-on malware-blocking test, McAfee scored 9.2 of 10 possible points. However, among the samples it missed were two well-known ransomware threats. I watched one of them as it busily encrypted documents on the test system, without a peep from McAfee about its behavior. Webroot scored a perfect 10 against this same malware collection.
McAfee also protected against 85 percent of the 100 malware-hosting URLs I threw at it, mostly by diverting the browser from the dangerous URL. The average score among current products is 75 percent, so McAfee is above average here.
I score phishing protection by matching a product's detection rate against that of Symantec Norton Security Premium and of the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Last year, McAfee came very close to matching Norton's score. This year it lagged 44 percentage points behind Norton. Chrome and Internet Explorer beat out McAfee, as well. Don't turn off your browser's phishing protection!
Other Shared Features
There's a lot more to the nominally standalone antivirus; hence "Plus" in the name. For starters, it includes a firewall. In testing, the firewall correctly stealthed all ports and fended off Web-based attacks. Rather than bombard the user with queries about network permissions, it handles program control internally. When I tested its ability to withstand direct attack, I found that I could terminate and disable more than half of its essential Windows services.
The WebAdvisor component identifies dangerous downloads and steers the browser away from malicious or fraudulent sites. In addition, it marks up search results with icons identifying safe, iffy, and dangerous links. This edition adds protection for typosquatting, and it works. When I entered www.paypla.com it asked if perhaps I really wanted PayPal.
Using the My Home Network feature, you can set up a trust relationship between any and all of the PCs on your network that have McAfee installed. It doesn't even have to be the same version of McAfee. Once you've taken that step, you can use one PC to remotely monitor others, and even remotely fix configuration problems.
Mac and mobile support is the same across all of the McAfee product line. Mac support is little more than antivirus, firewall, and WebAdvisor. There's no antivirus under iOS, but you can do things like locate and wipe the device, back up contacts, and capture a photo of someone who found or stole your phone. On Android, you get a full-featured security utility with antivirus, app ratings, anti-theft, call and text filtering, and more. And once again, there's no limit on how many devices you can add.
Other shared bonus features include the QuickClean tune-up tool, a vulnerability scanner, and a secure deletion file shredder. You can also access a number of security-related online resources directly from the program.
See How We Test Security Software
True Key Password Manager
With your McAfee subscription you also get a license for the True Key password manager. Read my review for a full description of this password manager and its unusual collection of authentication options.
True Key's biggest claim to fame is its comprehensive multifactor authentication choices. It does support the expected strong master password, but you have many other options. You can have it send an email each time you log in. Clicking a link in the email allows login to proceed. More conveniently, you can associate a mobile device with True Key, and authenticate by swiping a notification.
Even better, if you're using a device with a camera, you can authenticate using facial recognition, and if a finger print reader is available, you can add that, too. If you worry that James Bond might spoof facial recognition with a photo of you, just enable enhanced facial recognition, which requires turning your head.
Most password managers warn that if you lose your master password, you're hosed; you have to start over. That's actually good, as it means that the company can't access your data even if subpoenaed. True Key retains that same zero-knowledge benefit, but doesn't leave you in the lurch if you forget the password. As long as you've enabled Advanced authentication, which requires a trusted device plus two other factors, you can authenticate using all the other factors and then reset your master password.
True Key is a separate download, but getting it installed is easy. After you run the installer, it adds itself as an extension to Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. At this time, it can import passwords stored insecurely in the browsers. It can also import from LastPass 4.0 Premium and Dashlane 4.
As with most password managers, True Key captures credentials as you log in to secure sites and plays back saved credentials as needed. The first time, it actively walks you through the process. You can also click on tiles for Google, Facebook, PayPal, and so on, entering your credentials directly. Clicking the TrueKey toolbar icon doesn't bring up a menu the way it does with many other products. Rather, it displays the main True Key window, from which you can launch any of your saved sites.
You can save personal details in the Wallet, but True Key doesn't use these to fill web forms. The main reason to do this is that the Wallet items sync across all your devices. The same is true of secure notes.
Here's a rare feature. If your PC has a forward-facing camera, you can configure it to unlock your Windows account using True Key's facial recognition. True Key doesn't have advanced features like secure sharing, automatic password updates, or password inheritance, but it's far ahead of the pack when it comes to multi-factor authentication.
Tepid Parental Controls
One bonus you get by upgrading from McAfee's antivirus to this suite is a parental control system, but it's limited. For each child's Windows account, you can choose content categories for blocking, set a schedule for Internet use, and view a report of activity for each child or all children. That's the extent of it.
The reviewer's guide for this product notes that parental controls may not work properly in a virtual machine. That's unusual. I made a point of testing on a physical system to give it a fair shake.
To get started, you set a password, so the kids can't just turn off monitoring. The configuration window lists all Windows user accounts and invites you to configure parental control for each one that belongs to a child. As with previous versions, setting up parental control for a child's account that has Administrator privileges triggers a big warning. And yet, many parents do give older children Administrator accounts, so as to avoid constantly having to jump and supply an admin password any time the child wants to install a new game. Most other parental control systems don't have this limitation.
To configure the content filter, you first choose one of five age ranges. Doing so pre-configures which of the 20 content categories should be blocked. Rather than the usual list with checkboxes, McAfee displays a list of blocked categories and another list of allowed categories, with arrow buttons to move items back and forth between the lists.
I couldn't disable the content filter with the three-word network command that neutered parental control in Total Defense Unlimited Internet Security and Alvosecure Parental Control . However, I found quite a few truly raunchy sites that the content filter didn't block.
McAfee replaces naughty content in the browser with a warning message that explains why the page was blocked. For HTTPS sites, or in unsupported browsers, it displays that warning as a popup, leaving the browser to show an error message. The kids won't get past it by using a secure anonymizing proxy. Note, though, that Check Point ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 2017 goes even further, with the ability to filter content even over an HTTPS connection.
In addition to categories, McAfee offers to block sites with "inappropriate images or language" from appearing in child's search results. A similar feature in Trend Micro Internet Security covered up many such images. However, I couldn't find a single instance where McAfee did anything to block erotic images in search.
The time scheduler is as awkward as ever. It does let you create a weekly grid-style schedule of Internet access, in half-hour increments. Most parental control systems that use a scheduling grid let you block out rectangles on the schedule by dragging. For example, with one drag you could block from midnight to 6am every day of the week. McAfee's system forces you to drag on just one day at a time. The grid is so tall that you can only select about seven hours at a time, and it doesn't auto-scroll when you hit the edge. This feature could be so much easier to use! On the bright side, time-scheduling doesn't rely on the system clock, so the kids can't fool it.
The simple parental report lists all domains blocked, along with their categories. It also logs all attempts to use the Internet when the schedule doesn't allow it.
And there you have it. That's the totality of parental control in this suite. It's limited, awkward, and not entirely effective. If you actually need a suite that includes high-end parental control, look to ZoneAlarm, Kaspersky Internet Security, or Norton.
Broad-Spectrum Spam Filter
With so many users getting spam filtered by the email provider, the value of local spam filtering is on the decline. But if you're one of that diminishing group whose email provider doesn't offer spam filtering, a local filter can be essential.
McAfee's spam filter integrates with Outlook, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail. In these email clients, it adds a handy toolbar and automatically tosses spam messages in their own folder. You can still use it if you're a fan of Eudora or The Bat!, but you'll have to define a message rule to sift out the spam.
McAfee filters spam from POP3 and Exchange email accounts. It doesn't handle IMAP accounts in your email client the way ZoneAlarm does. However, in an unusual twist, it has the ability to filter webmail accounts directly. Webmail filtering was a pretty amazing feature when first introduced years ago, but these days it's hard to find a webmail provider that doesn't implement its own spam filtering. You can view messages filtered out by this feature right in the application and, if necessary, rescue any valid mail that was misfiled.
There are quite a few options for configuring the spam filter. To start, there are five levels of protection, from Minimal, which allows more spam but doesn't throw away valid mail, to Restricted, which blocks all messages unless the sender is on your Friends list. I'd advise leaving it set to the default Balanced level.
You can define custom spam filtering rules, but I can't imagine why any user would take the time to do this. The Friends list identifies addresses or domains that should always reach the Inbox. You can manually edit this list, add friends from the email client toolbar, or add all your contacts to the Friends list. There's also an option to automatically block messages written using character sets for languages you don't speak.
Just to see how it works, I set up filtering for the Yahoo mail account I use in testing. When I filled in the address, McAfee automatically selected the correct mail server and port. However, after I entered my password and tried to add the account, McAfee reported that it was the wrong password.
In fact, the password was correct, but Yahoo rejected the login and sent me an email warning about an attempt to connect by a "less-secure app." In order to let McAfee do its job, I had to dig into Yahoo settings and enable access by less-secure apps.
If you do need spam filtering at the local level, McAfee can handle it. Where many products limit protection to POP3 accounts, McAfee can filter Exchange accounts and even pull spam from your webmail.
Minor Performance Hit
During my extensive testing, I didn't get any feeing that McAfee was slowing me down. That's not surprising; these days its uncommon for security suites to exhibit a noticeable performance impact. My hands-on test did reveal some actions that took longer with McAfee installed.
Most of us don't reboot often—perhaps never except when an update requires it. My boot-time test showed just a 3 percent increase in the time from the start of boot until the system was ready for use, so if you do have to reboot, you'll hardly notice McAfee's presence.
Given that the new Real Protect real-time antivirus scans files when they try to execute, not on just any file access, I expected minimal impact in my file move and copy test. This test repeatedly times a script that moves and copies a mammoth collection of various-sized files between drives. I was surprised to see a 44 percent increase in the time required for this test. On the bright side, another test that zips and unzips the same file collection didn't have any measurable impact.
While there's some variation in the results of this test, a couple products come out on top. Webroot and Trend Micro exhibited almost no slowdown in the performance test.
Stuck in the Middle With You
For $20 per year more than McAfee's antivirus, McAfee Internet Security gives you innovative password management along with parental control and antispam features that you may not even need. Everything else—firewall, remote management, support for macOS, iOS, and Android, and more—is present in the antivirus. For another $10 you could upgrade to McAfee's top-of-the-line suite. This suite remains stuck in the middle, with no compelling reason to buy it rather than one of McAfee's other products.
Other than the cross-platform bonus, this suite is comparable to Bitdefender Internet Security 2016 and Kaspersky Internet Security. These two suites earn fantastic scores from the independent testing labs, their components are capable across the board, and they offer a comparable smorgasbord of bonus features. They're our Editors' Choice winners for entry-level security suite.
Note: These sub-ratings contribute to a product's overall star rating, as do other factors, including ease of use in real-world testing, bonus features, and overall integration of features.