F-Secure Safe (2017)

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With the proliferation of devices and platforms these days, an old-fashioned local security suite just won't do the job. You need something that can protect all your devices, preferably with a central management console. F-Secure Safe is such a service, with support for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. (Windows Phone support is on the way out.) However, its pricing is out of line with better products, and its central management console lacks remote configuration.

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Pricing for this service is unusual, in that it starts at $49.99 per year for a single device. Why install a cross-platform multi-device suite on just one device? For $69.99 you get three licenses, and a 10-license pack lists for $129.99. That's pretty steep, compared with the competition. For $89.99 per year you get 10 Norton licenses, along with 25GB of hosted online storage for backup. The same price lets you install McAfee LiveSafe on every device in your household.

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It's true that Kaspersky Total Security costs even more than F-Secure, running from $89.99 for three devices to $149.99 for 10. But Kaspersky's protection, both Windows and mobile, outshines F-Secure's.

There's one more F-Secure package that deserves a mention. F-Secure Total Security is a bundle consisting of F-Secure Safe and F-Secure Freedome VPN. A three-license subscription to this package costs $89.99 per year. Given that it's simply a bundle of the two products, I don't plan to review it separately.

When you purchase F-Secure Safe, you get a link to the My F-Secure online portal. The link is preloaded with your activation key. Click it, and follow the instructions to create your account.

The next step is to set up your devices. The first thing you see is a display with one person (yourself) and no devices. Click to either install F-Secure protection on the current device or send an installation link for another device.

If you've used earlier versions of F-Secure Safe, you'll find that the portal, previously called Safe Home, has changed quite a bit. A good part of the redesign involves streamlining and simplifying what F-Secure calls "the user journey," along with a shift in focus from protecting the device to protecting the user.

You can add other users in two ways. If you want full control of F-Secure settings on a device, such as one used by a child, just add the device as one of your own. You can also create sub-users, perhaps for a spouse or partner. The sub-user can draw on your licenses to protect one or more devices, with full control over managing just those devices. This is an interesting distinction, one I haven't encountered before.

From the portal, you see all users arranged in a circle, with a list of devices associated with the selected user. Dots beneath icons for other users indicate the number of associated devices. You can change the name of a device, or release the license for a device you no longer use. And you can invoke the Finder for mobile devices. But that's the extent of the remote management you can do with this app. You can't remotely fix configuration problems or launch a scan, the way you can with Bitdefender Total Security Multi-Device 2017 and others.

Installed on a Windows device, F-Secure Safe is precisely equivalent to F-Secure Internet Security. The only difference is the product name in the banner across the top. I won't repeat my entire analysis of that suite here. Please read my review for details of what F-Secure offers on a Windows device.

Briefly, the best part of this suite is the antivirus, which earned good scores in our tests and not-quite-as-good scores in independent lab tests. It relies on Windows Firewall rather than supplying its own firewall, and its very simple spam filter lacks some common features. Parental control hits just the basics, and its antiphishing score isn't the best. In my review, I recommend choosing one of our Editors' Choice products instead.

F-Secure Safe's main window looks almost the same on a Mac as on a Windows device, but there's quite a bit less behind that main window. The Mac product includes antivirus protection, of course. The F-Secure Search and Banking Protection features are present in the Mac edition, as well as Browsing Protection, which rates websites and steers you away from malicious and fraudulent ones.

The Mac product now includes parental control, but it doesn't do everything the PC edition does. On the PC, F-Secure forces Safe Search in popular search portals, and lets parents block use of specific applications. It can also apply a schedule or a daily limit to time spend online or in specific apps. The Mac edition filters Web content to block inappropriate sites, but that's all it does.

You also don't get spam filtering on the Mac, though with the prevalence of Web-based email spam filtering is less important then it used to be. And the Network Checker that evaluates the safety of each new network you connect with is a PC-only feature. Symantec Norton Security Premium, Kaspersky, and a few others offer a full security suite on macOS devices.

Installed on an Android device, F-Secure Safe offers a full complement of mobile security features. Its antivirus scanner checks for both malware and riskware whenever you invoke it. You can enable boot-time scanning, if you wish, and set a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule for scanning.

In addition to checking for malicious apps, F-Secure evaluates the permissions needed by each legitimate app on the device, and offers a report showing apps that have many, some, or few privacy issues. You can drill down to see precisely what permissions each app requests. If the results shock you, just click the Remove button to uninstall the offending app.

As in the Windows edition, parental control on Android consists of content filtering and time limits. The content filter manages the same 14 categories as on the Windows edition. Content filtering only works in the F-Secure Safe Browser, so if you enable parental control, F-Secure blocks the use of other browsers.

If you enable the app-blocking feature, you can prevent the child from using any specific application. In addition, F-Secure blocks all new apps by default until you actively approve them.

Unlike the Windows edition, parental control time limits on Android apply to specific apps. You check off the apps from a list, then choose a daily maximum for use of those apps, from one to 16 hours. You don't have the option to limit screen time overall, nor to set a weekly schedule. And there's no remote management or reporting.

The Finder app can lock or locate your device, or trigger a loud alarm to help you find a device that's merely misplaced. You can optionally make F-Secure a Device Administrator if you want the ability to remotely wipe all data; the app leads you through the process. The remote lock feature relies on the device's own lockscreen technology, so be sure to secure that lockscreen with a strong PIN or password, or with biometric authentication.

This is a decent set of security features, but a number of competing products go farther. Kaspersky, Bitdefender, and Trend Micro Maximum Security can snap a mugshot of an Android thief. Bitdefender's anti-theft component protects both Windows laptops and Android devices. Trend Micro warns when you connect to an unsecured hotspot, and sends a last-gasp location message just before the battery dies.

The status page for an iOS installation of F-Secure Safe is visibly less crowded than for an Android installation. There are seven icons present, but three aren't related to protecting the device. The My F-Secure icon takes you to the online portal, the Subscription icon lets you know how much longer your subscription lasts, and the Statistics page reports on Web activities. You do get browsing protection and banking protection, but only through F-Secure's Safe Browser.

The parental control content filter can block access to websites matching any of 14 categories, but as with most iOS content filters, it only works with F-Secure's own proprietary browser. That means it's ineffective unless parents use the Restrictions feature to block use of other browsers, and prevent the child from changing settings. Previous editions included instructions for parents on how to set up Restrictions, much as Net Nanny (for iPhone) and Norton Family Parental Control (for iPhone) do, but this explanation has been dropped in the current version.

Kaspersky is unusual in that the iOS edition of Kaspersky Safe Kids takes total control of the device, without requiring parents to get their hands dirty. It does so by using an MDM (mobile device management) profile.

Tapping the Location icon displays your current location on a map, with an option to share that location using SMS or email. But since you can already do that with existing mapping apps, it doesn't add much.

As for the Finder, it's a pale shadow of the Android edition's. You can get the device's current location if it's lost. And you can trigger a loud alarm if you've merely misplaced it. That's all. There's no remote lock and certainly no remote wipe.

To be fair, most cross-platform security suites either omit iOS protection or offer a seriously limited set of features. Bitdefender skips iOS protection. In most cases, you'll want to think hard before using one of your licenses to protect an iOS device. McAfee is the exception, of course. With no limit on licenses, there's no need to scrimp.

While F-Secure Safe can protect Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS devices, only its Windows edition is a full security suite, and not all of that suite's components shine. Android support is decent, but Mac devices get a limited set of features. F-Secure is even more limited under iOS.

A cross-platform multi-device suite should provide excellent protection for your Windows boxes and also for your other devices. Symantec Norton Security Deluxe lets you install a full security suite on your Macs, including password management, and its 10-license price is quite a bit less than F-Secure's. McAfee LiveSafe doesn't rate quite as high as Norton in some areas, but your subscription puts no limits on the number of devices you can protect. These two are our Editors' Choice services in this arena.

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