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Several samples got past all layers of McAfee protection, including the dedicated Ransom Guard. We considered dropping the product’s score and removing its Editors’ Choice designation. However, McAfee earned that title, not by its amazing test scores, but rather by its comprehensive protection. You’d be hard-pressed to find another antivirus with unlimited cross-platform licenses, and its Windows edition beats out many security suites with its wealth of features. McAfee remains in the winners’ circle, at least for now.
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Several samples got past all layers of McAfee protection, including the dedicated Ransom Guard. We considered dropping the product’s score and removing its Editors’ Choice designation. However, McAfee earned that title, not by its amazing test scores, but rather by its comprehensive protection. You’d be hard-pressed to find another antivirus with unlimited cross-platform licenses, and its Windows edition beats out many security suites with its wealth of features.
McAfee remains in the winners’ circle, at least for now. That’s rare. Most competing companies offer one-, three-, five-, or license subscriptions.
For example, nearly the same subscription price gets you 10 Sophos licenses, three Kaspersky Anti-Virus licenses, and just one Norton license. Price-wise, McAfee has the competition beat. You may see descriptions on the McAfee website or on product boxes that mention 10 licenses.
Don’t worry; you really do get unlimited licenses. My McAfee contacts tell me that when lining up against other products in a store, “unlimited” confuses potential customers, so they display the number 10 instead. I should point out that with a free antivirus you effectively have an unlimited license. Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is an especially interesting example because, like McAfee, it offers cross-platform support. On Windows, it includes a subset of the bonus features found in the full-blown Kaspersky Security Cloud.
Getting Started To install McAfee on a Windows computer, you first go online and activate your license key. In the unlikely event that they can’t clear out the malware, the company refunds your purchase price. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Plus offers a similar promise.
With that housekeeping out of the way, it’s time to download and install the product. The installer took a while but didn’t require handholding from me. Once installation is complete, the product shows off what it can do.
It offers to run a scan, check for outdated applications, remove tracking cookies, and more. McAfee’s main window features a security status indicator at left, with a list of your protected devices below. A menu across the top breaks down product features into five main pages: Buttons at the bottom of the Home screen let you quickly launch a scan, remove cookies, boost application speed, and check for missing app patches. Note that the macOS edition looks extremely similar.
The main differences are due to the reduced feature set on the Mac. Lab Results Up and Down Over the past few years, McAfee’s scores from the independent testing labs have had some ups and downs. The current batch of results is good, but they were better at the time of my previous review. The researchers at AV-Test Institute rate antivirus products on how well they protect against malware, how light a touch they have on performance, and how little they interfere with usability by wrongly flagging valid programs and websites as malicious.
An antivirus can earn six points each for Protection, Performance, and Usability, for a maximum of 18 points. McAfee did just that last year. In the very latest results, it still has six points for Performance and Usability, but its Protection score dropped to five. Expert testers at SE Labs use a capture and replay system to hit multiple antivirus tools with identical web-based attacks.
Products that pass a test earn Standard certification. MRG-Effitas takes a different approach to scoring tests. Products either achieve near-perfect results or they fail. One of this lab’s regular tests challenges products with a full range of malware, while the other focuses on banking Trojans.
These tests are tough. In all of , McAfee had just one success, and the same happened in Scores in were much better, with Level 1 or Level 2 certification in each full-range test. Alas, in the latest runs of both tests, McAfee failed. Just under half of the products tested failed the banking test, while three-quarters passed the full-range test. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus , Kaspersky, and Norton were among those that succeeded at both. I’ve devised an algorithm that maps all the lab scores to a point scale and yields an aggregate score.
Last year, McAfee scored 9. Tested by all four this year, it’s down to 8. My contacts at the company say they’re working hard to raise those scores and keep them up, and indeed, the product has received quite a few awards.
Kaspersky and Bitdefender routinely achieve perfect or near-perfect scores. Both currently have an aggregate score of 9. Avira is next, with 9. Decent Malware Protection In addition to checking results from the independent testing labs around the world, I put every antivirus product through my own hands-on malware protection testing. I start by opening a folder containing a collection of malware samples that I have manually analyzed, so I know just what they do.
For many antivirus products, the minimal access that occurs when Windows Explorer checks the file’s name, size, and so on is enough to trigger an on-access scan. McAfee doesn’t scan until the sample launches, so I tried launching them in batches of three or four. I ran McAfee, along with our other Editors’ Choice antivirus tools, through testing immediately after putting my newest malware collection into use several months ago. It caught 85 percent of the samples immediately on launch.
In most cases I saw a Windows error message flash past, followed by a notification that McAfee quarantined a threat. In a couple cases, it removed the virus from an infected file while leaving the now-clean file intact.
That left 15 percent of the samples that got past their initial launch. McAfee detected and fully eliminated some of those during the install process, but completely missed others. Most unfortunately, several of those it missed were real-world ransomware attacks.
Overall, it detected 91 percent of the samples and scored 9. Surprisingly, the top-scoring product against this malware collection is Windows Defender, with 98 percent detection and 9. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus detected percent of the samples, but scored 9. Norton has the top score among products tested with my previous malware collection.
Like Webroot, it scored 9. As I mentioned, McAfee’s testing happened a few months ago. Just to see what would happen, I re-tested McAfee against the files that didn’t get eliminated on launch. The good news is that it detected some of the ransomware that it missed before.
That only makes sense, given that it “saw” the samples several months ago. The bad news is that one of them still got past all its layers of protection, encrypting documents and wreaking havoc on my virtual machine test system. Whether the file is new or old shouldn’t matter to a behavior-based ransomware detection system, of course.
Malware Protection Results Chart It takes me a long time to analyze a new set of samples, so I don’t change to a new set often. For a view on how antivirus products handle the very newest malware, I use a feed of the latest discoveries from MRG-Effitas , a list of malware-hosting URLs discovered in the last few days. I use a small program that launches each and lets me easily note whether the antivirus blocked access to the URL, eliminated the malware download, or did nothing. McAfee’s WebAdvisor component blocked 43 percent of the URLs, displaying for most a big red warning calling the page very risky.
In a few cases, a yellow notification called the page slightly risky. For another 57 percent of the sample URLs, McAfee quarantined the download, announcing “Woah, that download is dangerous.
That comes to percent; McAfee wins this test. Trend Micro is close behind, with 99 percent in its latest test, while Sophos and Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center come next, each with 97 percent.
When you have effective real-time protection, scanning the whole computer becomes less important, but you really should do it once, immediately after install.
I found that a full scan of my standard clean test system took a very lengthy three hours and 35 minutes. In my latest review of Norton, it took even longer, 4. Some while after that test, my Symantec contacts suggested a problem with my virtual machines, which have a single virtual core. Why that configuration? I rolled the virtual machine back to a snapshot before the timing test, reconfigured it to have a dual-core virtual CPU, and ran a full scan.
Normally I’d run a repeat scan, to check for speedup due to optimization, but I had already invested over six hours on timing tests. In the past my McAfee contacts have indicated they expect optimization to speed up later scans by 25 to 55 percent.
I’ve seen repeat scans gain vastly more speed than that. Fabulous Phishing Protection A malware coder must grok the arcane details of operating systems to slip past protection and steal data, remotely control the computer, install ransomware, and the like.
A phishing fraudster, on the other hand, only has to dupe foolish netizens into logging in on a replica of some secure site. If you fall for these frauds, you’ve handed your credentials to the fraudster. Phishing sites quickly wind up blacklisted, but the perps just shut them down and create new ones. Because they’re ephemeral, I test using the very newest reported phishing sites, scraped from websites that track them.
I make sure to include those that have been reported but haven’t yet gone through analysis. This puts pressure on the antivirus to heuristically examine web pages and detect frauds without relying on an always-outdated blacklist. I launch each URL simultaneously in four browsers, starting with one protected by the product in testing. The other three use protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.
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