McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006

Protecting your PC from the endless barrage of viruses, worms, spyware applications, and phishing schemes is an unfortunate fact of life for anyone surfing the Internet. Though there are countless software applications designed to protect against each threat individually, the best way to cover your PC is to employ a unified suite to guard against the myriad of malware dangers online.

McAfee Internet Security Suite bundles antivirus, spam protection, a firewall, and privacy service into a single, integrated package to offer comprehensive security from a single interface. The various elements are controlled from a unified interface that's accessible via a colour-coded icon in the system tray. The interface provides quick information regarding the status of each component.

The SpamKiller engine works effectively, but it intercepts and checks POP3 mail and slows email downloads to a crawl. It integrates neatly into Outlook and Outlook Express, though, and even works with Exchange servers. There's also support for MSN Hotmail straight from the box - which could prove useful for people checking personal accounts while at work. The antispam component offers a couple of options, and you can set the application to either quarantine or tag messages with a [SPAM] prefix on the subject line. You can later set a filter in your email application to move the tagged messages to a holding folder. A "whitelist" is supported, where you can nominate "Friends" to bypass the spam filter automatically, but there's no corresponding "blacklist" of email addresses or domains to ban.

The firewall component works like many others on the market - by alerting you with popup windows whenever a new application attempts to access the network. It comes with a database of over 4000 trusted applications straight from the box, so the interruptions are kept to a minimum. The firewall is able to monitor both incoming and outgoing data to offer more comprehensive protection than Windows Firewall. A nifty feature of the firewall module is the ability to track attempted intrusions on a map. You can see exactly where an attack is emanating from, and while it's largely irrelevant for most desktop users, it's nonetheless interesting to see who is trying to access your computer.

McAfee's VirusScan has long been an industry mainstay, and the 2006 version is a solid, robust antivirus application. It's able to scan network drives and both incoming and outgoing email. Daily updates are provided, and the engine offers heuristic analysis to prevent what McAfee calls PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) from taking root on your PC. It's a comprehensive scanning app, but it is unfortunately also quite slow. Scanning a 10GB Windows XP system volume took around 40 minutes on a 3GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of RAM, which is fine if you're scheduling scans to run at 2am when you're away from the machine, but can be a little frustrating if you're trying to work at the same time.

Another module in the package is the Privacy Service, which has remained largely unchanged since the release of the 2005 version. It's a secure "wallet" to store personal and sensitive information, such as credit card, tax file, or banking information. Details are stored in an encrypted database, and the Privacy Service is able to prevent data from being sent to other machines. Content filtering is available, as is a "shredder", which erases files securely so they can't be restored or unerased.

All up, the various components perform well and are accessed from a single interface, which greatly simplifies management. While the scanning engine is a little slow, it's bearable, and the ease-of-use offsets any lag.

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