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F-Secure 2020 Antivirus solutions review

Super-simple antivirus for the whole family

F-Secure Anti-Virus
(Image: © F-Secure)

Our Verdict

We like F-Secure Anti-Virus for its speed, simplicity and pricing, but potential issues with its Protected Folders and self-protection features are a concern, and recent below-average results at AV-Comparatives don't help.

For

  • Clear and simple interface
  • Speedy scans
  • Very easy-to-use
  • Reasonable prices

Against

  • No URL blocking
  • Vulnerable to attack from malware
  • Mixed results in recent lab tests
  • Protected Folders feature didn't work for us
Please note

This is our all-in-one roundup reviewing every F-Secure consumer security solution for 2020. On this page, after our brief intro, you’ll find

(a) a full evaluation of the entry-level F-Secure Anti-Virus, along with our reviews of the additional features incorporated with the rest of the range: 

(b) F-Secure SAFE, and

(c) the top-end package F-Secure Total

You can jump to the reviews of those individual products by clicking on the links in the bar at the top of this page, but bear in mind that this article is really designed to be read all the way through, as the features of F-Secure Anti-Virus are also present in the higher-level security suites, of course.

Finnish security vendor F-Secure has an interesting consumer antivirus range built around three main products.

F-Secure Anti-Virus is a no-strings package which provides core antivirus protection for PCs only. It's basic, doesn't even include malicious URL filtering, and there are no significant extras.

We can't argue with the price, though, at $36 to cover a single device for a year, or $40 to protect three. Bitdefender and Kaspersky both charge an initial $30 to cover three devices for a year, but this leaps to $60 on renewal.

F-Secure SAFE is a more capable package which adds URL filtering, extra layers of ransomware and banking protection, simple parental controls and protection for Mac, Android and iOS devices. That's good news, but it's still missing some of the features you might expect from an internet security suite, such as a firewall or a spam filter.

Pricing is fair, with a three device, one-year license costing an initial $35, then $70 on renewal, and more savings available as you add devices and years. It's broadly comparable to other security suites, although might feel more expensive as you may not have quite as many features.

F-Secure Total is essentially F-Secure SAFE with unrestricted access to F-Secure's Freedome VPN, and the company's KEY password manager thrown in. If you'll use the VPN, it's the real value proposition here, with prices starting at just $90 to cover up to three devices for a year, or $110 to cover five.

F-Secure Anti-Virus

Tools Menu

(Image credit: F-Secure)

Trying out F-Secure Anti-Virus takes fractionally more work than usual - hand over your email address, complete a CAPTCHA, submit the web form, wait for an email with a 'confirm your email' link, then wait for another email with a download link - but none of that is even faintly difficult, and we had the app installed within a couple of minutes.

F-Secure made average use of system resources, grabbing around 500MB of storage space, and adding six background processes to our PC. 

We didn't notice any unusual impact on our system performance, though, and this is broadly confirmed by testing. 

AV-Comparatives' October 2019 Performance test placed F-Secure in 10th place out of 16, for instance (1st place having the least performance impact, 16th the most.) Elsewhere, PassMark's Consumer Security Products Performance Benchmarks 2020 Edition 2 uses more performance metrics, and ranked F-Secure 6th out of 15. That's not great, but it's not bad, either, and on balance it seems unlikely that F-Secure Anti-Virus will significantly slow you down.

We're not just interested in the size of an antivirus package; we test how well it protects its installation from attack, too. Malware often tries to disable any security tools it detects, so it's important than a product can defend itself.

Deleting files

(Image credit: F-Secure)

F-Secure passed many of the key tests, protecting its core processes, services and drivers. We were able to delete enough important files to disable the application interface, though, including some notifications. This problem would be very obvious to any user - F-Secure displayed a couple of error messages when our system rebooted, for instance, and we couldn't open its main console - and our protection didn't seem to be compromised, so this wasn't a total disaster.

But it's still a weakness that we rarely see with other apps, and it suggests at least the possibility of more dangerous types of attack (if a file can be deleted, there's a chance it can be replaced.) We reported our findings to F-Secure, and if there is an issue here, we expect the company will fix it quickly.

Scanning

(Image credit: F-Secure)

Antivirus

If you're used to antivirus products trying to win you over with stacks of bonus features, F-Secure Anti-Virus will be a surprise, because it doesn't have any. There's barely anything here beyond antivirus scanning and the related security layers and settings. 

This approach pays off with F-Secure's interface, which is just about as simple and straightforward as you'll ever see. The main console has two buttons: Virus Scan and Settings. Tap the first and F-Secure Anti-Virus runs a very quick scan (under a minute on our test system), deals with any threats automatically and displays its verdict. Tapping the Settings button reveals a very minimal set of configuration options.

Experienced users might be a little frustrated by the lack of features and control. F-Secure doesn't give you a choice of scan types on its main console, for instance, running a quick scan by default. There is a full system scan, if you can track it down (it's tucked away behind the Virus Scan Options button.)

There's no removable drive scan here, no option to create a custom scan type of your own. And while competitors like Avast and Avira have a mass of manual scan tweaks and configuration options, F-Secure has just two simple checkboxes: 'Scan only known file types', and 'Scan inside compressed files.'

Download Blocked

(Image credit: F-Secure)

You can run targeted scans by right-clicking a file, folder or drive and choosing Scan For Viruses. These are speedy, even initially, and get faster in subsequent runs. The app checked 50GB of executables in around 16 minutes at first, for instance, dropping to 141 seconds when we checked again.

F-Secure isn't very smart at handling parallel scans. If a scan is running, and you right-click a removable drive to check it, the app just switches to the active scan window. It doesn't scan the removable drive, or tell you it can't do that, so you're left to yourself to figure out what's going on.

You probably won't want to run simultaneous scans very often, but if you do, this is going to be a hassle, and some vendors handle the situation very differently. For example, Kaspersky allows you to run right-click and main scans at the same time, and uses separate scan windows to display their progress, making them easy to follow.

There is one small but worthwhile extra in F-Secure's ransomware protection feature, which prevents untrusted applications from accessing files in whatever folders you'd like to keep safe. This isn't a particularly new or unusual idea - Windows 10's new 'controlled folder access' feature does much the same thing - but it's still a handy extra layer of ransomware-blocking protection.

Overall, F-Secure handles its core antivirus function very well, being speedy, accurate and user-friendly. 

The lack of URL blocking is a downside, but keep in mind that you're still protected by other layers. When we clicked a link to a malicious file, for example, F-Secure detected it just like it would any local file. Similarly, when we tried to access a page containing a crypto miner script, F-Secure allowed the HTML page to download, but then detected the threat within the file before it was able to launch. Even without URL blocking, you're still very well defended.

Protection

(Image credit: AV Comparatives)

Protection

AV-Comparatives Real-World Protection Test pits 16 top antivirus engines against some of the very latest malware, then explains in detail who's come out on top.

The July-October 2019 summary report wasn't good news for F-Secure, with the company scrambling to a disappointing 13th place, just ahead of Kaspersky.

This was a real surprise, as F-Secure normally does very well in these tests (it was in the top 5 for the earlier 2019 report, and for both 2018 reports.) With Kaspersky also seeing a major downgrade this time - first place in the last report, 14th here - we're going to treat these results cautiously, and see if they're confirmed by the next report.

AV-Test gave more positive results in August 2019, when it rated the F-Secure SAFE 6/6 for protection and certified it as a Top Product. 

SE-Labs Home Anti-Malware Protection report for October-December 2019 wasn't quite as impressed, but still placed F-Secure in the upper mid-range for its Total Accuracy Rating, ahead of names like Avira, Comodo and McAfee.

Event history

(Image credit: F-Secure)

We had no issues with F-Secure Anti-Virus in our own testing. It detected our local malware samples without difficulty, spotted others inside archives and identified and stopped dangerous downloads - everything we could ask.

Anti-ransomware

To complete the review, we attempted to run our own custom ransomware simulator on the F-Secure Anti-Virus system. As the simulator has never been publicly released, F-Secure couldn't have seen it before, in theory making the threat far more difficult to detect.

The good news is that F-Secure Anti-Virus detected and blocked our simulator from its file signature alone. The code hasn't been released, but presumably it recognized some malware-like indicators.

The bad news is this detection wasn't particularly smart, and a tiny change to the executable allowed it to launch successfully. Our simulator was then able to encrypt thousands of user documents without F-Secure Anti-Virus' behavior monitoring raising any red flags.

Anti-Ransomware

(Image credit: F-Secure)

F-Secure Anti-Virus' Protected Folders system enables defining specific folders which the app says are then 'protected from encryption blackmail (like ransomware.)' That would surely protect our test data, right? Nope: our simulator encrypted them all.

These results must be interpreted with care. We know from lab testing that F-Secure blocks most ransomware without difficulty, even the most sophisticated of zero-day threats, so it seems odd that our tiny simulator got through. As it isn't real malware, perhaps F-Secure Anti-Virus believed it was a legitimate application, maybe a genuine encryption tool, and so allowed it to run unrestricted.

Still, while we can't be sure what happened or why, these results make us a little nervous. When an antivirus is faced with an executable file it's never seen before, engaging in very ransomware-like behavior, and encrypting files within a protected folder, we would expect it to at least raise an alert, asking the user if this was okay. The fact that didn't happen has to be a concern.

Final verdict

F-Secure Anti-Virus is fairly priced, compact and easy to use, but a distinct shortage of features, some unexpected review issues and a recent set of poor test results make it difficult to recommend right now.

F-Secure SAFE

Main

(Image credit: F-Secure)

F-Secure SAFE extends the company's antivirus package with URL filtering, banking protection, parental controls and additional apps to protect Mac, Android and iOS devices.

These are all useful features, but they still leave us feeling a little underwhelmed. URL filtering comes as standard with most baseline antivirus packages, for instance - it doesn't normally require a paid upgrade. And moving up from antivirus usually gets you many more features than you'll see here. Bitdefender Internet Security includes a firewall, spam filter, webcam protection, a microphone monitor, and a bunch of smaller privacy extras (password manager, file shredder, simple encryption tool, wireless network scanner, more.)

Opting for F-Secure may not save you much cash, either. Bitdefender Internet Security 2020's three device, one-year license is priced at $40 in year one, $80 on renewal; the equivalent F-Secure figures are only marginally cheaper at $35 and $70.

Still, if you only need the security basics, F-Secure's simpler and more lightweight approach may be an advantage, and it's certainly worth taking a look at the suite's additional features.

URL Filtering

(Image credit: F-Secure)

Malicious URL filtering

F-Secure's Secure Browsing feature uses a combination of browser extension and network-level technologies to protect you from web threats.

This starts by displaying a 'reputation rating' icon next to every link in your Google, Bing and Yahoo! search results. Restrict your clicks to URLs with a green tick for 'safe' and you'll immediately avoid some risks.

A second layer of protection can block known harmful sites, as well as 'suspicious' websites or anything with 'prohibited content' (depending on possible parental control settings.) 

The feature is reasonably configurable, handy if you find it blocks legitimate sites. If a link is falsely flagged, you're able to add it to an Exceptions list in a click or two. And if you still run into a few hassles, you can reduce detection sensitivity by keeping blocking for harmful sites, but turning off 'suspicious' website blocking.

Measuring the accuracy of any URL filtering layer is tricky, but AV-Comparatives' 2019 Anti-Phishing Certification Test could give us a useful clue. It found F-Secure SAFE blocked a creditable 85% of threats, but it still lagged the five other contenders: Avira (88%), Avast (94%), Kaspersky (94%), Kaspersky (97%) and Bitdefender (98%).

Banking Protection

(Image credit: F-Secure)

Banking protection

Banking protection is a common security suite feature, and usually involves using a custom hardened browser to carry out your most important online transactions. But F-Secure's Windows banking protection feature does things very differently.

When you visit a known banking website, F-Secure SAFE disconnects all untrusted applications from the internet and prevents them going back online while you're at the site. It also blocks untrusted websites until your transactions are complete.

We're unsure how useful this really is. If malware is running on your system, collecting keystrokes, maybe taking screenshots, you're already in big trouble. Blocking it from connecting to the internet while you're at the banking site is good, but won't help if it tries again after you've left (which, surely, it's very likely to do.)

We've issued over functionality, too. Banking Protection didn't fire up when we logged in to PayPal, for instance. When it activated correctly on another banking site, we found SAFE blocked some legitimate web pages. And although the banking protection feature is available on Android, it only works if you're using the SAFE browser.

Put it all together and we're not sure F-Secure's banking protection is worth the hassle. Try it if you like, but on balance we prefer security suites which use a separate isolated browser (Kaspersky, Bitdefender and others.)

Parental Controls

(Image credit: F-Secure)

Parental controls

F-Secure's Family Rules technology is a basic parental controls system which enables setting screen time limits, blocking access to websites by content type, and (on Android and iOS) locating lost or stolen devices.

Device usage can be restricted to a total amount of time per day. This can range from 15 minutes to 8 hours, but you're forced to choose from a small number of preset times. For example, if a 3-hour restriction isn't quite enough, your next options are 3 hours 30 minutes, 4 hours, then 5, 6, 7 and 8. Would it really be so difficult to allow a user to enter a specific number of minutes?

All these settings are applied to a specific device, too (or a user account on a device, for PCs.) If your child has two or more devices, you'll need to set them up individually, and think carefully about how any usage time should be split.

Although you're not able to define when during the day your child should use his time allowance, a Bedtime feature limits device use during nighttime. You're able to set when the device is turned off and becomes available in the morning, although again, SAFE limits the time you choose. (If the default 7am is fractionally too early, for instance, you can't set it to 7:15 or 7:45; your next choices are 7:30 or 8pm.)

A simple content filtering system enables blocking access to websites by their type. This only has 14 categories (Adult, Drugs, Gambling, Violence, Social Networking and so on) so is quick and easy to use, although doesn't give you much opportunity for fine-tuning.

F-Secure's Finder is a simple anti-theft service which enables finding your lost Android and iOS devices.

SAFE for Android also supports remote device wiping and locking, useful if you suspect your device isn't coming back any time soon.

Family Rules is easy to use, but very short on features. If you're happy with the parental controls basics, it might just about be enough, but everyone else will be better off elsewhere.

Multi-platform

The major benefit of F-Secure SAFE is probably its protection for Android, Mac and iOS, as well as Windows devices.

Both the Mac and Android apps have much the same feature set as the PC edition: antivirus, browsing protection, banking protection and parental controls. 

The Android app gets more mobile-specific features, including anti-theft tools and an Application Privacy tool which identifies apps that can access your personal information.

F-Secure SAFE for iOS is more limited, as usual with security apps, but still covers some useful functions: browsing protection (when using SAFE's own browser), parental controls, limited banking protection (an indicator highlights safe sites) and basic anti-theft.

None of this helps with SAFE's basic issues. Yes, you can run it on everything, but there still aren't that many features, and what you get isn't always great.

If you're an F-Secure fan who likes the company's simpler approach to security, though, paying just a little extra to cover all your devices could be a good move.

F-Secure Total

Freedome Main

(Image credit: F-Secure)

F-Secure Total is a bundle of three top F-Secure products. 

The F-Secure SAFE suite gets you antivirus, browsing protection, banking protection and more for desktop and mobile devices. Find out more about its features in the F-Secure Anti-Virus and SAFE reviews above.

F-Secure KEY, the company's password manager, stores logins, credit card details and other personal data and synchronizes it across all your devices.

KEY gets the core password manager tasks done, but it doesn't have the features, the form-filling power or configurability to match the specialist competition. 

If you're interested, though, it's easy to find out more - a free version allows you to try out KEY on Windows, Android, iOS and Mac. Your passwords won't sync across devices, but otherwise you're able to explore KEY's various features.

The key feature with F-Secure Total, though, is F-Secure's Freedome VPN. This isn't the cut-down demo service you'll get with some security suites, where you're restricted to maybe 200-500MB data transfer a day. It's the full product, with servers across 23 countries, tracker blocking, a kill switch to protect you if the VPN drops, and absolutely no data limits at all.

Our own Freedome review found it was much the same as most other F-Secure products: short on power and not many features, but easy to use and a decent performer overall.

Value

(Image credit: F-Secure)

Value

Freedome is a major plus for F-Secure Total, but it also bumps up the price, and it could take some maths to figure out if this is a worthwhile deal for you. Let's work through one example.

A three device, one-year license for F-Secure SAFE costs $35 in year one, then $70 on renewal. 

A separate three device, one-year Freedome license is priced at an initial $35, rising to $55 on renewal. Add it to SAFE and that's a total of $70 in the first year, $125 afterwards.

Opting for F-Secure Total instead gets you SAFE, Freedome and the KEY password manager, and costs $90 for the same three device, one-year term. (There's no introductory discount, so you should pay $90 on renewal, too, unless F-Secure increases its prices.)

If we ignore KEY, that means you're getting Freedome VPN for $40 in year one, and an amazing $20 after that (an effective $1.67 a month.)

Freedome isn't the best VPN, but it covers the basics, and this is much cheaper than most of the competition. Even a budget VPN provider like Ivacy asks $42 for year one, $60 on renewal.

But if you're not committed to F-Secure, there are similar deals around from some security suites. Avira Prime has a capable set of features, including an unlimited VPN, and although it starts at a marginally more expensive $100, that covers up to five devices for a year.

Buying F-Secure Total makes a lot of sense for F-Secure fans, then, but if you've not already decided you need F-Secure SAFE, the picture isn't as clear. Shop around, and make sure to try before you buy.