McAfee Total Protection review

Antivirus, URL blocking, a firewall and more

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Our Verdict

McAfee Total Protection has some interesting features, but there's not quite enough power or performance to justify the price.

For

  • Loads of features
  • Expert support
  • Minimal impact on performance
  • Identity Theft Protection for US users

Against

  • Many features are underpowered
  • Missed simulated ransomware attack
  • Clumsy and awkward interface
  • Installation can take a while

Most security vendors offer a wide range of products: a basic antivirus, a simple security suite, a more comprehensive security suite, an Ultimate Premium Security Suite with bundled extras and other bits and pieces thrown in to catch your attention.

Take a look at McAfee's consumer range and you'll find it's mostly about one product. McAfee Total Protection is a one-stop security suite which includes antivirus, a firewall, spam filter, malicious URL blocking, file encryption, a password manager, secure file deletion, app and web performance boosters, even basic free Identity Theft Protection for US customers.

Prices start at £49.99 ($65) to cover a single device (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS.) Other vendors may charge less for their closest equivalent products – Kaspersky's high-end Total Security 2019 is £27.99 ($36.40) for year one, £39.99 ($52) on renewal – but they usually don't offer quite as long a feature list.

Adding more devices can further improve value. You can cover any mix of 5 Windows, Mac, Android or iOS devices for £69.99 ($91) a year, or get a 10-device license for only £89.99 ($117).

There's an unusual money-back guarantee, too: if you buy the package and your device gets a virus anyway, McAfee support staff will remotely access the system to remove it, and give you a full refund if they fail. Sounds good, though be sure to read the small print to spot some unexpected catches (you only qualify if you have auto-renewal turned on in your account, and a valid payment method on file, for instance).

McAfee Total Protection

Setup

Installing McAfee Total Protection looked easy. Download the free trial build from the website, run it, and just wait – right? Wrong, at least in our experience.

First, the installer took an absolute age to run. 10 minutes, 20, 25... And then, after around 30 minutes, it timed out, gave us an unhelpful and generic "unable to install" message, and suggested we retry. We did, and 30 minutes later we were looking at the very same error.

We found, downloaded and ran McAfee clean-up, pre-install and troubleshooting tools, but they made no difference. We checked and cleaned up our system manually, but no change.

This wasn't great, but it did at least give us a chance to try McAfee support. We opened a chat window and were explaining the situation to a support agent within 90 seconds. They asked if they could use their LogMeIn-based system to remotely access our test computer, we agreed, and two minutes later they were checking our system and trying another install.

The technician tried more clean-up tricks, asked further questions and ran several more installations. Unfortunately, none of these worked, and after a couple of hours we were no further forward.

McAfee Total Protection

McAfee didn't give up, though, smoothly escalating our issue to a Tier 2 technician. They tried more clean-up tricks which also failed, but eventually fetched a separate installer, tried installing the package via our system's built-in Administrator account, and that did the job.

Any security software can occasionally have installation problems, and we're not going to blame this one entirely on McAfee. We've never had anything like this happen with the firm's software before, and we don't see large numbers of users complaining about it, either.

That doesn't mean the McAfee setup process couldn't be better. It shouldn't take 30 minutes for an installation to time out, for instance, and troubleshooting would be easier if the installer gave details about what it was doing, or what errors it experienced (our two support agents didn't attempt to look at any setup logs, presumably because there aren't any, or they don't include anything useful).

But there is good news here, too. The McAfee website has multiple tools to help solve installation problems. They're easy to find and use. And if they don't help, it's easy to get access to professional support staff who will keep trying until your issues are resolved.

McAfee Total Protection

Interface

Launch McAfee Total Protection for the first time and you'll probably be a little confused by the messy and poorly-designed console.

The main body of the very large window (1050 x 740-pixels on our test system) contains a green tick to show the security status, but that's the only useful element on the main panel.

The rest is wasted with a button to help you protect other devices, pointless system information ('we are protecting 269 apps/connections/tasks'), a button to view a security report, and suggestions about other suite features you can activate or use. These might have some value, but there's precisely zero reason for anyone to have to view them every time they open the program.

Clicking a small icon that comprises of three dots reveals what looks like a more detailed status report of Total Protection's various features, so for instance you can confirm that antivirus, the firewall and update system are all working correctly. It's not obvious, but this also doubles as a menu, and for example clicking the Virus Scan status loads the Scan dialog.

You can also click various tabs at the top of the screen – PC Security, PC Performance, My Privacy – to view separate panels with their own groups of features. These also waste plenty of space, with a large part of the screen containing a status icon, a 'Your PC's protected' message and a lot of white space.

This might have some appeal to casual users who don't want to be overwhelmed by lots of buttons, toolbars or detailed system information, but experts are likely to become frustrated.

McAfee Total Protection

Features

McAfee Total Protection keeps its antivirus scanning options to a minimum: just a Quick Scan, a Full System Scan and the ability to scan custom items directly from the Explorer right-click menu.

What you don't get is a specific removable drives scan, a custom scan you can define from the interface, or the ability to set up a new scan type or define how it works. For example, Avast's Windows products can be used to set up a scan which checks specific file types in the folders you need, using the scanning technologies and rules you define, and you can then run that scan whenever you like. There's nothing like that here.

We couldn't find anything wrong with the scan types that are available, though. Scan speeds were average but acceptable, the program spotted our test malware without difficulty, and whether it was actively scanning or just running in the background, McAfee Total Protection had barely any noticeable effect on our test computer.

McAfee Total Protection

Total Protection includes a firewall which automatically makes intelligent choices about which programs on your system can access the internet. This is mostly tucked away within the interface, and most users won't ever have to know of its existence.

Experts get access to a wide range of firewall settings, including the ability to open or close specific ports, or define custom rules for individual applications. These options are harder to find than we'd like, though, and it took us some time to begin to figure out what was possible.

Even then, we were often puzzled. The firewall has an Intrusion Detection system, for instance, but it's turned off by default, only has two settings (Basic or High) and even the web knowledgebase has no real information on what it does and the consequences of turning it on (or off).

Total Protection is advertised as coming with a spam filter and file encryption tool, but for some reason these aren't installed by default. We had to manually choose to add antispam from the interface, then wait as the system downloaded and installed it. This doesn't seem the most convenient way to organize an installation, but it only took seconds for the spam filter to set itself up on our Windows 10 system.

McAfee Total Protection

Other apparent features of the program are entirely separate tools which you must download and install separately. Clicking Protect Me On The Web opens the website for McAfee WebAdvisor, for instance, a browser extension which defends you against malware, malicious sites and more. It's handy, but it's also available for free, and you don't have to buy Total Protection to use it.

Total Protection has a more interesting and unusual extra in a separate Identity Theft protection service for its US customers.

McAfee Total Protection

Cyber Monitoring is one of the service highlights, regularly checking the dark web for personal details including your social security number, email addresses, phone numbers, banking and credit card details, driver's license, passport and more. If any of your information shows up online in a data breach, you'll be alerted.

Other features include Social Media Monitoring which alerts you to risks with the content you're sharing, and an optional Social Security Number trace and Address Change Monitoring service which could warn you of scammers trying to steal and use your personal details.

The feature list continues in the PC Performance area, where you'll find a couple of speedup options.

App Boost optimizes CPU and I/O priorities for foreground applications to improve performance. This won't make much difference – sometimes it'll have no noticeable effect at all – but the company suggests you could see an 11-14% speed increase in the targeted apps, which, if true, is worth having.

McAfee Total Protection

A Web Boost feature sounds promising, but is actually just a Chrome extension which stops videos automatically playing on your choice of many popular websites (YouTube, Netflix, Twitch.tv, Skype.com, ClickMeeting.com and many more). It's a reasonable idea, but may not make much difference to your website experience.

There are multiple minor tools to explore. An Update My Apps button scans your OS and applications for missing updates. A QuickClean option removes tracking cookies and temporary files, and can be scheduled to run automatically. A Shredder securely deletes confidential files so they can't be undeleted, and a Network Monitor looks for intruders connecting to your Wi-Fi. These all work and have some value, but there are freeware tools which give you more functionality.

Overall, while there is power here, the feature list doesn't seem quite as impressive when you take a closer look at what's available, and there are some usability and interface issues, too.

McAfee Total Protection

Protection

AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test is an intensive benchmark which pits 18 of the world's biggest antivirus engines against the very latest threats. The company runs 10 tests every year, making it a great way to monitor particular vendors over time.

McAfee's test performance has been mixed, recently, so for example the company managed an excellent 5th place with a 100% protection rate in August 2018, but fell to a lowly 14th in the September 2018 test.

Fortunately, AV-Comparatives also produces summary reports which average the results over multiple tests, giving a clearer view. The February - June 2018 report was relatively positive, placing McAfee in a creditable 6th spot with a 99.6% protection rate. That puts in on a par with some quality competitors – Kaspersky and Avira were 4th and 5th with a 99.7% protection rate, Symantec 7th with 99.5% – and suggests there's no protection issue here that any regular user will ever notice.

The AV-Test Home Windows report for August 2018 confirms McAfee's effectiveness, with the test product blocking 100% of sample threats.

We can't begin to compete with the time and resources the big testing labs put into their work, but what we can do is add to their findings with a small test of our own.

We have created a very, very simple ransomware simulator which spiders through a folder tree, reading and encrypting images, audio files, Office documents and more. By running this on a review system, we're aiming to see whether an antivirus can detect undiscovered ransomware by behavior alone, and discover how many files, if any, might be lost before an attack can be stopped.

The results were disappointing, as McAfee Total Protection left our simulator to run to completion and encrypt thousands of files. Other tools typically do much better, with, for instance, Kaspersky Antivirus 2019 not only detecting and killing the simulator, but also recovering the very few files our program had managed to encrypt.

However, this result should be interpreted with care. McAfee may have missed our test program, unlike the best of the competition, but we can't be sure why or what that tells us about the security suite overall. What we do know from the lab tests is that McAfee can detect most real-world malware from behavior alone, and that's the most important result.

Final verdict

McAfee Total Protection has a lengthy feature list, but most of these aren't as powerful as they look, and it's hard to see why you should choose this package when others are faster, cheaper, more accurate or easier to use.