Unless you disable your computer’s Internet connection and fill its USB ports with epoxy, antivirus protection is an absolute necessity. Going a step further and installing a full security suite can significantly enhance your safety. F-Secure Internet Security 2014 ($59.99 direct for three licenses) includes all of the expected suite components, but none of them quite match the quality of its central antivirus.
At first glance, the suite’s main window looks almost identical to that of F-Secure’s standalone antivirus. Both are distinctly un-busy, with just a few buttons, tabs, and status indicators. You won’t really notice any difference until you dig into the settings, or open the Launch Pad.
Launch Pad is a tiny app that lets you open the product’s main window and also duplicates the program’s tray icon menu. In the antivirus, that’s all it does. When you upgrade to the suite, the Launch Pad also offers access to the Online Safety system (parental control and more) and to the new Facebook privacy tool.
You’ll want to read my review of F-Secure Anti-Virus 2014 for a full description of my findings. Since the suite uses exactly the same antivirus code, I’ll just summarize here.
Getting the product installed on twelve virtual machines crawling with malware was a truly dreadful experience that only ended when F-Secure’s technicians discovered and fixed a bug in the company’s bootable Rescue Disk. It went on for over a week, which may be a new record.
Once I recovered from installation trauma, though, F-Secure performed extremely well. It detected 86 percent of the malware samples, more than any other suite tested with the same collection, and with 6.6 points it tied Bitdefender Internet Security (2014) for best score among recent products. See How We Test Malware Removal for an explanation of this test and its scoring.
F-Secure Internet Security 2014 malware removal chart
F-Secure didn’t exhibit the highest detection rate in my malware blocking test. That honor went to AVG Internet Security 2014, with 97 percent detection. However, F-Secure’s 94 percent is next-highest, and it scored 9.4 points, sharing the top spot with AVG and Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5. Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus 2013 scored even better against my previous malware collection, with 9.9 of 10 possible points. For a more complete description of this test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.
F-Secure Internet Security 2014 malware blocking chart
F-Secure gets high marks from independent lab AV-Test and even higher marks from AV-Comparatives. It’s lab results are better than most overall. Only Bitdfender, ESET Smart Security 6, and Kaspersky Internet Security (2014) rate significantly better. The article How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests describes the independent labs that I follow.
F-Secure Internet Security 2014 lab tests chart
DeepGuard Behavior Monitoring
As an adjunct to traditional signature-based malware detection, F-Secure’s DeepGuard system monitors active processes and flags suspicious behavior, including attempts by suspect programs to access the Internet.
DeepGuard did block a few of my hand-coded test programs, but I consider that completely reasonable. It didn’t flag any of the old PCMag utilities I used for testing. By contrast, behavioral monitoring in Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security 2014 cast suspicion on many of those and actively blocked several as malware.
Enhanced Online Safety
F-Secure’s standalone antivirus doesn’t include active blocking of malicious websites. That comes with the suite’s Online Safety component, and in testing it worked very well. When I attempted to download my current malware collection again, it blocked all but one still-active item at the URL level and blocked the remaining one at the start of the download process.
Of recent suites tested, only Norton has matched F-Secure’s 100 percent success in this simple test. Trend Micro and McAfee Internet Security 2014 came close, with 95 percent and 91 percent respectively. All of these products managed to block many malicious URLs even when the URL itself wasn’t currently active.
This same feature also protects against phishing sites—fraudulent sites that imitate PayPal, eBay, your bank, or other sensitive sites in order to steal your login credentials. Since the actual phishing sites available are different for every test, I report the difference of each product’s detection rate from that of Norton, a consistent phishing success.
F-Secure’s detection rate was 16 percentage points below Norton’s, which is actually quite good. Only a quarter of recent suites have beaten that rate. That’s also a big improvement over F-Secure’s 2013 product, which lagged 44 percent behind Norton. For an explanation of my technique for finding the very newest phishing URLs, please read How We Test Antiphishing.
F-Secure Internet Security 2014 antiphishing chart
Ineffective Parental Control
Many, many users have no need at all for parental control, so I don’t penalize a suite for omitting that feature. However, if they’re going to include parental control, it has to work. F-Secure’s doesn’t.
By default, the Online Safety component enables blocking of harmful websites for all users, but leaves the content filtering and Internet time limit features turned off. Its main window lists all Windows user accounts; from here you can turn on those parental control features for each child’s account.
Like McAfee, F-Secure warns against attempting to apply parental controls on an account that has Administrator privilege. If you’ve given your teenage son an Administrator account to avoid the annoyance of logging in every time he wants to install a game, the parental control system is toothless. When the content blocker stops him from looking at scantily-clad girls, he can just click a button to look anyway. If the time limit feature blocks Internet use, he can override it.
Even if you only apply parental controls to kids with Standard / Limited accounts, the parental control system is porous. Like Trend Micro’s, it only works with supported browsers, so an off-brand browser is a free pass to the whole Internet, even the naughty parts. And you can’t even check where the kids have been; all you get are numbers on sites visited and blocked.
You definitely can’t rely on this suite for parental control. If that’s a feature you need, consider a suite that does it better, say, Bitdefender, or Kaspersky. Or invest in a full-featured standalone product like Editors’ Choice AVG Family Safety.
Another facet of Online Safety is banking protection. F-Secure doesn’t launch banking sites in a separate secure browser the way Bitdefender and Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2014 do. Rather, it displays a banner across the top and actively protects your regular browser.
While banking protection is active, you can only access Web pages directly related to your banking activity. That makes sense—what if you switched to a page of lolcats and forgot you had left your account logged in? It also puts all other network connections on hold, and prevents new connections, so a Trojan can’t “phone home” with your private information.
It definitely worked to block non-banking sites. I couldn’t even link to the F-Secure page with “more information” about banking protection.
Improved Spam Filter
If your email provider filters out spam, having your own local spam filter can be irrelevant. If not, it can be a life saver. F-Secure filters POP3 email, but doesn’t integrate with any email clients. That means you’ll have to define a message rule to divert messages with [SPAM] in the subject line into their own folder.
Settings couldn’t be simpler. There’s one switch to turn spam filtering on and off, and a checkbox to enable prefixing spam message headers with [SPAM]. Do double-check this last item; in the version I was given to test, it was turned off by default.
F-Secure didn’t slow the download process appreciably. It blocked just one valid message out of thousands, a quantity so small that it rounds to zero percent. However, it let nearly 20 percent of undeniable spam into the Inbox. That’s quite a lot better than F-Secure’s 2013 edition, which missed over 40 percent of the spam, but it’s not great.
Norton and McAfee didn’t block any valid mail and missed 3.9 and 3.7 percent of spam respectively. Kaspersky caught all but 2.5 percent of the spam, though it did throw out some valid bulk mail. If you truly need spam filtering in your suite, one of these will be a better choice.
The article How We Test Antispam goes into more detail on the techniques I use to evaluate antispam accuracy.
F-Secure Internet Security 2014 antispam chart
Windows Firewall Plus
Modern versions of Windows, especially Windows 7 and later, have a very effective firewall built in. Like Trend Micro, F-Secure keeps the Windows Firewall in place, helping it out around the edges.
The DeepGuard monitor that I mentioned earlier controls whether suspect programs are allowed access to the Internet. It leaves that decision up to you, so you’ll have to pay attention to popup queries and hope you answer correctly. On the plus side, DeepGuard’s monitoring is truly deep. When I tested it with leak test utilities that attempt to evade program control, it detected every single one of them. Many popup-style firewalls simply don’t detect this activity and hence can’t control it.
F-Secure doesn’t actively prevent exploit attacks at the network level, but even the standalone antivirus was fairly effective at neutralizing the files dropped by an exploit. The harmful download protection component in the suite did an even better job. It blocked all the exploits that the antivirus did, plus a few more. Only a third of the exploits got past it, and none of them actually breached the test system’s security. Note, though, that Norton blocked every single one of the over-thirty exploits at the network level, so none of the attack files ever reached the test system.
Alas, a determined malware coder could definitely shut down F-Secure’s protection. I had no trouble stopping and disabling its essential services. I also managed to terminate all of its processes using Task Manager. They did come back—it was a bit like playing Whack-a-Mole—but I imagine a malware expert could take control to prevent process reanimation.
Safe Profile for Facebook
We all know someone who seems to be on Facebook every minute of the day. You post something, they “like” it three seconds later. Or perhaps you are that person, to your friends. When that much of your life takes place in social media, it’s really important to configure privacy settings correctly.
Log into your Facebook account through F-Secure’s Safe Profile and you can get a report on all areas of your profile. It’s a bit like Trend Micro’s Privacy Scanner, though Trend Micro also checks Twitter and Google+.
I tried to run a scan on my virtual machine test system, but it reported that it’s not compatible with Internet Explorer 8. Since those using Windows XP can’t upgrade past IE8, XP users are out of luck. I switched to a Windows 7 system to continue.
The report showed nothing amiss, but that’s perhaps to be expected, since I had tuned up with Trend Micro’s scanner just last week. I logged into my account, threw several setting wide open to public view, and tried again. Ooops! You must wait ten minutes between scans.
When I did manage a re-scan, it still gave my profile a clean bill of health. I’m not entirely convinced this feature is doing what it ought to.
Very Minor Performance Impact
F-Secure doesn’t load this suite down with bonus features, it doesn’t have a full-scale firewall, and its core antivirus is compact. My real-world performance tests showed that it has an unusually low impact on system performance. Do note that these days even a relatively high impact isn’t huge.
Getting security components loaded at system startup can slow boot time, so I measured boot time with no suite and with F-Secure installed. The difference was negligible; F-Secure slowed the boot time by just 5 percent. The average for current suites is a 23 percent slowdown, so F-Secure looks good.
It also had a very small effect on the time required to run my file move/copy and zip/unzip tests. The script that moves and copies big files across drives ran just 2 percent slower under F-Secure, and the one that zips and unzips that same file collection ran just 7 percent slower. The current suite averages for those tests are 20 percent and 16 percent respectively, so F-Secure looks quite good. You’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference between this and Webroot’s even-smaller impact.
For an explanation of my performance tests and their scoring, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.
F-Secure Internet Security 2014 performance chart
Antivirus the Best Part
If you can install F-Secure on a clean system, bypassing the possibility of malware interfering with installation, its antivirus protection is great. The independent labs give it good marks, and it topped all recent programs in my hands-on tests. The suite’s Online Safety component enhances that protection by blocking access to malicious and fraudulent sites.
Spam filtering is certainly simple, with almost no configuration, but it let more spam through than the best products. Don’t rely on this suite for parental control, though; it doesn’t work. And I’m not entirely sure what to think of the banking protection and Safe Profile features.
There’s a lot to like in this suite, but it’s too uneven for me to truly recommend. For a standard suite with all expected features, I’d suggest Norton Internet Security (2014). If you want a lean, mean security machine and don’t need spam filtering or parental control, Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus 2013 will do the job. For a suite that packs in just about every imaginable security feature, consider Bitdefender Total Security (2014). All three are security suite Editors’ Choices.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc