McAfee Total Protection 2014 review

In addition to all the features found in McAfee Internet Security 2014, McAfee Total Protection 2014 adds file encryption, an enhanced network map, and an upgrade to SiteAdvisor LIVE. You'll have to decide whether those features merit the slightly higher price.
Photo of McAfee Total Protection 2014

Many security vendors offer three levels of protection: a simple antivirus, a security suite with all necessary components for protection, and a mega-suite with extras like backup, system tuneup, encryption, and more. Vendors take varying approaches to balancing which components should go in which product. McAfee’s decision to load up the entry-level antivirus with many suite-level components left them without quite as much to add at the top, but McAfee Total Protection 2014 ($89.99 direct for three licenses) definitely adds some worthwhile features.

Looking at the main window, the only way to distinguish this product from McAfee’s basic suite is the window title at top. It has all the same big button/panels for accessing security features, and the same color-coded security status banner across the top. You can switch to the Navigation Center view for a list of all the suite’s features, with links to each. Finding the features specific to this top-level suite will take a little digging, but they are present.

Better at Blocking Malware than Removing It
I’ll summarize my test results for McAfee’s antivirus protection here. To get the full details, you’ll want to read my review of McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2014.

McAfee’s CleanBoot rescue disk solved quite a few of the problems I had getting McAfee’s protection installed on the malware-infested virtual machines I use for testing. A couple of post-cleanup system problems required a very lengthy interaction with tech support, but they solved both problems in the end.

McAfee scored very well in my malware blocking test, detecting 92 percent of the samples and earning 9.2 points. Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2014 got 9.2 points, too. Among the current round of security products, only AVG Internet Security 2014 and Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 did better, each earning 9.4 points. For full details on how I perform and score this test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

McAfee Total Protection 2014 malware blocking chart

Challenged to remove malware that had already established a foothold on the test systems, McAfee didn’t score quite as well. Bitdefender Total Security (2014) topped this test with 6.6 points, Norton 360 (2014) got 6.3, and McAfee just 5.9. Even so, it’s in the top half of scores among current products. For details on my testing methodology, see How We Test Malware Removal.

McAfee Total Protection 2014 malware removal chart

McAfee participates in testing with all of the independent antivirus labs that I follow, and gets generally good scores. In particular, it earned an ADVANCED rating, the second-highest rating, in recent tests by AV-Comparatives. The chart below summarizes recent results; to learn more about the labs, please see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

McAfee Total Protection 2014 lab tests chart

Other Shared Features
As noted, McAfee puts quite a lot of features in the entry-level antivirus that many vendors reserve for a full security suite. Its firewall makes all program-control decisions internally, avoiding those incomprehensible popup queries that only serve to confuse most users. With help from other components, it blocked about 20 percent of the exploit attacks I unleashed on it; do note that Norton blocked 100 percent. And I couldn’t disable it with tricks that a malware coder could use.

The My Home Network feature lets you monitor other McAfee installations on your local network and actively manage them remotely. It also warns if your current network is insecure. Total Protection enhances this feature with a new ability. If you see a device on your network that doesn’t belong, perhaps a neighbor mooching your WiFi, you can click “Mark as Intruder” to block all access.

Other high-end features found in the antivirus include a file shredder for secure deletion, QuickClean to clean up useless files and also erase traces of your computer and browser activity, and a vulnerability scan that will locate and apply missing security patches for your operating system and popular programs.

Shared Suite Features
Naturally all of the additional features in McAfee Internet Security 2014 carry over into Total Protection. Do please read that review; I’ll briefly summarize here.

Both suites offer hosted online backup, powered by Mozy. You get 1GB of storage for each of your three suite licenses. Currently McAfee is experiencing intermittent problems with this feature; the symptom is that some systems just won’t connect with the backup servers. I hit that problem; my McAfee Internet Security installations just wouldn’t connect. I did manage to get it working with Total Protection. In its default configuration, it backs up popular file types from common locations, so even if you don’t fine-tune the configuration it’s likely to save your most important files.

McAfee’s spam filter slowed the process of downloading email significantly, but its intense scrutiny proved worthwhile. It didn’t block a single valid personal message or valid bulk message, and it only let 3.7 percent of spam into the Inbox. Norton 360 also didn’t block valid mail. It missed 3.9 percent of spam, but didn’t slow the download process. For a full explanation of where I get my sample messages and how I rate antispam accuracy, see How We Test Antispam.

McAfee Total Protection 2014 antispam chart

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the parental control system. If you’re one of the many parents who give their kids Administrator accounts for convenience, it doesn’t promise to work at all. It will filter out websites matching inappropriate categories and also control when each child is allowed on the Internet. A report for parents lists all attempts to visit blocked websites or use the Internet during a banned time. If you really need parental control in your suite, consider choosing one that offers more, for example, Kaspersky PURE 3.0 Total Security. Or invest in a standalone parental control program.

SiteAdvisor LIVE
Your Total Protection installation automatically installs McAfee’s SiteAdvisor. However, where the antivirus and basic suite just get plain SiteAdvisor, Total Protection installs SiteAdvisor LIVE. Note that while anybody can download and install the basic SiteAdvisor toolbar, SiteAdvisor LIVE costs $19.99 per year if purchased separately.

Both versions of SiteAdvisor mark up search results with icons indicating that each link is safe, iffy, dangerous, or untested. These results come from continuous observation by the SiteAdvisor web crawlers, and you can drill down for an extremely details report on why a given site is flagged as risky. When I attempted to re-download my current malware collection, SiteAdvisor blocked 76 percent at the URL level, including many that weren’t currently active. The antivirus component killed off another 15 percent during download.

SiteAdvisor also works to keep you from falling for fraudulent (phishing) websites. In past years it has scored very well in my antiphishing test, beating out consistent phishing champ Norton. This time around its detection rate came in 38 percentage points below Norton’s. That’s still better than two thirds of recently-tested products. For an explanation of how I calculate this detection percentage, see How We Test Antiphishing.

McAfee Total Protection 2014 antiphishing chart

Every SiteAdvisor warning comes with a big button that goes back to the page you were on before, as well as a small link that lets you proceed to the dangerous page despite the warning. With SiteAdvisor LIVE you get a handy feature called Protected Mode. Once you enable it, proceeding to the dangerous page requires a password. This can be handy on a computer shared with children, or even with an over-trusting spouse.

SiteAdvisor LIVE also offers download protection, a feature designed to warn you before you download risky files. At its default Limited level it warns about files that are “probably risky.” Crank it down to Minimal and it will only warn about files known for sure to be risky. You can also raise it to the Balanced or Aggressive level, which blocks files that are “suspected to be slightly risky.”

I thought this feature might kick in to warn about malware downloads that weren’t blocked at the URL level. What I saw seemed just the same as without Download Protection, and I tried it at all four levels. I’m not entirely sure what to think about this feature.

Lock Secrets in the Vault
The Data Protection and Backup page in McAfee’s entry-level antivirus just contains one item, a shredder for secure file deletion. McAfee Internet Security adds online backup to this page. With Total Protection you get a handy feature called File Lock that lets you protect sensitive files in encrypted “vault” folders.

Like Bitdefender, AVG, Kaspersky, and others, McAfee lets you create any number of vaults, each of which has size that’s fixed at creation time. Trend Micro, by contrast, allows just a single vault. However, the Trend Micro vault isn’t fixed-size, and you can “seal” it remotely if your computer is stolen.

During the process of creating a McAfee file vault, you’ll be asked to supply three security questions. Anybody who can answer those three questions can open your vault by clicking the “forgot password” link, so be careful to choose answers that only you would know. Name the vault, set its size, and enter a (strong!) password, and you’re done.

A locked vault appears in Windows Explorer with a big picture of a closed safe, along with a toolbar of possible actions. I’d strongly recommend choosing the Options button and setting McAfee to automatically lock all of your vaults after the system has been idle for a while. Once you open the vault, you’ll find that a new virtual drive appears in Windows Explorer. You can treat this like any other drive, while it’s open.

The point of putting a file into the vault is to protect it from prying eyes. To make double-sure nobody can get at your secrets, you should first copy the file into the vault, then securely delete the original using the shredder feature. That will prevent even forensic recovery experts from gaining access to the file.

Uneven Performance Scores
McAfee Total Protection doesn’t include a huge number of features over and above what’s found in McAfee Internet Security, so I didn’t expect much difference in my performance tests. I was surprised to find an unusually high impact in some of my tests; surprised enough that I rolled the test system back to a pre-McAfee drive image and recorded new baseline values. The results held true.

Boot time wasn’t a problem. The time for the test system to go from the start of the boot process to ready-for-use only increased by 13 percent with McAfee loaded. You’d hardly notice that; it’s little more than half the current suite average of 24 percent.

If you’re not just staring at Web pages, if you’re using your computer to create or process data, you’re doing a lot with files. When you load, save, copy, rename, or otherwise access a file, it may trigger a security action like scanning for malware. I check a suite’s impact on file manipulation by timing a script that moves and copies a boatload of big files between drives. Averaging many runs, I found that this script takes 22 percent longer under McAfee’s protection, a tad more than the current average of 20 percent.

The test that surprised me involved timing a script that zips and unzips the same monster file collection used in the move/copy test. This script took 65 percent longer with McAfee installed than with no suite. Trend Micro’s mega-suite also showed a major drag on this test; because of these results I re-ran my baseline tally, but the new baseline didn’t change the results.

The average of McAfee’s three performance scores is 33 percent, while that of the 2013 edition is 32 percent, so things haven’t changed all that much. Still, you might notice this level of performance impact. With an average of 1 percent slowdown, Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 is the king of the light touch. For details about my performance testing, have a look at How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

McAfee Total Protection 2014 performance chart

Worth the Cost?
By front-loading so many excellent suite features in its entry-level antivirus, McAfee didn’t leave much to add at the mega-suite level. For $10 more, you get all the functionality of the basic suite plus File Lock, an enhanced network map, and an upgrade to SiteAdvisor LIVE. Whether these features merit the added cost is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Unless there’s a very specific McAfee feature that uniquely solves a problem for you, I’d suggest going with one of PCMag’s Editors’ Choice security mega-suites, Bitdefender Total Security (2014), Norton 360 (2014), or Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013.

Virus removal:
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In addition to all the features found in McAfee Internet Security 2014, McAfee Total Protection 2014 adds file encryption, an enhanced network map, and an upgrade to SiteAdvisor LIVE. You'll have to decide whether those features merit the slightly higher price.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc