McAfee recently merged its retail version of VirusScan 8.0 with its online version. That's good news for users who want to download and install the program via the Internet. Better yet, VirusScan's online installation file is dramatically smaller--a mere 8MB compared with version 7.0's 30MB to 40MB--and in our tests, it downloaded in 25 minutes via 56K modem. Installation, both online and via CD, was trouble-free and took only a few minutes. Upon start-up, VirusScan downloaded updated virus definitions, as most antivirus programs do.
The new McAfee Security Center in VirusScan 8.0 provides a graphical display of your PC's ability to block viruses, hacker attacks, and related problems.
Last year, we praised VirusScan's browserlike interface but found its multiple Web-page-like screens tedious to navigate, particularly when you had to dig through several layers just to change a few basic settings. VirusScan 8.0 replaces the previous version's ungainly, browserlike interface with the McAfee Security Center, an interface from which you can manage all of the security programs on your PC--including third-party firewall, privacy, and spam-blocking apps. The Center's Security Index uses graphical bars (with a 1 to 10 rating scale) to show how well your PC is protected against all kinds of digital intrusions--viruses, hackers, spam, and so on--and it provides quick access to VirusScan settings.
Despite Security Center's embrace of third-party security apps, it's still very McAfee-centric. On our test PC, for instance, we use the ZoneAlarm firewall. Security Center accurately detected the presence of ZoneAlarm, as indicated by the 10.0 rating on the AntiHacker index; but by default, it stated that McAfee's Personal Firewall Plus was "not installed," a statement that might confuse some novices into thinking they weren't fully protected.
VirusScan 8.0 may be leaner, but its virus-fighting tools retain their muscle. McAfee has improved its worm-detection skills with WormStopper (previously known as HAWK), a PC system behavior-analysis tool. WormStopper blocks malicious, wormlike behavior, often before a signature-file download is available. It's difficult to predict future worms; however, VirusScan detected and deleted the MSBlast worm on our test PC, something our previous antivirus program missed. The ScriptStopper feature, which finds and blocks malicious scripts, is unchanged from version 7.0.
A better integration with Microsoft Outlook includes on-demand scanning of all e-mail folders and archives to find viruses and worms lying dormant there. Like Norton AntiVirus 2004, it scans inbound and outbound IM messages; its predecessor scanned inbound only.
VirusScan automatically deletes worms and viruses and posts an alert message to inform you of its efforts.
Unfortunately, McAfee removed its firewall from VirusScan 8.0, something which previously gave the product a competitive edge over the always firewall-free Norton AntiVirus. VirusScan 8.0 users can try a 30-day free trial of McAfee Personal Firewall Plus via the Security Center; however, users can also get the free, and much better, ZoneAlarm firewall from Download.com.
The merger of the online and retail flavors of VirusScan also creates a buying dilemma. The $49.99 retail package includes a year of virus signature updates, which after the first year is an annual fee of $14.95. By comparison, the online subscription is $34.95 a year. Online subscribers get program updates, which include new and upgraded features, as soon as they become available. But retail buyers must wait for the next version.
In our CNET Labs' tests, VirusScan 8.0 caused less of a drag on system performance than Norton AntiVirus 2004 . But McAfee scanned our 1GB drive much more slowly than Norton did. Here are our test results:
In past VirusBulletin tests, McAfee's VirusScan has been tested and passed only once, back in June of 2002. By comparison, Norton AntiVirus has been tested six times and earned the coveted VB 100 percent title each time. It's hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from such limited data. Previous versions of VirusScan have also been certified by the independent antivirus testing laboratories at West Coast Checkmark, ICSA Labs, and AV-test.org.
McAfee, like Symantec, charges for its phone support: $3 per minute (with the first two minutes free), or a flat $39 per incident ($10 more than Symantec's flat fee). A more affordable option, obviously, is McAfee's free online technical chat. On the plus side, McAfee's online support site contains a handy wizardlike Answer Center that helps you pinpoint and resolve technical problems. And the live technicians, once we contacted them via chat, were always polite and helpful.
Unfortunately, we often found the chat queue to be unbearably long, independent of day or night; once, we waited 1 hour and 20 minutes. Chat also exhibited flaky behavior: we were once booted off after 15 minutes in the queue, even though we hadn't yet chatted with anyone. Hopefully, McAfee will correct these technical glitches soon.