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VirusScan 7.0 - Home Edition, Part 2

by Alan German

So, now for the good news about VirusScan and Personal Firewall.  But first, a quick recap for anyone who missed Part 1 of this review.

The installation process for VirusScan Home Edition does not activate the firewall portion of the software before telling the user to go out to McAfee's web site to obtain on-line updates.  Blindly following these instructions will leave your machine open to attack by web-based malware.  Check  Part 1 of the article which indicates how to ensure that both VirusScan and the Personal Firewall are installed and activated before using the update feature.

Once I had worked around the initial installation problems, and both programs were indeed operational on my machine, it was time to undertake the update process.  The package has a  very nice Instant Updater feature.  The main menu screen for the updater indicates the various steps that must be completed: Registering customer information, Querying for product information, Select updates, Downloading product update, Applying product update and, finally, a Summary of  the operations completed.  Most of these are performed automatically, with a minimum of user input.  In fact, it is only necessary to confirm the selected update(s) in the third stage of the process, and to acknowledge the summary report at the end.

The first time I ran the updater, just about every component of the package, Central, Instant Updater, Personal Firewall, and VirusScan, required updating.  There were lots of file downloads, with individual files running between 0.5 and 5.5 MB, and an occasional reboot of the machine being required.  In particular, straight out of the box, VirusScan was noted as being 401 days old!  This provides some indication of the shelf life of shrink-wrapped software.  Needless to say, this part of the package needed some major updates with a series of 76 files, each around 150 KB, being downloaded to revise the virus signature files, and a couple of the multi-megabyte files noted above being needed for the scan engine and program interface.

The really good news is that this is essentially a one-time operation.  Once the package has been brought up to date, far fewer downloads are necessary to maintain the software in a current state.  In fact, the program can be set to automatically "silently check for and apply updates when an  Internet connection is made."

The normal updating process is actually much more efficient than downloading and applying a new DAT file which, for me, was previously a very regular operation.  For example, downloading 4310DAT.EXE (2.4 MB) by FTP and completing the installation of this file took about 13 minutes over a dial-up connection.  Updating the virus signature files to the same level using Instant Updater required a 95 KB download and the entire process took less than two minutes.  Furthermore, if you opt for the background updating process, you don't even notice the events taking place.  Very slick.

The program interfaces for both VirusScan and Personal Firewall are now much more colourful than previous versions and are integrated such that menu links allow toggling between the two programs.

VirusScan lets you know the type of scanning currently in place, e.g. automatic file scanning, and whether or not the current version is up to date.  A window also indicates the Firewall status, such as it being set to filter network traffic.  Menu items allow for the selection of a scan for viruses, configuration of automatic protection settings, and checking for updates.  Advanced tasks include scheduling scans, managing quarantined files, and configuring Instant Updater.

One interesting option, buried in VirusScan's options, is "Enable Microsoft Office Integration" which (the manual says) scans Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents even if background scanning is disabled.  This shows up, for example, as a "Requesting Virus Scan" message on Word's status bar each time a new file is opened.  Another new feature is "Hostile Activity Watch Kernel" (HAWK) that looks for virus-like activity such as mass E-mailings.  HAWK works with various mailers, including Eudora, and I had this feature trip a warning message when I was sending out a mailing to a distribution list of several hundred individuals. 



The main menu for the Firewall shows if the firewall is running, its update status, the number of programs communicating to the web, and the number of alerts that have been logged.  Both of the latter have links to allow the user to view more details.  Menu items allow various aspects of the program's operations to be configured, such as allowing a specific program to access the Internet, setting alert preferences, etc.  Similarly, advanced features allow setting up the firewall for use on a home network, blocking individual IP addresses, and so on.

Overall, the system seems to be quite comprehensive and very powerful.  It certainly has many more features than I am likely to use.  My preferences are quite basic, on-access scanning so that files are checked when they are opened or saved, scanning files attached to E-mail, and providing an alert when a program tries to access the Internet. 

VirusScan correctly identified the Jumper boot-sector virus on a floppy disk that I keep around specifically to make sure that my virus scanner is working.  Personal Firewall warned me when I tried to connect to PUB II with Wildcat and let me specify that this connection was always to be allowed in future.  A check using Shields UP! showed that Firewall had closed all necessary ports and was denying my machine's existence to unwanted external inquiries. 

Firewall also dutifully records attempts to access the system in (to me) meaningless combinations of incoming UDP packets, remote port numbers, IP addresses, and descriptions of network adapters.  The program was configured so as not to provide alerts of such intrusions so the process is basically transparent to me.  I can readily view the logs of Internet activity and warnings if necessary, and can easily clear these logs at the press of a button.  And, to be fair, the package has a good on-disk help system, which is context sensitive, and has lots of words to explain all of the above for those who want to know.  In addition, there are easily used links to McAfee's web site for a wide range of further information. 

So, all in all, I find the program to be an improvement over previous versions.  One has to be careful with the installation process, but the mode of operation of the combination of VirusScan and Personal Firewall seems to do an adequate job compared to my earlier use of a previous version of VirusScan and ZoneAlarm.  I like the new program interface, with its integrated menu system, and especially appreciate the efficiency of the instant updater feature.

Bottom Line:

VirusScan 7.0
$59.99 (for currently available VirusScan 8.0)
McAfee Security


Originally published: February, 2004

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