Most helpful positive review
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Modest Data Protection But There Are Better Alternatives
on October 17, 2008
This was a very difficult review for me to write, as I am uncertain about my feelings of this software. There are a lot of evil-doers out there, and I certainly want my data to be safe. However, using software to protect my data leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. Software can be hacked and cracked, not to mention having to deal with bugs and compatibility issues. And what if the software somehow becomes corrupt and fails to work properly? Will your data still be protected properly, or will you find that even you can no longer access your precious files? Every step we take to protect ourselves adds another level of complexity in our lives, and also another element of potential malfunction and failure. But today we use computers to access the entire world; to purchase products, pay our bills, communicate with friends and family, and to store our precious memories and financial data. You can't just leave yourself unprotected and vulnerable to an attack from an outsider. McAfee has introduced a product that claims to offer consumers peace of mind, by locking up our most important data into one or more "vaults" on our hard drives. Is this the answer for keeping us safe from prying eyes, or is it just another money maker for a company trying to lead us into a sense of false security?
I decided to install the McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 software on my tablet PC, which seemed to be the most likely computer to potentially fall into wrong hands. Although this software can certainly be installed onto a desktop computer, I feel that portable computers are far more likely to be stolen and/or accessed by someone that we do not wish. The product box contains a CD and Quick Start guide only. No user manual is included, although there is more documentation provided on the CD itself. Installation was very simple and straightforward. Upon inserting the CD into your drive, you are prompted with a pop-up screen, with some rather bland text links; one of which is to install the program. The entire installation took roughly a minute or so, followed by a prompt to register (aka. "Activate") the software. In most (if not all) cases, the installation will require a reboot of the PC. The program allows you to setup one or more "vaults," which can be sized from 50 MB to 4 GB. Be warned, once you setup a vault, the size CANNOT be changed! If you setup your vault too small, once you fill it up you would have to create another vault to store more files. I would recommend simply setting the maximum size of 4 GB, unless your available hard drive space is very limited. You then setup a password and enter 3 password recovery questions, in case you forget your password down the road. You are now able to start copying files into your protected vault. Notice I said "copy" instead of move? I said that because dragging your files into the vault(s) only creates a copy of the files. It does not completely move them, and also does not delete the file from its original location when copied into the vault. This creates a potential security risk and therefore falls into my "cons" listing mentioned later. So overall, installation and setup is about as fast and simple as one could hope for.
Once in the vault(s), your data is protected with the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), with is pretty standard with most software encryption technologies today, but is certainly not unhackable. You can lock and unlock your vault(s) manually, or they can be locked automatically in a specified timeframe (or when your screensaver is activated). I definitely like the ease of use elements of this program, and it is certainly something that doesn't require a degree in computer science to use. However, these data vaults can easily be copied onto other drives, without needing to enter your password, so someone could still make a copy of your data to try and hack at their leisure. Also, what if something goes wrong with the software and it becomes unstable? Will your data be locked and inaccessible by yourself when you need it? McAfee also boasts that your vault can be stored on a USB flash drive, or any removable storage media. What they don't tell you is that you need to have a copy of McAfee Anti-Theft software installed on any and every computer you intend to access this data from. Therefore you cannot simply use this software to create a portable data vault, for which you intend to carry to and access from multiple computers, without first purchasing and installing this software onto each one of these computers. This can definitely become a problem, if your intentions are to use the software as a USB flash drive encryption utility, to access and/or transfer data between your flash drive and several business computers.
McAfee boasts the following benefits and features of its Anti-Theft 2009 software:
* Secure your files using strong file encryption:
256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) technology protects your financial documents and identity against thieves and hackers.
* Create multiple vaults on your PC and USB drive:
Setup multiple vaults for yourself, family members or co-workers.
* Easily transfer and hide files:
Move files into vault and keep them private even if you share a computer.
* Password protect your vault:
Create secure password for your vault and use password reset option if needed.
* Additional protection:
Provides an extra layer of protection over your basic PC security.
* Use with other computer security software
I feel that the McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 software does perform as promised. It is extremely easy to install, requires very little system resources from your computer and operating system, and does offer a modest level of safety for your sensitive data. However, as a person that has been in the I.T. support field for over 20 years, I do have a list of concerns when using a software solution like this. The encryption technology used in this software is not 100% safe, and can be cracked by someone with the right knowledge and evil intensions. The fact that the data vault(s) can be easily copied to another device, even without your knowledge, is very concerning as well, as this would allow a hacker to grab a copy of your data and then work at cracking the encryption without you even knowing that your data may have been compromised. I also don't like the thought of my data becoming irretrievable by myself, if the software should go belly up on my PC. Sure I could remove and reinstall the software, or transfer my data vault to another computer and install the software on that device, but think of the wasted time it could take to retrieve important data that you may need access to right away.
So as an attempt to summarize my personal findings and concerns, here is a list of pros and cons that I find with McAfee Anti-Theft 2009:
- Impressively easy and fast installation.
- Easy to configure and use.
- Very low impact on operating system resources.
- Each vault is seen as a virtual drive by Windows, providing a separate drive letter for each vault.
- Simple drag and drop process for copying files and folders into your vault(s).
- 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard offers a decent level of security for your data.
- Offers a low cost answer to data security for the average consumer.
- Files and folders are copied, NOT moved, to data vault(s), leaving the need for original files and folders to be deleted manually by the user.
- 256-bit AES technology has been around for quite awhile, and is known to be hackable by anyone with the knowhow.
- Vault files can be easily copied to any other computer or removable storage device, allowing someone to copy your data and attempt to hack the encryption at their leisure.
- Vault sizes cannot be changed once initially configured.
- Software license is only valid for one year, requiring the consumer to pay more money to renew every year if they want their protection to remain up to date.
- Software must be purchased and installed on every PC that you wish to share or access your data from (if you desire to keep your vault on a USB storage device).
- If the software ever fails, you could potentially find yourself unable to access your own data.
- McAfee is known to charge a fee for advanced technical support, should you ever need their assistance with this software. Fees can range anywhere from $9.95 to $59.95 per incident.
- There are many other data encryption utilities, which are more secure and more cost-effective (some are even FREE!), such as TrueCrypt.
As a basic line of defense, I believe that McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 is a good, stable product. For the average consumer and modest computer user, this software could be an easy solution to all of your data protection concerns. However, this software definitely has some security holes, such as the fact that it simply makes copies of your files and folders in the data vault(s), rather than moving them entirely from their original locations. This means that the user must remember to delete the originals after making copies in their vaults. If you don't delete the originals, then you have simply left copies of your data unprotected. Anti-Theft 2009 also creates yet another reoccurring expense for the consumer, requiring annual renewal of your software in order to remain fully protected. There are many other products on the market, which offer stronger security and many more features. For anyone that is really serious about data security, you should consider entire partition or drive encryption. With a free utility, such as TrueCrypt, you could protect your entire hard drive with real-time, on-the-fly encryption, using your choice of AES-256, Serpent, or Twofish encryption technology. However, the average home computer user may easily feel overwhelmed with the choices of products and features, and would rather pay an ongoing fee for a more basic package that makes them feel safe. McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 would be a good solution for these folks, and is definitely far better that having your private data completely unprotected.
As an I.T. professional, I was going to give McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 a 3 star rating, due to its modest level of security, lack of features and customization, and due to the holes it has in its security net. However, as a product that I feel is targeted more for the average home computer user, I have decided to give it 4 stars and a somewhat hesitant recommendation. This product installs and performs well, and seems to live up to the claims made by McAfee. For someone looking for a simple, low cost solution for protecting their data, and that understands the limitations of this software and that they will need to manually delete their original files after copying them to their vault(s), then McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 may be a good choice. But for those that wish to have the strongest level of security, more features, better customization, and may wish to protect (encrypt) their entire hard drive(s), then there are better and sometimes cheaper alternatives on the market today. I mentioned TrueCrypt, but there are others that can be found with a simple Google search as well.
The minimum system requirements for McAfee Anti-Theft 2009 are as follows:
- Windows XP with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or higher, Windows Vista and Vista SP1*
- Personal computer with Pentium-compatible processor 500 MHz or higher and 256 MB RAM or higher
- 800 X 600 or higher resolution
- 10MB initial Hard Disk Space **
- Internet connection ***
* Must meet Windows Vista Operating System requirements.
** Only for the product. This does not include space required to create vaults.
*** Internet connection required for updates.