security

McAfee mobile security review: Excellent antivirus for Android, but the iOS version falls short – The Independent


Digital security isn’t something that’s tied to the desktop computer – malware comes in all shapes and sizes, and as our mobile devices are used for shopping and banking, they can expose our most important information as we carry out transactions. Where there are bank details, you’ll find malware sniffing around trying to find a way of pulling it out of the mesh of overlapping security and encryption that we rely on to make the digital economy work.

Hence the recent rise in popularity of the mobile security suite. These apps apply a similar level of protection to your mobile devices as they do to your desktop computer or laptop, and while there are free options, you’ll get the most protection and features from a paid-for app. All security apps have moved over to a subscription model, where you pay annually for protection for a set number of devices. These charge a lower price for your first year’s subscription, so it’s essential that you check the price your subscription will renew at, or you risk getting a nasty surprise a year down the line.

McAfee’s app is simple enough to install – it’s available on the Google Play Store for Android devices, and on the Apple App Store for iOS devices. It’s free to download, and you can activate a 30-day free trial without giving up your credit card details.

The company has recently made some big changes to its mobile security app, not all of which have gone down well with users. Some of the features reported as being removed are back, in the Android version at least, but now the iOS app. Read on for everything you need to know about McAfee’s offering.

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How we tested

We installed McAfee mobile security on an iPad pro running iOS 15 and an Android 11 phone. We then ran it through its paces on a home wifi network on both devices, and exposed it to test files from the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research (EICAR) and spyshelter.com. It detected 100 per cent of our test files.

(Argos)

  • App permissions scanning
  • Wifi security checks
  • Secure VPN
  • Rating: 7/10

How does McAfee work?

The two versions of the app are quite different. On Android, you get an app that runs constantly in the background (it asks permission first) and scans your apps and internet connection for vulnerabilities and malware infestations. Both apps offer a VPN, and can check the security of your current wifi connection, but the iOS app then takes a step back and resorts to pushing the VPN service rather than acting like a security suite.

Only if you tap through to “services” on the iOS app are any tools to be found – one to scan your current wifi connection for its encryption status, a dark web scan to see if your details have been included in a data breach, and the VPN again. There is no active malware scanner in the iOS version. This may be because of restrictions put in place by Apple, as little else could explain the gulf between two versions of the same app.

Privacy management

Android is pretty good at keeping apps under control, and stopping them snooping in areas they shouldn’t, like getting your location in the background, or having access to your contacts when they have no business there. Mcafee mobile security’s app privacy checker scans these permissions for you, and lets you know if anything has access to parts of your phone it shouldn’t. This feature doesn’t seem to be present on the iOS version.

The Android version’s app privacy checker stops apps from snooping where they shouldn’t

(Ian Evenden/McAfee)

The VPN is something you will find on both versions of the app, and it’s a great attempt at introducing extra encryption and privacy to your financial transactions. It hides your location, and applies a layer of encryption to your browsing so hackers and snoopers can’t discover information like who you bank with or even where you live. It’s nice to have, but not worth the subscription price alone, as there are other apps that offer a similar service with better security features.

The VPN on both app versions introduces extra encryption and privacy to your financial transactions

(Ian Evenden/McAfee)

Family life

There’s nothing in the way of parental controls in this version of McAfee mobile security – that’s handled through a separate Safe Family app that allows you to set and manage usage restrictions on an unlimited number of devices, track them via GPS, and get notifications if your kids attempt to access restricted content. Again, though, iOS loses out, as features such as web usage monitoring, app usage, website filtering, and preventing kids from uninstalling the app are not supported on Apple’s platform.

The Android version of McAfee mobile security does have a useful guest mode that allows you to place restrictions on your device when handing it to someone else, allowing you to customise which apps they can use, whether they can send emails or make payments. Turning this on before handing your phone to your kids would be a good way of locking them out of YouTube, or preventing them from paying for a year’s subscription to a Barbie app without your consent.

While the Android app scans for malware, there’s no such feature for iOS

(Ian Evenden/McAfee)

The verdict: McAfee mobile security

In its iOS incarnation, McAfee mobile security is a pale imitation of the desktop app that seems largely interested in pushing you to use its VPN service. On Android, it’s a useful security app that will scan your installed applications and check they’re not abusing their permissions. It would be good to see parental controls bundled into the main app, and the reliance on sending customers to the VPN becomes tiresome (though probably necessary). As a result, it’s hard to recommend McAfee mobile security on an iOS device until it’s updated to match the Android version, which is generally excellent.

McAfee mobile security

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IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.



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