Laplink PCDefense is an unusual security application; it is not a traditional Internet security suite, but a mere companion and seems geared toward advanced users. PCDefense lacks a firewall and antispam protection, basic features that can be found elsewhere, say, in ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6 or PC-cillin Internet Security 2006. PCDefense does include a third-party antivirus and antispyware protection as well as a disaster-and-recovery imaging tool, but it does not integrate these tools in any logical fashion; the lack of a one-button "clean my PC" option, for example, makes very it hard to know whether you have thoroughly scanned your PC for keyloggers, rootkits, spyware and viruses. And several of the tools, such as the cookie manager, the processes monitor, and the start-up apps display, are freely available within your browser or Windows XP itself, with PCDefense offering no new functionality. Priced at US$49.95 (boxed) and US$44.95 (download), Laplink PCDefense calls out for a thorough interface overhaul and perhaps a rethink about its basic purpose before we can recommend it.
Installation of PCDefense was quick, in part because the most resource-laden part of the application -- the antivirus engine -- resides online, which is a curious design choice. PCDefense has partnered with Romanian antivirus vendor BitDefender and cobranded the latter company's free online antivirus scanner. On-demand scanning is fine when you suspect you have a virus or worm and simply want to confirm and remove the offending malware; it is not fine, however, if you find yourself defenceless during an active virus or worm attack such as MSBlast or Zotob. For most people, the online antivirus scanner within PCDefense will be worthless.
Laplink PCDefense seems best suited to complement existing antivirus and firewall protection by offering specific tools targeting spyware, keyloggers, and rootkits; it also provides backup and recovery options should disaster strike. The PCDefense interface reflects the scattered nature of the product. There is no one button to scan your PC for malware; rather, you must select individual scans, which can be intimidating to a new user. For a snapshot, the PCDefense status screen gives you a snapshot of your system's relative security, displaying when scans were last run but no centralised "scan my PC" option, which could frustrate beginners who simply wish to rid their machine of malware. For an inside look, see our Laplink PCDefense slide show.
The best part of PCDefense is its antispyware tools. Spyware Alarm is a proactive monitor that prevents known spyware from installing on your PC. Laplink Antispyware 4.17, the main antispyware component, is based on the antispyware engine from Paretologic, makers of XoftSpy SE, an antispyware app that CNET Download.com users ranked four out of five possible stars. We found it performed well on our test machine, identifying the same spyware that Webroot Spy Sweeper 4.5 found on the same test machine.
Laplink PCDefense includes something most Internet security suites do not: disaster recovery. The Disaster Recovery tool can make an image of your hard drive and store that image on a removable drive, or a CD or a DVD. In the event of a disaster, you can restore the image and return your PC to an operational state fairly easily. However, we found this tool lacks the configuration and ease-of-use options found in other products such as Norton Save & Restore.
PCDefense includes several tools that can be found within your basic Internet browser or Windows XP itself. The tool Start-up displays a list of apps and processes that load when you reboot your computer. While editing this list can speed up your computer, PCDefense doesn't provide enough context for the average user to understand which app or process to terminate and which to allow. If you're already using the Windows versions, this will make sense; if not, you'd best skip this tool.
The Browser settings tool recognises that malicious code can sometimes hijack your browser's start page or default search engine for another. PCDefense allows you to restore the default settings or to check your custom settings, but most browsers allow you to do this as well. Cookies are tiny tokens left by sites you've visited on the Web; in most cases, they are harmless and can be read only by the originating site, so no personal information is shared among sites. Most browsers already include similar tools, and the PCDefense Cookie tool provides no additional cookie management functionality. Host files help direct your Internet connections on your PC; if malicious code takes control of your system's Host file, it can hijack your request to visit Google.com, for example, and send you to another search engine entirely. These are called pharming attacks. While you can edit and delete false entries, PCDefense doesn't allow you to make the Host file read-only, which is what you should be able to do in a security tool.
For support, Laplink offers online chat, e-mail, FAQs, and telephone support, although the latter was unavailable at the time of this review. Surprisingly there is no online knowledge base for PCDefense, nor is there much of an in-program help system.
Unfortunately, Laplink PCDefense is unfocused. If it's an antispyware app that includes rootkit and keylogger prevention, then so be it. But PCDefense includes so many other tools -- some which are already free within Windows XP, your browser, or online -- that the end result is a hastily assembled collection of tools rather than an integrated product. That's why it's hard for us to recommend PCDefense at this time.