With McAfee Wireless Protection, McAfee enhances last year's stand-alone wireless protection application with a few new features. Much of what you can do with McAfee Wireless Protection -- connect to a network, change SSID, and enable encryption -- is available for free with Windows XP or within the software included with your wireless router, which might explain why few security vendors are rushing to release their own stand-alone wireless protection applications. The few security features unique to McAfee Wireless Protection are also available in the much more complete McAfee Total Protection, which includes antivirus, firewall, antispam, system backup, ID theft protection, and more.
Setup and interface
Ironically, downloading and installing McAfee Wireless Protection via Wi-Fi on a laptop proved insufferable. First, McAfee doesn't allow your browser to download and save the application file to your desktop for installation; instead, you must first download McAfee's Download Center, then use that to download the Wireless Protection modules, then finally, you can install it. Even with excellent wireless reception at 11.0Mbps, McAfee Wireless Protection required more than one hour of labour, mostly because of the sluggish response from the McAfee Download Center site itself, which averaged a sluggish 2.5KB/sec even after we reconnected using a LAN line. We recommend a boxed version with CD installation instead.
After installation, McAfee Wireless Protection occupied 75MB of our disk drive space, which seems like a lot for what the product does. McAfee Wireless Protection also littered our desktop with extra icons: one for McAfee Protection Center, another for McAfee Wireless Protection, and yet another for McAfee Easy Network. None of the other 2007 McAfee products spawned extra icons.
Should you ever decide to remove McAfee Wireless Protection 2007, you'll need to use the Microsoft Windows Add/Remove Programs; there was no uninstall icon in the All Programs listing. Fortunately, this did the trick. After uninstalling the app and rebooting, we were impressed to find a relatively clean uninstall, with only one empty McAfee folder in the Program Files directory, which we manually deleted, and no traces remaining within our test PC system registry.
Who needs McAfee Wireless Protection? If you already have McAfee Total Protection, McAfee's penultimate Internet Security suite, you do not need to purchase McAfee Wireless Protection; the tools are already included. However, if you purchased McAfee Internet Security 2007, McAfee Protection Plus 2007, or VirusScan Plus 2007, you will need to purchase McAfee Wireless Protection separately; these products do not include any wireless utilities.
On a public network, there's little use for McAfee Wireless Protection. Windows XP contains (and Windows Vista will also contain) its own network manager that identifies, associates, and disassociates you from a public hot spot. While testing on a public network, McAfee Wireless Protection did inform us that our ZoneAlarm firewall and antivirus protection had been turned off (intentionally so). Of course, we needed to turn on ZoneAlarm ourselves; McAfee can't control third-party apps, which makes sense.
On a home network, McAfee Wireless Protection is much more useful. Before you purchase the product, check this wireless router/AP compatibility list to see whether your wireless router is supported by McAfee. If it is, you'll be able to make almost all your security configuration changes through McAfee. On a test system, we were able to connect to a Linksys WAG54GS router with no problem.
If you haven't already changed your SSID, which is how the router identifies itself, or enabled WEP or WPA encryption to make it harder for attackers to eavesdrop on your wireless sessions, McAfee Wireless Protection can help with that. One cool feature within McAfee Wireless Protection rotates your WEP key every few hours for added security, with the option to suspend this feature while you're playing online games or using other services that might be disrupted. For everything else, however, vendor-supplied software and even the Windows XP Wireless Network connection console already provide the basic security tools needed; McAfee just puts them all in one place.
For use with either a public or private network, McAfee does include several additional tools, such as QuickClean, which clears your Internet browser's cache and temporary Internet files -- although, here too, you can do this in most browsers without McAfee Wireless Protection. Also included is the McAfee SiteAdvisor antiphishing toolbar for Firefox and Internet Explorer. SiteAdvisor evaluates Web sites and alerts you to potential fraudulent sites before you offer any personal information. What's missing from McAfee Wireless Protection is a firewall.
Unless you obtained your McAfee product through some vendor agreement (in which case you should contact that reseller for support), McAfee has yet to work out the kinks in its technical support site. For example, in order to get online technical support, you need to choose a product. And that won't pose a problem if you happen to know that the latest version of McAfee Wireless Protection is called McAfee Wireless Networking 2 on the technical support side; most people wouldn't know this, but probably they could guess it. Product naming inconsistencies aside, the process is automated so that first you are presented with a series of likely FAQs, almost all of which involve problems with the Download Center. If none of the info here solves your problem, you're either invited to download an ActiveX component that will scan your system and program, then contact a technical support person or you're presented with a list of free services -- such as posting to a community forum, community-answered e-mail, or free online chat. What's missing from the McAfee site are helpful online tutorials and manuals for download.
McAfee Wireless Protection makes sense if you're paranoid about wireless security and don't like or don't trust the software included with your router. If you're already comfortable using the Windows XP network manager, then skip the McAfee stand-alone app and opt for the more complete McAfee Total Protection package, which includes everything in McAfee Wireless Protection plus antivirus, firewall, antispam, parental controls, system backup and more.