The Finnish software company, F-Secure, has been in the antivirus business for almost 30 years, and its latest product for home users, F-Secure safe, combines excellent protection with a user-friendly interface.
F-Secure is a subscription product, and the amount you pay depends on how many devices you want to cover.
Parental controls are introduced at install time, with options for immediately setting up time limits and content filtering for children of various ages, and you can install the software for use by a younger member of the household, too.
There is, of course, a range of real-time and on-demand scans available, although your options here aren’t as granular as those of rivals such as BEST Internet Security. For example, if you want boot sector scanning, you’ll have to run a full system scan.
For three devices – it can cover Windows PCs, Macs, and mobile devices running Android and iOS – it’s €79.99 per year, for five it’s €99.99, and for seven devices you’ll need to shell out €119.99 a year. Happily, there’s a free trial, so you can try it out before making a commitment.
Along with antivirus, you get browsing protection so that you don’t accidentally stumble upon a website that contains malware to hijack your computer.
There’s banking protection too, to prevent your financial details from being stolen, and parental controls so your kids don’t end up seeing things that aren’t good for them online.
Despite this, it doesn’t offer as many protective services as others we’ve looked at, such as Norton 360.
There’s no firewall, no webcam protection, and no password manager. It’s a lighter package than others we’ve tested, and this shows in the speed at which it operates.
Manually initiated scans take a fair chunk of your processor time, but zip through your files extremely quickly and do little to slow you down.
- Good range of features
- Clearly highlighted renewal fees
- Less accurate than some rivals
- Lacks webcam protection
- Parental control time limits and content filtering for children of various ages
- Gaming mode ceases notifications and CPU-intensive activity when a game or application runs at fullscreen
- Protected browser mode for secure online banking and purchases
- Per-folder ransomware protection select specific folders to be protected against unauthorized changes
We installed F-Secure in a virtual machine running a fully updated and activated copy of Windows 10 Home, ran it through its paces on the clean machine, then exposed it to test files from the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research (EICAR) and Spyshelter.com. It detected 100 percent of our test files.
F-Secure safe: €79.99 per year for three devices
- Web protection
- Ransomware protection
- Parental controls
- Automatic and manual scans
- Privacy management
There’s no firewall or specific webcam protection included with F-Secure, but it looks after your privacy in other ways and is designed to work with the built-in Windows firewall.
The background virus scanning looks out for spyware and keyloggers that can report your keystrokes back to a criminal base and capture your passwords.
While it may not be the most tightly focused on privacy, there’s enough here to browse the web safely without feeling like you’re going to be compromised any second. If you need features such as a VPN, password manager, or file encryption, then they’re available elsewhere.
It’s good to see specific protection against ransomware baked into the app, however, as this is becoming an increasing problem. This strand of malware, which encrypts your files and demands money from you to get them back, is capable of causing great damage.
F-Secure monitors a list of specific folders, and only allows particular apps access to them – you can change the list from within the app – to prevent ransomware from running its encryption on your documents.
F-Secure’s parental controls are a strong point for the app. Once you’ve identified a device as belonging to a child, you’re prompted to set up rules for it.
These include how long they’re allowed to browse the internet, and when bedtime is, after which it locks the computer unless you’re able to successfully beg the holder of the admin password for more time.
Even then, you’re on a timer. Bedtime is clearly very strictly enforced in Finland.
A lot of F-Secure’s activity happens under the bonnet. For example, DeepGuard only allows you to run applications that F-Secure’s cloud knows to be safe, and ransomware protection prevents selected folders from being changed without permission.
There’s also a notification-free gaming mode that you can activate via a right-click menu on the software’s notification area icon.
Browsing protection blocks suspicious websites and those that are known to be dangerous, and browser extensions are available to help provide a secure banking experience that protects against spyware.
F-Secure’s settings interface closely resembles that of Windows’ own settings, which is comfortable, but there really isn’t much there when it comes to features.
There’s website filtering too, with a decent list of topics you can choose to not have your offspring investigate too closely, including violence, gambling and drugs.
The list is short and includes a curious category called “unknown”, which we discovered blocks the download of the Brave browser that’s commonly used to circumvent parental controls.
And while F-Secure didn’t take credit for it, we were also unable to download Opera, a similar browser.
How does F-Secure work?
A browser extension for Edge, Chrome and Firefox takes care of many facets of F-Secure’s protection such as website filtering, banking protection – anything that takes place in the browser, basically.
The rest is handled by a background app on the PC, and a browser-based hub for managing your devices.
Unlike other internet security solutions that use a separate browser for financial transactions, the plugin acts by freezing any untrusted apps out of accessing the internet while you’re on a banking site and blocks access to untrusted websites too.
This is a good way of doing things, as it means you can keep on using your browser of choice (as long as it’s not Opera or something more exotic) while doing your banking, and doesn’t intrude on the process.
Management of other installations comes via the browser too, but it’s a sparse interface. You don’t get a lot of control over how these devices are protected, as choosing “settings” only allows you to rename them.
The options are wider if you’re administering a child’s device, thanks to the parental controls, but the app likes to remain in control of its own settings.
The app that runs on your PC doesn’t offer much else in terms of options, just a “scan” button to initiate a scan of your memory and files, and a “manage” button that launches the web interface.
You also get the reassurance that automatic protection is switched on – as it should be, there’s no way to switch it off without going through Windows’ user access control.
Scanning takes in external hard drives, any CDs or DVDs you may have inserted, and content you’ve downloaded from the internet. A file that fails to pass F-Secure’s tests is blocked from being downloaded completely.
When you are able to get through to F-Secure’s settings screen – which looks almost exactly like Windows 10’s settings app – the ability to switch off scanning is again there, but locked behind user access control and admin passwords.
This is exactly as it should be, and means no malicious programs can turn virus scanning off without your say-so.
The Last Words
Although it’s pleasant to use, there’s little in terms of malware defense or features to recommend F-Secure SAFE over Microsoft Defender.
If you’re here for the extra features, paid-for consumer rival Kaspersky Internet Security offers more of them, but F-Secure’s parental controls are easier to deploy.
F-Secure may lack some of the additional features offered by its competitors in the antivirus world, but its focused approach can pay dividends if you’d rather not have to mess around setting extra features up and already use the Windows firewall and Chrome’s password manager, for example.
Like just about every other entry in the antivirus market, it’s a subscription product, and while it costs more than some products, it’s cheaper than others, sitting around the middle of the market.
Being able to install it on multiple devices is a great feature, as our families rarely have just one computer these days, but the price increases as you expand your fleet of protected devices.
If you don’t mind paying, that’s fine, but there are cheaper, even free, products that can match the features offered by F-Secure. And, despite being a well-made, highly effective antivirus and internet security product, it starts to look a little less than good value when compared to some of its rivals.