IT Pro Verdict
Reliably accurate malware detection
Includes effective parental control filters
Doesn’t require much user interaction
Less effective protection than Microsoft Defender
Finland’s F-Secure Safe has most of the features you’d want from an antivirus suite for home or home office use, with the addition of a particularly solid set of parental controls and content filtering tools to replace those that come built into Windows 10 and 11. These can be activated immediately at install time by specifying that you’re setting up an account for a child, and allow you to set up time limits, as well as web filtering, but don’t include app restrictions.
You get the expected - and vital - real-time malware protection as well as various on-demand and scheduled scan options. Although it doesn’t have as many dedicated options here as some rivals, a Full Scan covers everything you’ll need, including the boot sector.
Other features are pretty standard: Known-malicious websites are blocked by default, with the option of also blocking sites deemed to be suspicious. Additional security features are available via browser extensions for Firefox, Edge and Chrome, including a secure banking tool and a site reputation checker for search engine results on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo.
F-Secure doesn’t have all that many features that you can directly control or interact with. DeepGuard leans on the F-Secure cloud to only allow the installation of applications that it knows to be safe. This helps to keep malware from installing itself, but can throw up false positive identifications of legitimate software as potential threats. Fortunately, this is relatively rare and you can easily unblock anything you do want via the Tools page in the F-Secure client.
F-Secure doesn’t get as much regular attention from testing houses as some of its rivals. Consequently, this review is based on data from AV-Test and SE Labs only. Although F-Secure scored 100% in one real-world malware exposure test set and both reference set scanning tests from AV-Test, it - like many other malware detection engines - experienced a blip in July’s real-world tests, giving it a protection rate of 99.3%. It only threw up a single false positive, however.
SE Labs last tested F-Secure Safe in the first quarter of 2021, when it was solidly out-performed by Microsoft Defender. Kaspersky, McAfee and Avast also had better protection and total accuracy ratings. F-Secure had a protection rate of 96% and allowed the installation of 97% of legitimate software without false positive alerts, giving it an SE Labs total protection score of 96%.
AV-Test’s performance data shows us that F-Secure Safe has a low impact on system performance. It compares particularly well to Microsoft Defender when it comes to installation times for new software on low-performance PCs, and has less of an impact on website loading times than rival Kaspersky Internet Security.
Although F-Secure doesn’t always get perfect malware protection test scores, it’s nonetheless effective enough to provide solid defense against the kind of online threats you’ll encounter day-to-day. It has a decent range of features, but lacks dedicated webcam protection and has no firewall, so you’re still left wrangling the Microsoft Defender firewall’s rather dated interface.
While the product’s £59.99 (inc VAT) full price - the one you get on renewal - is fairly typical, its reduced first-year subscription fee of £39.99 is higher than that of many rivals, including those with more features. For that matter, Kaspersky Internet Security costs £34.99 after your first year. However, as with much antivirus software, Safe is available for much less if you buy a subscription key from either an online or bricks-and-mortar shop - a one year, one device subscription costs as little as £19.35 on Amazon. F-Secure also goes out of its way to highlight and make it easy to opt out of automatic renewal fees, which we welcomed.
Between protection and features, while Safe does what it needs to, it doesn’t stand out from the crowd, or even from your operating system’s integrated default option. If you’re looking for paid-for antivirus, Kaspersky Internet Security has more features and a lower introductory price.
K.G. is a journalist, technical writer, developer and software preservationist. Alongside the accumulated experience of over 20 years spent working with Linux and other free/libre/open source software, their areas of special interest include IT security, anti-malware and antivirus, VPNs, identity and password management, SaaS infrastructure and its alternatives.
You can get in touch with K.G. via email at email@example.com.