Tight security, thin premium features define F-Secure 2012

After big changes made last year which earned the company AV-Comparatives' Product of the Year award, F-Secure strides forward on its new path with mostly under-the-hood changes that keep its security effective.

The Finnish security firm F-Secure gains a large percentage of its business from corporate accounts and platform operators, but that doesn't mean that it treats its consumer security suites as a ginger-haired child of indeterminate parentage and poor temperament. The new versions of F-Secure Internet Security 2012 (download) and F-Secure Anti-Virus 2012 (download) focus on keeping its security ahead of the curve, along with some ease-of-use improvements. However, as other suites emphasize their engine improvements along with an ever-expanding feature set, F-Secure remains steadfastly lean.

F-Secure 2012's Launch Pad lives fixed to the bottom of your screen, and provides the only point to jump between the suite's two core sections. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The only major visual change to the suite is the debut of the Launch Pad. Sadly, it's not a device that catapults your computer through your window and on to unsuspecting bystanders below, but instead a widget-like desktop tool that provides quick access to different parts of the suite. It's a tripartite tab from which you can switch between Computer Security, Online Safety, and a third tab labeled F-Secure. That one takes you to the publisher's Web site, while the drop-down provides links to Support, Notifications, Settings, and Updates.

The Launch Pad is the first thing that you'll see after installing the program, which is a bit rougher than it ought to be. F-Secure's got a wonky double-installation process where you run the installer, then reboot and add your license key, after which it completes downloading the suite's components and fires up the Launch Pad.

The Launch Pad isn't a bad tool, but it is a bit odd that you have to go back to it to get to some parts of the program because they're contained in a separate interface. That complaint aside, the interface is very fast to navigate through, and the big icons and clear language used ought to appeal to beginners and experts alike. Tools in the main interface window provide quick access to the most commonly used features, like scanning.

There's no "quick" scan here, although you can choose to run one of several scans, or a Full Computer scan. The "virus and spyware" scan took a shade under three minutes. While you can set it to perform actions automatically, there's no gaming mode for silent running while running entertainment.

F-Secure excels at its security engine, though. The newest version has overhauled its Deep Guard real-time protection network and added an intelligent execution component for responding to threats even faster than before. Also new is the cloud antivirus database that the suite calls up to for supplemental security verification. Much of the security, though, is still handled by the local database.

Practically across the board, last year's F-Secure 2011 was one of the most effective suites reviewed, and early numbers provided by an independent, third-party testing agency indicate that F-Secure 2012 is once again one of the toughest suites on the block.

The suite falls a bit short where it's always struggled: with the value-added, high-end features. Even some basic pay-for-play suite components like a silent running entertainment mode or browser support for Google Chrome are absent.

If you're looking for a suite with online storage and backup or identity protection tools, you'd better look elsewhere. However, there's no doubt that it offers a one-two combo of small system performance impact and stringent security, and on those counts is one of the best suites we've seen this year.