F-Secure Safe review: Laser-focused security

A slick, simple security suite that will keep you safe while staying out of your way

Editor's ChoiceA screenshot of the F-Secure Safe main dashboard
Price
£10 exc VAT (1yr, 1 device)
  • Outstanding protection
  • Affordable price
  • Simple operation
  • Great performance
  • Minimal extra features

Some people want an all-encompassing security suite with dozens of configurable modules; others are just looking for an unfussy tool that will keep them safe, stay out of their way and not cost too much. F-Secure Safe is aimed at the latter constituency, offering faultless protection in a simple and affordable package.

First, let’s be clear about the pricing. The F-Secure site will charge you a steep £60 per annum for Safe, but if you hop over to Amazon, you can get a year-long, single-device Safe licence for just £12 (although it did increase to £15 at one point during our testing). Once your year is up, the application will invite you to renew at the standard RRP, but if you’re smart then you’ll simply let the licence expire and buy a new copy from Amazon instead.

Using F-Secure Safe could hardly be simpler. The front page presents merely a few statistics about your protection, and a single blue button to launch a virus scan. Even this is a tad superfluous since on-access scanning is enabled by default, as is protection from suspicious websites and downloads, courtesy of a plugin for Chrome, Edge and Firefox.

F-Secure doesn’t offer a standalone hardened browser for sensitive transactions, instead taking a clever dynamic approach. When the software detects that you’re visiting a banking site, it draws a green border around your browser window and temporarily blocks internet access for any untrusted apps and scripts running in the background, as well as preventing them from reading any data on the clipboard. Close the tab or navigate away and normal service is instantly resumed; it’s a seamless way of adding an extra layer of security.

The front page of the Safe console also provides a shortcut to the app-wide settings window, although there’s not much to be gained by tinkering. Developers might find it useful to disable individual aspects of file and web protection, and it’s nice that you can customise the list of folders that are monitored by the anti-ransomware module, but most people will get along just fine with the default settings.

F-Secure Safe incorporates a parental control module called Family Rules. Clicking the second tab down in the console lets you check how this is set up, although the actual management is handled at the My F-Secure site. You can block or time-limit the use of specific apps on specific machines, restrict overall screen time, filter web content and even track the location of Android or iOS phones with the F-Secure software installed. Since a five-device licence can be had from Amazon for an absurdly reasonable £23, it’s a good deal for families.

A screenshot of the F-Secure Safe tools dashboard

The last two tabs add little to the mix. The Tools tab merely provides shortcuts to tasks such as launching scans and blocking files or websites. There’s also a handy link to the Windows Firewall management interface, since F-Secure Safe doesn’t have a firewall of its own, and a button to temporarily disable all security features. The My F-Secure tab, meanwhile, is nothing more than a shortcut to the website.

It all adds up to a short feature list. There’s no password manager, no backup module, no software updater, no network scanner, no encryption tool… nothing, in fact, that isn’t directly focused on either blocking attacks or safeguarding your kids’ welfare. Secondary functions such as these can be genuinely valuable, though, so the publisher also offers a more feature-laden package called F-Secure Total.

Fittingly for such a laser-focused package, its protection scores are excellent. F-Secure’s software notched up a flawless protection rating of 100%, picking up and quarantining all the malware that was thrown at it, with no false positives caused by incorrectly flagged files.

These superb protection scores should be taken in context; we normally rely on a combination of security benchmark figures from AV-Comparatives.org and AV-Test.org, but F-Secure Safe wasn’t part of AV-Comparatives’ latest tests, so our numbers reflect AV-Test’s findings alone. That’s no reason to doubt them, though: when AV-Comparatives previously tested Safe in September 2020, they gave it an excellent online protection rating of 99.99%, confirming its top-notch antivirus capabilities.

As for speed, the figures speak for themselves. F-Secure races ahead of rival vendors, incurring a mere 6.1% drag on system performance. That’s less than half the burden of Windows’ own antivirus protections, which weighed in at 12.5% – so if you’re switching from Windows Security to F-Secure Safe, you can expect a small but measurable performance boost. We were also impressed by how quickly F-Secure scanned our removable hard disk, whizzing through more than 3,000 files and plucking out our malware sample in less than half a minute.

F-Secure Safe may not have all the bells and whistles that other similarly-priced security packages like McAfee Total Protection or Kaspersky Internet Security offer. For us, though, the great appeal of F-Secure Safe is the way it sticks to its core task and does it exceptionally well, with minimal system impact and at a price that’s hard to beat.

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