Computer security threats are no longer limited to big companies with hundreds of employees. In fact, they’re not limited to companies at all. Even if all you have is one PC and a dial-up connection to AOL you’re vulnerable to attacks that range from viruses to Trojan horses to a new style of con game called ‘Phishing’. Computer security attacks come in a variety of ways. There are Internet-based attacks, file-based attacks, and low-tech human engineered attacks. Each type is as potentially dangerous as the other, but they each require their own type of protection. As amazing and powerful as the Internet is, it’s an open door to unscrupulous people who want to exploit you or damage your computer in some way. There are a lot of sad and lonely people in the world and, left unprotected, your computer is a bright neon ‘Welcome’ sign.

Large security suites often load your PC with unnecessary features that slow down your system and do little to protect you from the biggest online threats. By comparison, Webroot’s Internet Security Essentials (WISE) is a relatively lightweight security suite that delivers a standard level of protection you need without bring your Windows-based (XP and Vista) computer to a crawl. Its streamlined design also makes it an easy-to-use solution that shouldn’t conflict with your other programs – at least it didn’t in our tests!

WISE (£39.95) combines a combination of anti-virus (licensed from Sophos), anti-spyware, firewall (licensed from PWI PrivateFirewall), file backup (licensed from SOS Backup Online) and disk cleanup technologies to help keep your computer safe from threats. It helps to block malicious programs, makes your PC invisible to hackers, removes traces of your online activity and protects your digital photos and other irreplaceable files. And an intuitive dashboard monitors your security and helps you take the appropriate action to stay protected. The e-mail shield is mail client independent and it protects the popular POP3 protocol for incoming mail and SMTP for sending mail. It also works with Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7 Web browsers only, so Google Chrome and Safari users are out of luck.

Aimed at home users, WISE does a respectable job of hiding the complicated technology associated with security software, yet it provides protection against the latest online threats, including viruses, worms, Trojans, keyloggers and rootkits. Detection technologies thoroughly scan your computer to identify and remove harmful programs, and proactive shield protection blocks new threats before they infect your PC. It also contains the same anti-spyware protection found in Webroot’s Spy Sweeper, a great application that thoroughly scans your computer to detect and remove spyware, adware, pop-ups, and other threats to your privacy, and proactively blocks new threats before they can install.

Similar to other all-in-one security suites, WISE provides two-way firewall protection to prevent unauthorised attempts to access your computer and ensures only trusted programs can access the Internet from your PC. This proactive protection ‘learns’ what should and should not be allowed based on your normal activity – which means greater security for your PC and fewer interruptions for you. Geeks can even view traffic activity in real time or in a formatted HTML report, and WISE also includes reports for packet and port activity.

Another key feature worth highlighting is online and local file backup and restore capabilities. This enables you to protect digital photos and other important files online to ensure they are protected against threats. Local backup provides added protection for less critical files or larger files such as digital video. And because it happens automatically, you never have to remember to back up files again. WISE also provides access to your online backups (2GB provided, though additional space can be purchased) from any PC with an Internet connection so you can get the file you need no matter where you are. You may also like the ability to share your files without sending large attachments – WISE enables you to send a download link to anyone who has an e-mail address. Built-in security ensures they can only see the file you choose while your other files remain secure and private. Furthermore, WISE removes Internet traces including Internet history, address bar history, cache, cookies and more, and the Shredder function deletes files and folders permanently, making them completely unrecoverable.

If you’ve ever used a Webroot program you’ll be instantly familiar with the user interface. The WISE home screen makes it easy to perform tasks and review status information. The control panel on the left provides access to all program functions, while the home panel in the middle shows overall status and alerts, and allows quick access to common tasks. From here you can begin a sweep, backup, or cleanup (removes unnecessary files like browser temporary files or Windows temporary files that get cached on disk and slow down your machine), or you can adjust the firewall filtering mode. A new Gamer Mode lets you set the program to ‘silent’ mode for uninterrupted gaming. However, the clever feature about this mode is that the software’s Execution Shield continues to run so that if a malicious program attempts to run on your PC while in Gamer Mode, it will be automatically quarantined. Gamer Mode also notifies you if a scheduled scan was missed and provides the opportunity to run the sweep manually.

Webroot Software has a lot of experience in the anti-spyware market, but it’s a newcomer in the security suite space – and it shows with WISE. While its spyware protection is second to none, it cleans up browsing and system usage traces effectively, and it includes 2GB of online backup with remote restore and file sharing, its firewall component isn’t up to the job. Sadly, it failed port-scan tests and exploit tests and presented us with lots of pop-up queries. And considering WISE is supposed to be a complete security suite, there are no anti-spam, privacy protection, parental control, or private data protection tools. We also noticed that WISE slowed our machine’s boot time. There are better suites available.