ZoneAlarm Internet Security is a breeze to download. When you install, the program asks for your Internet connection method (dial-up, DSL, cable, and so on), the type of computer you use (single user, family, laptop, workstation), and whether you're part of a network and already use antivirus software. This information provides ZoneAlarm Internet Security with an initial configuration that you can tweak later if necessary.
After rebooting your PC, ZoneAlarm launches the Control Center, its main interface, which is clean and concise, with configuration options intuitively divided under 10 tabs (Overview, Firewall, Program Control, Antivirus/Antispyware, E-mail Protection, Privacy, ID Lock, IM Security, Web Filtering, and Alerts & Logs). Overall, ZoneAlarm's look and feel hasn't changed from that of previous versions, as most of the enhancements are under the hood.
ZoneAlarm Internet Security's configuration can be as simple or as complex as you prefer. For beginners, the default settings should be an adequate balance of safety and convenience. For advanced users, however, ZoneAlarm makes it easy to tweak the settings to your liking. For instance, set the suite's Internet cookie management to Off, turn it on High (blocking all cookies), or leave it at Medium to permit session-only cookies. If you want more detailed control, however, you can accept each tracking cookie on your computer for whatever length of time you choose. Norton and McAfee also allow for these options, but you'll have to drill down several layers from the main interface.
ZoneAlarm is available in four different editions, ranging in price from a free download to the $70 omnibus suite. Each paid version builds upon the features found in the free firewall. Better yet, you can download ZoneAlarm Internet Security, try it for 15 days, and at the end of the trial, keep the free version of ZoneAlarm without having to reinstall the software (the paid features simply gray out). We wish other security applications were this easy to use.
ZoneAlarm is the basic, free firewall edition that includes automatic firewall rule creation, color-coded alerts, automatic intrusion blocking, firewall protection at bootup, operating system-level protection, and a Windows Internet Explorer cache cleaner. For those uncertain whether they need a firewall, ZoneAlarm presents an easy-to-use entry-level option that won't cost a cent.
ZoneAlarm with Antivirus adds an antivirus engine from Computer Associates, which is fast and light on system resources. This $20 edition of ZoneAlarm is less expensive than most standalone antivirus apps without a firewall. ZoneAlarm with Antivirus includes automatic wireless network configuration, more customization features, and a password-protected interface (so that someone doesn't try and change your configuration settings without your knowledge).
ZoneAlarm Pro includes all of the features found in both ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm with Antivirus and adds ID lock (to prevent personal data from escaping from your desktop), hacker ID and mapping so that you can see where an attack might have originated, and inbound and outbound MailSafe, which checks your e-mail for suspicious file attachments.
ZoneAlarm Internet Security includes all of the features found in the previous three versions, plus it adds integrated antivirus and antispyware scanning, spam-blocking technology from MailFrontier Desktop, instant messaging spam control (SPIM), and more personal data filters.
Unfortunately, ZoneAlarm Internet Security still offers only basic wireless network detection and protection and doesn't specifically address emerging problems, such as "evil twin attacks". We'd welcome more development in this area in future releases.
The annual subscription renewal for ZoneAlarm costs less than Norton's or McAfee's. For the ZoneAlarm Internet Security suite it's $24.95, while ZoneAlarm Pro and ZoneAlarm with Antivirus run a conservative $19.95. By comparison, renewing subscriptions to McAfee Internet Security suites costs $39.95, while Norton costs $29.95.
Included with the purchase of ZoneAlarm Internet Security is one year of software updates and both e-mail- and keyword-based virtual support, along with access to a well-attended user forum. Purchase does not, however, include free telephone support. Support by phone is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday (excluding major holidays), but it costs a hefty $2.95 per minute--about the same as what McAfee and Symantec charge for their phone support.
Unfortunately, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.0 lacks printed documentation. The tutorial, while helpful, is more of a marketing tool than an informative one. However, the built-in help file is excellent, thorough, and specific, effectively balancing detail and clarity. And the ZoneAlarm forums are active, with users willing to answer your questions--something that Norton and McAfee don't offer.