CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2009 review: ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2009

ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2009

Robert Vamosi Former Editor
As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.
Robert Vamosi
7 min read

Editors' note: On September 11, 2008, we changed the rating of this product after including comparative testing data and ranking it against other 2009 Internet security suites.


ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2009

The Good

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 is faster and lighter than last year's release, has a modern interface, and provides real-world identity fraud protection.

The Bad

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 lacks Web 2.0 safe-surfing tools, as well as utilities to back up data and shred deleted files.

The Bottom Line

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 provides top-notch security protection that is light on system resources, allowing you to work unencumbered.

The improvements within Check Point ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 are mostly under the hood, but they are nonetheless significant. Optimizing the resources for desktop and laptop Windows users is important within a suite of tools, and long-time ZoneAlarm users will notice the benefits almost immediately. There's a new user interface, but little else feature-wise. Unlike some everything-including-the-kitchen-sink suites we've seen lately, ZoneAlarm still covers just the basics, and continues to be best of breed in antivirus, antispam, and firewall protection. Missing, however, is its Web 2.0 safe-browsing protection, which Check Point has yielded to its new ForceField product. We think that's a mistake. The competition among Internet Security-suite vendors is heating up. In the fall we expect to see major improvements in Internet Security suites from Symantec Norton, McAfee, and Trend Micro, and so we will be adjusting our review of ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 accordingly. Right now, current users should be satisfied with the upgrade, and new users won't be disappointed, but we don't feel comfortable awarding ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 with our Editors' Choice award yet this year.

We downloaded the 44MB installation file and installed ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 without a hitch. ZoneAlarm requires the use of Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. There is a full-function, 15-day trail version available; at the end of the trail period, the program reverts to the free, basic ZoneAlarm firewall product.

With the install, after an initial reboot, we were asked a series of questions to help us set up the application. The first question is in regards to the ZoneAlarm program-control security setting, which controls the number of message alerts you'll see on your desktop. A Maximum setting flags everything until ZoneAlarm "learns" which security settings you prefer; an Auto-Learn setting starts the learning process earlier by temporarily lowering the security settings, resulting in fewer messages; and finally, a Minimum setting protects you against older, known alerts but no new threats, resulting in virtually no alerts. The default is Auto-Learn, and we left it at that setting. Next, you're asked to participate in DefenseNet, ZoneAlarm's security-threat center where new alerts are recorded anonymously; you can opt out, if you prefer. After that, you'll be asked whether you have antivirus protection and, if you don't, whether you want to enable protection within ZoneAlarm. For this, we advise you to choose ZoneAlarm's protection--not only will you then manage everything through the ZoneAlarm interface, but you'll receive state-of-the-art protection from Kaspersky Anti-Virus. Finally, the program will ask whether you want to scan your PC starting immediately. After these questions, you'll need to reboot once again.

Should you decide to uninstall, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 includes an uninstall icon in the All Programs listing--something McAfee and Norton do not. The uninstall process is smooth, first verifying that you want to do this, then disconnecting from the Zone Labs servers and removing the application. Upon reboot, we found absolutely no trace of ZoneAlarm--not in the Registry, not in the system folders. We cannot say the same for McAfee, Norton, or Trend Micro.

The new interface within ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 is cleaner, less complicated, and more modern than the previous one. ZoneAlarm's interface remains the high bar for design, at once communicating plenty of information without a lot of clutter or silly icons. Gone are the tabs used in the past, replaced with an enhanced left-hand navigation. For example, under Program Control, there's an overview link of security settings, a tab for individual-program access, and a tab for component access. We like the ease of customization here, letting us to allow, block, or ask with each program. Other firewalls make us jump through hoops or create complicated rule sets to tweak a given application.

It's all here. ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 includes all the security tools you need to keep not only your desktop PC secure, but also your personal identity safe while surfing online. Boot time is much faster in this latest version, as are the individual scans for antivirus (using the Kaspersky Anti-Virus engine) and antispyware (Check Point's own engine). The suite includes spam protection from SonicWall, and, of course, Check Point's award-winning firewall. There's also a game mode, so that security scans and non-priority notices are suspended while you are playing your favorite online games--still a rarity among Internet-security suites. What's new are four antivirus scan modes (so the program won't interrupt your workflow), improved performance throughout, and free credit-monitoring reports.

Unlike other suites we've reviewed, ZoneAlarm has less noise; that is, it produces fewer alerts for applications already running on our desktop. That's because Zone Labs maintains a rather large database of legitimate applications and compares the signature of what's on your system with those in its database. For the most part, ZoneAlarm only flagged unusual activity, which is what you want a good firewall to do. For example, ZoneAlarm notified us of a user who persistently attempted to scan our wireless laptop, then allowed us to block that user. Other firewalls we've reviewed only recorded these attempts in their logs; it's up to you to review the logs and take action.

A real-world identity-theft program was announced with version 6.5 and has been tweaked yet again in the 2009 version. This year ZoneAlarm has branded its own Identity Fraud Protection Center, offering helpful how-tos on what is Identity Fraud and how to prevent it, including a new service to monitor activity on your credit report. There is also a service that helps you, should you become a victim, with personal assistance. No other Internet Security suite includes real-world security protection like ZoneAlarm. We think the ZoneAlarm suite's focus on identity theft in this version more than justifies the cost of the Pro version or suite.

Also, most vendors have opted out of including parental controls (or calling them such). ZoneAlarm includes a Parental Control feature in its left-hand column. While you don't have to have children in the house to want to filter Web sites and e-mail content, it's refreshing to see that ZoneAlarm continues to include it within its suite under a recognizable name.

But, all is not yet perfect within ZoneAlarm. The suite lacks antiphishing protection and safe-surfing tools. For that, Check Point is directing users to its ForceField product. For now, look for special offers that allow you buy ZoneAlarm Internet Security and ForceField as a bundle. In the future, aspects of ForceField may be combined with ZoneAlarm Internet Security, but Check Point was vague on those plans.

Also missing from the ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 are features found in other Internet Security suites that back up and shred data files.

In CNET Labs' performance tests, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009, as a suite, was slower in all tests when compared with Norton Internet Security 2009 on our test Windows XP systems. ZoneAlarm uses Kaspersky Anti-Virus and in third-party, independent antivirus testing using live viruses, Kaspersky products have always scored in the upper ranks, although not always in the top position. On the CNET iTunes test, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 scored 3 seconds slower than the test system at 275 seconds. On the CNET Microsoft Office test, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 finished at a respectable 1,574 seconds, placing near the middle. In a test scanning a single folder with compressed and media files, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 came in at 502 seconds, which was twice as long as our test with the standalone version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2009. In terms of boot speed, the extra tools within the ZoneAlarm suite added only 3 seconds for a result of 36 seconds.

To find out how we test antivirus (and now Internet Security suite) software, see CNET Labs' How we test: Antivirus software page.

ZoneAlarm uses Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2009. To see how well ZoneAlarm will protect your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, for ondemand scans Kaspersky Anti-Virus 7 earned an Advanced + (highest) rating, catching 98 percent of all malicious software tested, tying with Norton Antivirus 2007. However, for the Retrospective/Proactive test, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 7 earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating, although Kaspersky produced very few false positives compared with other antivirus applications in the same test. From CheckVir.com, there is no data.

ZoneAlarm uses its own antispyware. In antispyware testing on CNET, ZoneAlarm Antispyware 7 scored in the lower half of our top 10, fairing poorly in the on demand detection and removal tests.

Included with the purchase of Check Point ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 is one year of software updates and both e-mail- and keyword-based virtual support, along with access to a well-attended user forum. Support by phone from Check Point is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST), Monday through Friday (excluding major holidays), but it costs a hefty $2.95 per minute

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 lacks printed documentation, and this year also lacks an informative flash tutorial seen in past releases. The built-in help file is excellent, thorough, and very specific, effectively balancing detail and clarity. And the ZoneAlarm online knowledgebase is good as well.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2009 provides top-notch fundamental security protection that is light on system resources, allowing you to work unencumbered.


ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2009

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Performance 7Support 7