We downloaded the 32MB installation file and installed ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7 without a hitch. After a 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 say choose ZoneAlarm's protection--not only will you 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.
Upon our second reboot, we were invited to view a 3-minute Flash tutorial on how to use the suite. Trend Micro Internet Security 2007 also offers a tutorial, but Trend Micro's is a static Web page. ZoneAlarm walks the new user through with a lively video.
Should you decide to uninstall, ZoneAlarm 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 PR material says there's a new interface in ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7, but all we saw was that the logo had changed, with the parent company, Check Point, much more prominent. Gone are the orange and red colors, replaced with a more sophisticated slate gray. ZoneAlarm's interface remains the high bar for design, at once communicating plenty of information without a lot of clutter or silly icons. Features are always visible along the left-hand navigation, and the right-hand window changes to display additional tabs of associated information. For example, under Program Control, there's an overview tab of security settings, a tab for individual program access, and a tab for component access. We like the ease of customization here, allowing 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 Suite 7 includes all the security tools you need to keep not only your desktop PC secure, but also your personal identity safe while surfing online. What's new is the partnership with Kaspersky, but also there's a new Auto-Learn system that helps users configure the firewall quicker, as well as a feature that configures security settings for applications that are already installed.
Unlike other suites we've reviewed, ZoneAlarm has 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.
Improved features within ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7 include better antispyware protection and better protection of a user's real-world protection from identity theft. The antispyware protection is Zone Labs' own, not partnered content, and it continues to improve. The real-world identity theft program was announced with version 6.5, and it includes a real-time monitoring service that will help stop junk mail from being delivered to your home--one of the main ways identity theft occurs--and should you become a victim of identity theft, the program will help you navigate the process of reestablishing your true identity. ZoneAlarm, partnering with a company called Intersections, will monitor illegal use of your credit cards by checking shadowy black markets and Internet forums. If your personal information is found, you'll be notified and told what you can do to prevent fraud and abuse. We think ZoneAlarm'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 program includes antiphishing protection, but we think it's a little unconventional. Instead of a toolbar that checks sites visited, ZoneAlarm maintains a list of trusted sites, some provided by ZoneAlarm and some custom sites you can add. The trusted sites tab can also tell you if the trusted site is transmitting your personal information via clear text. Other suites we've reviewed offer toolbars for Firefox and IE that checked the validity of the site before allowing access. Antiphishing technology is an emerging technology, and it'll be interesting to see what methodology becomes dominant in the coming year.
Missing from the ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7 are features that back up and shred data files. Perhaps we'll see them in the next version.
For antivirus protection, ZoneAlarm partnered with Kaspersky. We did not specifically test the antivirus engine within ZoneAlarm, but is based on Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6, which scored well in CNET Labs' performance tests and scored exceptionally well in third-party, independent antivirus testing using live viruses. On our iTunes test, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 was first, with a fast 174 seconds, just 12 seconds above our test system. On our Sorensen Squeeze test, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 was second, with 256 seconds, just 15 seconds more than our test system. For scanning a single folder with files, Kaspersky came in the middle of the pack, requiring 160 seconds. And in boot speed, Kaspersky came in third, with a respectable 62 seconds. To find out how we test, see CNET Labs' How we test: software: antivirus page. In terms of protecting your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 earned an Advanced + (highest) rating, catching 99 percent of all malware tested. And from CheckVir.com, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 was one of eight products to earn its Standard (or highest) rating.
Check back to read about our CNET Labs testing of the ZoneAlarm firewall and antispyware protection in the coming weeks.
Included with the purchase of Check Point ZoneAlarm Internet Security 7 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. Only Trend Micro provides that. Support by phone from Check Point 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.
ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7 lacks printed documentation, but we found the new flash tutorial to be more informative than past efforts. The built-in help file is also excellent, thorough, and very specific, effectively balancing detail and clarity. And the ZoneAlarm online forums are active, with users worldwide eager and willing to answer your questions--something that Norton and McAfee don't offer.
ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7 provides the perfect balance between best-of-breed security protection and ease of use, providing the home user with superior protection that's light on system resources, allowing you to work unencumbered.