ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite

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Looking for cheap security for your PC? Zone Labs’ ZoneAlarm firewall is available free for the downloading, as is Grisoft’s AVG antivirus, Safer-Networking’s Spybot anti-spyware, and Spampal.org’s anti-spam software. But if you’re looking for an integrated solution offering all these safeguards and more, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.5 justifies its price.

And unlike some other vendors in this market segment Symantec, McAfee, ZoneAlarm publisher Zone Labs doesn’t start harassing you for a subscription-renewal fee on the anniversary date of your purchase.

This version of ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite (let’s call it ZASS) has several new features, including automatic spy-site blocking, a gaming mode, and something the company touts as an identity-theft protection service that protects you “even in the physical world.” This last claim is fulfilled by a one-year enrollment in a third-party service called Identity Guard Card Theft Protection, billed as “a $29.95 value!”

When you’re delivered to this third-party’s website (www.identityguard.com) indirectly from ZASS, you’re entreated to also sign up for one of the company’s other products with this message: “…for more complete identity protection, the ZoneAlarm team recommends upgrading to Identity Guard Fraud Protection….” This service costs nearly three times what you’ll pay for ZASS.

With the free service, you register your credit cards and the company’s web-crawlers—which troll sites known to trade in stolen credit-card numbers—will notify you if yours pop up. So what’s not to like? Identity Guard feels like a come-on: bait to lure you into signing up for the higher-priced product. But if you do find it to be of value, Zone Labs tells us it plans to continue to offer the basic service for free to customers who renew their ZASS subscriptions.

Enough about that; let’s get back to some of the new features of the core product. Few things are more annoying than being interrupted in the middle a game by some specious alert from a program that’s running on your PC. ZASS now includes a game mode that automatically suppresses the program’s alerts that require you to make a decision. It also suspends automatic scans and program updates.

Zone Labs has also added a known spyware site-blocking feature to ZASS. Should you try to visit one of these sites, or should a spyware program running on your PC attempt to phone home to one, ZASS will automatically block the visit and display an alert. Labeling applications or websites as sources of spyware can be problematic, and ZASS cuts vendors a lot of slack in this regard: In a quick test, the program prevented us from visiting www.gator.com, but not the P2P file-sharing site www.limewire.com or even www.eacceleration.com, whose application the program had previously identified as spyware.

On the other hand, ZASS spyware scan did turn up two Windows registry entries from programs we had purged from our test platform eons ago: StopSign, from the aforementioned eAcceleration, and PartyPoker (installed purely in the name of research—honest!). Several other popular anti-spyware programs, including Spybot, had failed to detect these entries.

This latest iteration of Zone Alarm Security Suite offers thorough protection for your PC at a reasonable price. The program’s better-safe-than-sorry alert messages will startle novices, but experienced users will take them in stride while customizing the program for their environment.

Month Reviewed: September 2006

+ INSTALLING A FIREWALL: Jam-packed with well-integrated security features.

- INSTALLING DRYWALL: Third-party credit-card protection is of dubious value.

VERDICT: 9

URL: www.zonelabs.com

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