Zone Alarm

This firewall program can be downloaded free. Installation on your computer is a simple matter of running the downloaded file and following the prompts.

The free version of Zone Alarm is a set and forget firewall suitable for a stand alone computer or local network where the internet connection is not shared. When first installed you have the option of telling the firewall to allow access to all of the common programs that you are likely to use to access the internet or alternatively you can start with an empty list. Whenever a program that is not on the list attempts to access the internet then Zone Alarm will pop up a message asking if you wish to allow that program to access the internet. There are two buttons to allow you to say yes or no as well as a checkbox to tell Zone Alarm to use the same answer every time the program asks for access. There is also a link available to open a web page on the Zone Labs site that gives more information about whether or not you should give access (at least for common programs that it expects may request such access).

There are also several Pro versions of Zone Alarm that can be purchased for a small fee. The basic Pro version adds the necessary options to allow you to firewall a local network where you are sharing the internet connection across the network (the only way to share an internet connection using the free version is by lowering the internet security zone level from high security to medium security which partly defeats the purpose of having a firewall in the first place. While this is better than nothing the small one off fee for the Pro version makes this level of upgrade well worthwhile if you have a local network to protect.

There are also several further versions that contain additional features such as web filtering, email protection, IM security and even anti-virus. The full Zone Alarm Security Suite gives you all of these features for not much more money than is charged for the basic Pro firewall and gives you effective protection against a number of different types of security threats in the one product for a quite reasonable cost. The email protection works with Outlook and Outlook Express to add in the sort of junk mail filtering that they don't have built in but which is built into many of the other email programs. IM security allows you to define which instant messaging program(s) you are using and adds a spam filtering capability to the messages that you receive.

Whichever version you are using, there is full logging built in that records all of the attempts that are made to access your computer from the internet as well as any malware that may be running on your computer that has tried to send a message home. There is also a Stop button available that can be pressed to instantly block all traffic to and from the internet that you can use if you accidentally allow a program to start communicating and then realize that you have made a mistake.

The software used to offer a trial of the full feature version of the program and would then switch automatically back to the basic firewall if you didn't purchase by the end of the trial. More recently they have removed the automatic downgrade so you are forced to download and install the free version when the trial ends and lose all the program accesses you spent the prior two weeks configuring. Since there are better alternatives to the other components of the full suite than the versions from ZoneAlarm you are best off just installing the basic free version in the first place unless you are using Internet Connection Sharing on a dialup internet connection where you need the Pro version of the product in order to be able to set the ICS access correctly.

Anyone who connects their computer to the internet either via a dialup or broadband connection should be running a firewall to protect their computer from threats from the internet. The excellent operation of the free version of Zone Alarm which can completely hide your computer from the internet side as well as restricting which programs on your computer are allowed access the other way means that no one has an excuse for not using a firewall.

My Rating: Firewall yesyesyesyesyes
(Security Suite)
(Security Suite)


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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