Microsoft

Review: ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013

ZoneAlarm looks to bolster options for consumers and businesses, with the inclusion of a free Antivirus and Firewall edition.

If there's anything the recent release of Windows 8 has to show for itself, it's in the fact that Microsoft is stepping up its game in the security department by bundling their own, in-house antivirus and firewall product, colloquially referred to as Windows Defender. This tool does seem to get the job done on a more rudimentary level, but if you are looking for something more comprehensive and less tied to the Microsoft brand, alternatives do exist. Today, I'll be looking at a product that's been on the security front for quite a while now and is back better than ever in an all new release.

ZoneAlarm

Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.'s ZoneAlarm product line is a robust alternative to solutions from the likes of Microsoft, Symantec, and McAfee. The company has recently introduced a newcomer that is bound to bolster their options for consumers and businesses, with the inclusion of a free Antivirus and Firewall edition of ZoneAlarm.

Although ZoneAlarm has had solid success with the firewall component over the years, the antivirus part is rather new and has yet to be put under some rigorous testing. For reference, the free version of the software updates anti-virus definitions every 24 hours, unlike the paid version, which performs updates every hour. That's part of the cost of going free.

Product Information:

  • Title: ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013
  • Author: Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.
  • Product URL: http://www.zonealarm.com/security/en-us/zonealarm-free-antivirus-firewall.htm
  • Supported OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8
  • Price: Freeware, with paid versions available starting at $34.95/year.
  • Bottom Line: Check Point's first attempt at an all-in-one comprehensive security suite is a noble attempt, and has much to offer. Unfortunately it leaves a bit to be desired in the antivirus performance department.

Installation

As far as installation goes, I was pretty satisfied with how clean and easy the installer was. At the first screen, as is the case with most freeware applications, the installer asks if you are interested in some common bloatware toolbars. Thankfully, the free offers provided within were set as opt-in features, requiring you to check the boxes before proceeding. Personally, I chose the "Skip all offers" link, which is seen on the bottom left-hand corner of the install window. In the next window, this is where the choices got a bit more interesting.

The first half of the selections, representing installation size, was fairly straightforward, allowing you to save disk space now or install everything at once. The second set of options sets how the application control mode should work. AUTO-LEARN basically means that ZoneAlarm will adapt to your web surfing and software usage, while tweaking the security on the fly, whereas the MAX SECURITY setting means that ZoneAlarm will effectively go on high alert and you are left to tone the restrictions down on firewall and software access as necessary. Suffice to say, I chose the full install and AUTO-LEARN options for the purposes of this review.

Running ZoneAlarm

After the install process completed, I was presented with the main screen for ZoneAlarm's security suite. If appearances are anything to go by, the developers decided to settle on a very simple looking GUI that easily segregates three camps into antivirus, firewall, and identity protection regions. Starting with the firewall, since this piece is ZoneAlarm's claim to fame, I found the options to be flexible, including the ability to monitor various IP address "zones" and online activity for software applications. You can set specific ports to monitor so that, if any process accesses those sections of your network, you can be alerted to allow or deny activity.

Getting to the antivirus contained within, I ran a few scan tests after performing a manual definitions update. Unfortunately, this is where things start to slip a bit in the quality of experience department. Speeds for updating and scans were quite slow and I felt that my PC started to chug a bit. The scans did seem thorough enough, being able to pick up some test malware and keygen executables I scattered about at random. Basically, for a first stab at an antivirus product by Check Point, it was not a bad experience, but I do believe that underlying engine optimizations are in order. Hopefully by next release, the speed concerns will be ameliorated for the most part, because ZoneAlarm does stand a chance against the competition, should they continue to blaze the trail on this product-line.

On a final note, ZoneAlarm does come bundled with identity protection and an interesting feature called "Advanced Download Protection" download screener for your web browser, which I tested in Internet Explorer 10. Heck, you even get 5GB of free online storage for backup purposes. Compared to other freebie security suites, I will admit that the ZoneAlarm advantage is in completeness of features. You almost get an entire package deal, sans 24/7 customer support and less frequent product updates, at zero cost. A PC tune up tool is said to come with the paid version of ZoneAlarm. Honestly though, CCleaner does the job just as well for free.

Bottom line

If ZoneAlarm can improve upon scanning speeds and resource consumption, I would definitely use this as my go-to all-in-one security suite for Windows. However, if anyone tried the software now, depending on their system specifications, they might be in for some disappointment and it would probably be best to at least wait until version 2014 hits the web at the end of the year.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

25 comments
pizza7
pizza7

I have been using their Firewall Pro product for years on desktops. Normally it works pretty good. I have it on manual so it can warn me and I can make a decision on what I want to do. Lately though there have been issues. Settings don't always seem to stay they way I set them up. It's as if it wants to do things automated not my way. When I install software I have to shut it down. I never used to have to do that. Every so often I have internet issues where a site just does not seem to be working so again I have to shut it down. I go into program control and set up how I want my apps to be controlled by the firewall and I still have issues that should not be happening. I get prompted when it detects something installing and I give the permission and then nothing. I know I have to shut it down. I hope its latest version is better. Lately there have been too many bugs for my liking. I have it set up to work with the Windows Firewall but if this keeps up I might just rely on Windows.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I've been a ZA fan for awhile now, and have been curious about the latest release. It's looking good I'll give it a shot, sheerly for the firewall options. I'm assuming I can disable the antivirus option?

rexrich2k
rexrich2k

After using practically every big-name AV over the years I found ESET nod32 to be awesome. I put it to the tests too, I would go to loads of hack-ware and DL stuff, bad sites and let them direct me to other sites. After years of this I did not get a virus that I know of. - - But when the economy pooped out I couldn't afford the license anymore. So I have been going with no AV for quite sometime. I don't go to bad sites like that either anymore. But just going with MSE, Win firewall and such, I haven't really had any problems. 2 other software I use for many years are SuperAnti and ASC. Been building/repairing computers since 1995. Ive found that for one reason or another I will need to reinstall Windows about every 2-4 years. So I prepare for this along the way. Ive been going with no AV now for 2 years and I'm going to stay that way till I find a reason to go back. (Windows7)

JCitizen
JCitizen

free firewall lately, but haven't given it a serious leak test yet. It definitely is better than the XP SP3 firewall many of my clients mistakenly rely on. I may revisit this discussion later and post my test results. So far it is very light and as long as it doesn't conflict with any other solutions( which it doesn't on the one I use) it uses very little resources. I personally only use software firewalls for interior LAN worm protection; but I still insist on the best I can find. It seems to have pretty good outbound blocking capability so far.

Carl Herrmann
Carl Herrmann

The ZoneAlarm Internet Security suite - which includes antivirus - has been around since May 2004. I would hardly say that "the antivirus part is rather new and has yet to be put under some rigorous testing."

joe
joe

Who needs it if Windows ships with it's own firewall and Defender. Plus Microsoft Security Essentials is free. These seem to do a fairly good job so I am not seeing any advantage in other products. In fact most slow your system down, cost $40/yr, and don't offer any better protection.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

I used ZoneAlarm for years--in fact, thanks to their autorenewal of subscriptions, I'm signed up until sometime next year still. But I uninstalled it last December because there is no way to stop it interfering with what it thinks is junk mail and putting it in a folder you can't permanently delete, down among the zees, which is a long way from the I of Inbox. Microsoft's firewall and anti-malware products are just fine, especially combined with MailWasher Pro to delete unwanted mail while it's still on the server.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

You say ZoneAlarm is a robust replacement application? Did you come across test results mentioning that?

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

so the built in Windows firewall is set to block most everything. Microsoft Security Essentials has so far kept us clean, and scans pretty quickly. One final thought...did you "un-install" the Zone Alarm Suite"? Did it leave any traces behind the way many other products do, such as McAfee? That has been one of my complaints with products from McAfee and Symantec over the past 10 years or more, too many pieces of stuff (for lack of a better word at the moment) get left behind if you uninstall them.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What is your organization's firewall application? Is it working well for you?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I believe that this is the first time a "free" version of the product came out and from what I read, this is kind of a fresh rebuild to this product. I do not recall the Internet Security product you speak of ever coming as a free version in the past. My apologies if I wasn't clear on this point previously.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...as I had been standardized on it for the better part of a decade. It was relatively efficient and very inexpensive compared to comparable solutions like Symantec/Norton. ($20/year) However, in recent years it has become more troublesome, mainly gumming up some machines for no clear reason or the firewall deciding to block formerly working applications for no good reason. I did not like the makeover it received a few years ago which make it more difficult to fine-tune like the previous one. Since then, I have been slowly replacing it with the free Microsoft alternative as computers running it become troublesome.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Windows firewall is limited are very rarely updated. You can't control certain aspects either. Those who buy Kaspersky [and the few Norton] wait until Xmas time where you can get the AV/Firewall for 3 PCs at $20 or just the AV for 3 PCs at $10.

Gisabun
Gisabun

MSE lost [at least at one point] some creditation because of problems it couldn't detect. I know of one case where a friend was running it and didn't know that it misseda couple of rootkits. Malwarebytes and Kaspersky's TDSSKiller both detected them. Since then I moved away from MSE.

JCitizen
JCitizen

on clients who relied solely on MSE; I had to pull a rabbit out of my hat to help one of them recover from a complete disaster! He had over 56 infections, and these weren't cookies either! :O

JCitizen
JCitizen

with the Z100G streaming email service. I really think the firmware and the design of that solution were vastly superior to their software products.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

The Firewall component is definitely top-tier in my trial of the product. It's very extensible and works nicely on inbound and outbound activity monitoring. The antivirus component is perhaps less so, but I believe ZoneAlarm has a chance to become something nicer next release cycle.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

you suggest that ZoneAlarm is not good replacement application? Do you know something we don't know? Please share.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I never did actually uninstall the suite. I'll have to try that and report my findings. :)

JCitizen
JCitizen

As far as that goes, the last time I tested ZoneAlarm(which in all fairness was years ago), I found it was bloated, and left many infections on my computer after I uninstalled it and scanned with an online scanner(ESET). I've been using Avast every since. HOWEVER - I found the ZoneAlarm Z100G UTM appliance to be a fantastic SOHO router for my clients! They offered a very reasonable yearly fee ($79 or so)for [u]streaming[/u] anti-virus and email scanning services, among others; with email of IDS statistics sent to your inbox. This was one of the best deals going - until they dropped it. After the economic crash, I guess they just didn't want to support it anymore - they are still offering the service to people who already own it though. I have to give them great credit in that area. If anything I wished SofaWare(CheckPoint) would reintroduce a new model with N speed wifi, and the same great service package! This would put ZoneAlarm on top of the heap in my opinion!! I still use my CheckPoint Safe@Office 500W, but I can't afford the streaming services to that product, but at least I get firmware updates and IDS alerts for the same price ZoneAlarm charged for the whole shebang. If it weren't that I was looking for an N router/UTM device, I'd buy a used Z100G and get a better deal.

JCitizen
JCitizen

It might even be less bloated!

JCitizen
JCitizen

although I abandoned all things ZoneAlarm for Comodo Personal Firewall years ago. Now Comodo is in danger of becoming a bloated POS too! X-(

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Nor did I make any claims. I was just asking why ZoneAlarm should be considered as a replacement. I didn't see any source verification or testing.

JCitizen
JCitizen

You are just asking a reasonable question, after all! ?:|