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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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...

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