Check Point – ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2010 review

free firewall protection for your PC
Photo of Check Point – ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2010
£free

There’s no such thing as a free lunch in real life, but a free byte or a hundred million is certainly available on your PC. Free products are widespread these days. Why buy Microsoft Office if you can get by using OpenOffice, or cloud based solutions like Google Docs or Zoho? And why not enjoy music on a free streaming service like Spotify, with just the occasional ad interrupting your listening? Want a spot of free online RPG strategy gaming? Then try League of Legends. The list of software and games freebies is now pretty much endless.

And so it is when it comes to computer security. Well, maybe not endless, but there are certainly plenty of options. You can pick up a free anti-virus program such as AVG, and back that up with a secondary line of defence such as Threatfire, and a free firewall program like this one from ZoneAlarm. A triple freebie combination along these lines gives you a pretty secure PC for no outlay whatsoever, which is quite impressive.

Indeed, this trio was exactly the combination with which we tested ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2010. Installation of the program is straightforward, and you can automate the entire process, or as most people will, choose which bits you want to opt in and out of. For example, users can decide whether they want to be a part of DefenseNet, which anonymously shares data regarding emerging threats to help ZoneAlarm respond to malware outbreaks swiftly. We should note that if the custom install option is chosen, and you elect not to install the ZoneAlarm security toolbar, you’ll be missing some important net security and heuristic anti-phishing protection.

The anti-phishing arm is, in fact, half of this application, working with the Safe Browsing Toolbar in your web browser to keep your surfing safe. Although those who don’t use Internet Explorer or Firefox are out of luck, as only these browsers are supported. The toolbar comprises of a search box and a couple of other handy extras: buttons which provide quick links to trusted sites, such as your Facebook account, and an email notifier which can be used to draw your attention to incoming webmail for all the major services including Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo.

However, the toolbar’s main feature is the site check button. Click this and ZoneAlarm checks over the web page’s credentials, informing the user of the site’s location, and whether it contains any known risks. We compared it directly to Norton Internet Security’s in-browser link vetting, and it matched Norton’s performance reasonably well, although there were two sites we discovered which Norton warned away from that ZoneAlarm said were fine. Triple checking with McAfee, we found it cautioned against one and not the other, so it seemed ZoneAlarm missed one trick here. Having said that, it is a matter of the particular security company’s opinion to a degree.

The firewall itself is the other half of the operation, of course. During installation, the application scans through all your programs and automatically sets up rules for them after assessing their security risk. This only takes about twenty seconds, so it’s a swift and painless process, although it didn’t clear some common programs we expected it would grant automatic access to the net (like Valve’s game delivery system, Steam, for example).

You can opt to manually make decisions about access permissions and other security settings, or you can have the program’s SmartDefense Advisor automatically make these choices for you if the thought of pop-up questions turns you off. We went for the manual option, and didn’t suffer a plague of pop-ups, with just the occasional question being asked in the review period.

It’s also worth noting that the firewall provides both inbound and outbound protection, and it has a gaming mode. Turn this on and ZoneAlarm suppresses the majority of its activity, such as alerts and updates, ensuring you enjoy a game session without any interruption.

Company: Check Point

Contact: +1 650 628 2212


Verdict
This gratis effort from ZoneAlarm is a well featured firewall, with some tasty extras you might not expect from a freebie, such as a gaming mode. The program can pretty much be set to run fully automated, and it provides a very useful partner to a free anti-virus solution such as AVG.