ZoneAlarm has gained a good reputation in the security stakes, largely down to its world-famous firewall. Its new 2012 version attempts to address usability issues with that may have led casual or ‘beginner’ users to opt for a more friendly solution in the past.
Look and feel
The new version offers usability in spades, and the ZoneAlarm interface couldn’t be simpler. All you’ll find on the main screen are three large boxes detailing the status of the computer, Internet and identity and data protection. These make it easy to tell at a glance if everything is OK, but we’re not sure if it’s a genuine improvement on more attractive and information-filled displays from rivals.
Select a category, and you’re shown more information on the various components. ‘Computer security’ covers the firewall, anti-virus and application control engines, with quick links to view zones or ‘scan now’, and access to advanced settings.
The ‘Internet’ component offers web security, anti-spam and parental control (which must be installed separately – more on this later), while ‘Identity and data’ covers identity protection, as well as online backup with 2GB of free storage.
Checkpoint has clearly designed the new version of ZoneAlarm to be as automated and as unobtrusive as possible, and while advanced control is available if necessary, it’s fairly well buried amongst the various component menus.
Features and performance
ZoneAlarm’s new-found similicity is an interesting evolution, but one that will only appeal if the software itself does a good enough job of protecting you against the latest threats. First up it’s worth mentioning that this rather cloaked approach to security hides a wide range of tools that include anti-spam, anti-phishing, a game mode and some extremely effective parental controls, provided by a partnership with the makers of well known child-friendly filtering software, Net Nanny.
There’s also an advanced download manager that replaces the default browser alternative, offering additional security for downloaded files and prompts to address unsigned or unknown software.
Along with the obvious firewall and malware protection, it’s a comprehensive suite, but those who want more should note that the Extreme Security alternative adds PC Tune-up, virtual and private browsing and a keylogger to the feature set. It’s also possible to add DataLock to the package, which provides hard drive encryption and pre-boot authentication.
Present throughout the range are ZoneAlarm’s much-heralded firewall and anti-malware components based on Kaspersky’s technology, which breezed through all independent tests with excellent scores.
The firewall also performs effectively, and is also entirely automated, being maintained by ZoneAlarm’s Defensenet system to track the safety of software automatically, so no more annoying confirmation pop-ups.
Light on system resources
The downside to this level of protection is that ZoneAlarm isn’t particularly fast. During our tests it took almost five and a half minutes to scan the same test system that Norton 360 just a minute and a half. Subsequent scans do speed up, clocking in at just over two minutes – but Norton registered an impressive 15 seconds under the same conditions.
Luckily ZoneAlarm doesn’t take up much in the way of system on resources while it’s scanning, and generally stayed under 40 per cent CPU usage, with just 20K of system memory utilised. It’s no surprise then, that we saw no system slowdown during this process, despite running it on a fairly old machine.
Scans and updates can be scheduled at regular intervals, though it would have been nice to see a ‘when your computer is idle’ option here, and there are plenty of logs and information on recent scans and suspect files.
Suite selection and additional components
ZoneAlarm has clearly opted for the automated approach with its new software, which builds on improvements to previous versions by making it even simpler to use at base level, while still offering advanced users the control they need and not skimping on its impressive levels of protection.
The only thing we did find rather frustrating is that additional components, such as the parental controls and online storage, must be downloaded and set up separately (though are still accessible from the suite), and while the software links through to additional tools in the ZoneAlarm family, such as Tune-up, DataLock and SocialGuard, these require the purchase of a different version or an additional package.
This doesn’t sit too well with the simplistic approach and some users may prefer to be provided with everything as standard, but it does allow them to only choose the security they require – provided, of course, the price is right.
The retail price of ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2012 is £44.95, which is a little expensive for what you get (though at the time of writing the software is discounted through the official store to £22.50). Additional tools range from £15 to £25, though if you need more than one, the Extreme Security suite may be a better buy at £49.95 (currently discounted to £24.95).
In summary, the suite represents excellent value at its current discount price, and reasonable value compared to rivals otherwise. Those looking for a ‘set-and-forget solution’ they can rely on will find it very effective.
Company: Check Point
- Impressive level of protection that's well automated and easy to access.
- Component structure can be frustrating, and scans are rather slow.
Despite having a few hang-ups about the component structure of the suite and rather slow scan times, we think ZoneAlarm 2012 is a worthy upgrade that comes with the high level of protection you'd expect - along with an interface that's dead easy to use, low on system resources and will rarely bug you with confirmation requests.