With its three layers of protection, ZoneAlarm guards at the Internet gateway so that intruders don't get in, on the desktop at the program level so that bogus programs don't connect to the Internet, and inside the operating system kernel where rootkits and other malware can hide. The suite offers additional protection against viruses and spyware. For antivirus protection, ZoneAlarm uses CA eTrust EZ Antivirus. For antispyware protection, ZoneAlarm compares your system against its own collection of malware, then quarantines or removes any offenders it finds.
For antispam and antiphishing protection, ZoneAlarm uses MailFrontier. To keep your personal information from leaking out on to the Internet, ZoneAlarm includes an encrypted vault. ZoneAlarm then monitors IMs, e-mails, and the Internet for inappropriate access to this information. For example, if a remote hacker were somehow able to access your social security number from another file, ZoneAlarm would compare that number to the one in the vault and, if it matched, would block its transmission, then offer a pop-up requesting permission to continue. ZoneAlarm monitors IM activity and can block dangerous links and audio and video, as well as individuals who are not on your contact list. ZoneAlarm includes a parental-control panel, offering preset categories of content to block. Gamers will appreciate a new option which quiets the pop-up messages from ZoneAlarm while you are in the midst of playing a full-screen adventure game.
With version 6.5 of ZoneAlarm Pro and ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite, ZoneAlarm has partnered with an identity management company to monitor use of your personal information in Internet black markets or IRC channels. There are also free services, including how to opt out of credit card solicitations by snail mail--often the source of Dumpster-diving identity thieves--and plenty of educational sites where you can learn more about preventing identity theft. ZoneAlarm, partnering with Intersections, will monitor illegal use of your credit cards by checking shadowy black markets and Internet forums. If your personal information is found, you'll be notified and told what you can do to prevent fraud and abuse. We think ZoneAlarm's focus on identity theft in this version more than justifies the cost of the Pro version or suite.
But all is not yet perfect within ZoneAlarm. Pop-ups remain an issue, flashing whenever you restart your computer as various processes and services request control. You can ask ZoneAlarm to remember your decision to allow or deny access, but many readers have complained in the past that ZoneAlarm remains "noisy." One improvement is the use of a new rounded pop-up message for suspected spyware and phishing sites. Even jaded users such as ourselves couldn't help but notice the different style of message in the lower-right corner.
On the plus side, despite adding new features to ZoneAlarm Pro and ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite, these apps remain relatively light when compared to Norton Internet Security Suite and McAfee Internet Security Suite, taking up far less space on the hard drive and producing only a slight performance drag during use. Included with the purchase of ZoneAlarm Internet Security 6.5 is one year of software updates and both e-mail- and keyword-based virtual support, along with access to a well-attended user forum. Purchase does not, however, include free telephone support. Support by phone is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday (excluding major holidays), but it costs a hefty $2.95 per minute--about the same as what McAfee and Symantec charge for their phone support.
Unfortunately, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.5 lacks printed documentation. The tutorial, while helpful, is still more of a marketing tool than an informative one. However, the built-in help file is excellent, thorough, and very specific, effectively balancing detail and clarity. And the ZoneAlarm online forums are active, with users worldwide eager and willing to answer your questions--something that Norton and McAfee don't offer.