No preconfigured app settings
The Sygate installation takes just a few seconds and one reboot, but Sygate doesn't hold your hand the way that Norton Internet Security and ZoneAlarm do. Sygate doesn't include preconfigured rule sets for popular applications, such as Internet Explorer or e-mail clients. Worse, you won't find a single slick-looking slider to set security levels. Instead, Sygate gives you only three choices: Block All, Allow All, or a setting it calls Normal, where you give each application the OK (or not) to connect to the Internet. As long as you don't want to have more specific rules for your apps, you won't need to do anything more. Unfortunately, you will be asked to confirm each program the first time it tries to access the Internet--an annoyance.
Compared to that of the more expressive ZoneAlarm 3.0, Sygate's monitoring display comes up short. It shows only inbound and outbound Internet traffic, plus a real-time list of all blocked intrusions. A right-click on its system tray icon accesses the rest of Sygate's features and tools for quick tweaks.
Unlike Tiny Firewall's notifications, Sygate's alerts are easy to understand, and the firewall blocks all attempts to enter your system for a default 10 minutes. You can change the default time within the Options menu. Also, Sygate traces incoming intrusions and uses a Whois query to identify the attacker's IP address. With this address in hand, you can theoretically report the abuse back to the attacker's domain. However, many attackers use public routers, so the IP address may not help track down and report attackers.
Further, Sygate lets you block Internet Explorer from use after office hours, restrict an application to connect only to specific IP addresses (the company's intranet, for example), and lock down applications whenever your screensaver is engaged.
Power tools for the security minded
Sygate detects and halts known Trojan horses; authenticates your applications with checksums, a numerical value derived from the bits of each file; and further authenticates each DLL so that hostile code can't masquerade as, say, Outlook Express. Better yet, Sygate can't be terminated by malicious code that tries to shut off the firewall without your knowledge. But Sygate doesn't have it all; it's missing ZoneAlarm's e-mail filtering and Tiny Firewall's sandbox feature, which stops malicious Java and ActiveX scripts.
Free version available
If cash is tight and you're in the market for a solid, basic software firewall, check out Sygate Personal Firewall 5.0, which is free for personal and home use; businesses must pay $19.95. The free firewall omits many of Sygate's advanced features, though. For a complete list of what Personal Firewall lacks, check out the Sygate comparison page.