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Zonelabs ZoneAlarm Pro 8/10

We have all heard about hackers. What we think, though, is that the only people who get their machines hacked into are the US Government and large companies. I recently downloaded the free version of Zonelabs ZoneAlarm after one of my friends advised me to get a firewall. I also bought Norton Internet Security, because it contained Norton Antivirus.

What I was astonished to find was that at least once a week (sometimes more), the firewall reported that someone tried to gain access to my machine. In most cases, hackers try to gain access to your machine, just for the challenge, rather than for malicious reasons, but I still preferred to have the firewall there to prevent any of my data being read. Another threat is also spyware installed on your computer with many commercial programmes to gather information about your computer.

ZoneAlarm Pro costs $40 and builds on what the free version offers, which is worth a download for anyone who does not have a firewall The Pro version offers more features and consequently offers better protection. Whenever, a programme attempts to access the internet on your computer, ZoneAlarm Pro displays a dialog box asking you whether you wish to give it access. Over time, you build up a library of rules. This way you can stop undesirable programmes from accessing the internet, ranging from trojans to spyware. A special internet lock can be activated after a specified period of inactivity. There is also a special emergency button, which immediately cuts all access to the internet, which you can use in the event of a serious attack.

There are several levels of security which can be specified, with one level being for internet traffic and another being for your LAN traffic. In general, I keep internet security on "high" and LAN security on "medium". It is compatible with ICS and NAT networks, which many companies have for higher security. Whenever, an attempt to gain access to your machine is detected, an alert is displayed, colour-coded to the seriousness of the attempt. In many cases, the attacks turn out to be a false alarm. In addition the IP address is displayed as well as an explanation. You are also given the opportunity to make a reverse DNS lookup to find out the identity of the machine. This only gives results sometimes.

To check out the true effectiveness of ZoneAlarm Pro, I ran the Symantec Security Check, at which is free. ZoneAlarm Pro identified all the security breaches and it passed all the tests, indicating it is very safe, but not guaranteeing that 100% of unauthorised access can be stopped. Suspicious e-mail attachments are also quarantined, but there is no virus-checker, which is perhaps the only thing missing in this product.

In general I have found ZoneAlarm Pro to be more robust than Norton Internet Security, but Norton does also offer the brilliant Norton Anti-Virus programme in one pack (albeit at a higher price). ZoneAlarm Pro is more adept at countering threats, but still allowing you to have full access to the internet, keeping track of which programmes are accessing the internet. It is easier to use than Internet Security, but you still need to be reasonably confident to use it - which a problem you face with all similar firewall apps. Combined with a good virus checker, ZoneAlarm Pro is great for the personal internet user determined to keep their computer safe, or even the commercial network user.