capsule review

Checkpoint ZoneAlarm Internet SecuritySuite 7.1

At a Glance
  • Checkpoint ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 7.1

    PCWorld Rating

Unlike the other seven security suites we tested for "All-in-One Security Suites: Tried and Tested," CheckPoint's ZoneAlarm Internet SecuritySuite 7.1 began with a firewall and then expanded to add other features. It shows. ZoneAlarm 7.1 has a feature-rich firewall, to which it has added the impressive Kaspersky antivirus engine for malware detection and removal. Unfortunately, ZoneAlarm lacks the extensive scan options and the smooth interface of Kaspersky's Internet Security 7.0 suite. Plus, the antivirus and antispyware interface has only bare-bones configuration options.

One major reason for ZoneAlarm'sunimpressive showing is that we tested the suites on a Vista Premium PC, and ZoneAlarm's Vista compatibility is incomplete. Working under Microsoft's latest OS, the ZoneAlarm antivirus scanner does not scan e-mail traffic or instant messaging communications for malware. (A separate antispam engine is licensed from SonicWall's MailFrontier.) Checkpoint says that this is by design, but we can't see the benefit of refraining from scanning e-mail traffic. The Vista suite also loses the parental controls available in the XP version, as well as protection for sensitive data and blocking of known spyware Web sites. The suite lacks a Web antiphishing feature in both its XP and its Vista versions.

For the firewall, ZoneAlarm offers the most features and options of any suite in our roundup, hands-down. It comes with an excellent installation wizard, and a training mode automatically bumps up to maximum protection after learning about your programs. Even at its "maximum protect" setting, the firewall will check against a central database of known programs before bugging you to decide whether a new program can connect to the Internet.

On the other hand, ZoneAlarm was one of only two suites that didn't entirely protect a test PC from an outside scan (Avira Premium Security Suite was the other). The firewall left a communications channel (port 135) open, and it didn't entirely hide (or stealth) the closed channels, unlike most firewalls. Checkpoint says that our results are anomalous. We suspect that the underlying reason is an incompatibility between our test PC's network adapter and the Vista version of ZoneAlarm, as AV-Test.org says that the XP version did not exhibit this problem.

As we expected, ZoneAlarm's scores in our malware detection tests were very similar to those of the Kaspersky suite. It finished third among our eight suites by catching 96 percent of dormant samples in AV-Test.org's huge 674,589-strong collection;. and it found 14 percent of unknown (to the program) malware in tests using one-month-old virus signature files. Despite using its own antispyware engine rather than Kaspersky's, ZoneAlarm's suite caught exactly the same number of spyware and adware samples as Kaspersky's suite: an above-average 90 percent.

ZoneAlarm lagged significantly behind Kaspersky on scan speed, however--at just 3.62 megabytes per second, it turned in the slowest time of any suite we tested. It also popped up the most false alerts, producing warnings about 12 harmless files. And like many suites we tested, it did a lackluster job of cleanup. The program removed only half of all files and Registry entries introduced by malware infections.

ZoneAlarm's options and interface for antivirus scanning are anemic. You can't decide whether to scan within archives for a user-started scan or for an automatic, on-access scan. You can't decide much of anything else, either. It's strange that you have many more choices for setting up the antispam engine, which ties in to Outlook and Outlook Express and is licensed from MailFrontier, than you do for the more-important antivirus scans.

In the end, ZoneAlarm's suite is good example of why you might still want to purchase a stand-alone security program instead of a hybrid suite. If you're interested in the suite's firewall, which is much more extensive than those in other suites we tested, you're probably better off buying the firewall on its own and pairing it with your choice of antivirus program.

Erik Larkin

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Pros

    • Full-featured firewall
    • Good antivirus engine

    Cons

    • Features missing in Vista version
    • Security settings could be better
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