Product Reviews

Powerful Firewall Gets Personal

Driven by a simple, application-based security rule-set, ZoneAlarm keeps computer invaders at bay.

If your computer is connected to the Internet 24/7, do you worry about intruders invading your machine? Well, you should. ZoneAlarm 2.1.44, though, can help protect your assets — it’s a powerful, personal, and free firewall driven by a simple, application-based security rule-set.

Many personal firewalls force users to learn arcane port configuration settings that must be tuned for each application. But ZoneAlarm takes a different tack by allowing users to make decisions about what services can access or be accessed from the Internet. This way, users can set specific security settings for every application that executes.

Here’s why this is an advantage: If a Trojan program is executed on your workstation and attempts to send some of your private documents to the attacker via the Internet, you’ll instead be alerted that “Program X” is attempting to access the Internet and the activity can be denied. This type of “egress-filtering” is a powerful feature, and it’s never been easier to implement. Rules can be set for incoming and outgoing data on both a local intranet and the Internet (which can be custom-configured for complex networks).

In addition, ZoneAlarm includes a Stop button, which ceases all network activity in an emergency. The program also includes an email script attachment checker and an alert log to observe failed attempts to access your machine.

ZoneAlarm allows for individual protection settings for each application you use.
ZoneAlarm allows for individual protection settings for each application you use.

After using ZoneAlarm for several weeks, I had only a few minor complaints. Power users might be annoyed at the seemingly endless stream of security dialogs each time ZoneAlarm sees an application outside of its rule-set. Also, serious security junkies will whine about the relatively weak logging capabilities, inability to preconfigure authorized applications, and sparse alerting options when break-in attempts occur.

Still, ZoneAlarm is an excellent personal firewall for small-office and home use, and the price is definitely right. Note that Zone Labs also recently released ZoneAlarm Pro, a professional version that includes Network Address Translation or NAT (for linking all of your computers to the Internet via a single connection), more customizable security levels, and password protection. Compared to other popular firewall products, ZoneAlarm requires more configuration and planning than Network ICE’s BlackICE Defender, but significantly less than more comprehensive utilities such as TINY Software’s WinRoute Pro. If, however, you want a solid personal firewall that’s easy on the wallet and powerful as all get out — ZoneAlarm might just be it.

About the Author

Chip Andrews, MCSE+I, MCDBA is a software security architect at (Clarus Corp.). Chip maintains the (sqlsecurity.com) Web site and speaks at security conferences on SQL Server security issues.

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