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Software Review of:
ZoneAlarm Pro
Firewall Security


Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital, with a strong interest in computers. He and Marta, his wife, are raising two children, Zoë, age 8½ and Jackson, age 6½.

From the April, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Do you worry about hackers or other unscrupulous types plying their trade on you or some other unsuspecting computer user? I don’t know about you, but I have some real concerns about safety and security issues these days. Especially in light of the events of the past several months, this is an issue that is not going away and probably should not go away. As for me, doing what I can to protect myself and my data seems a reasonable and prudent thing to do. A couple of years ago, when I first considered broadband access, I kept hearing horror stories about individuals who had been hacked or attacked while their computers were connected to the Internet. I had heard of the firewall that existed in my automobile, but I knew very little about firewalls for computers or networks. Within the first two weeks of trying out broadband access via a cable modem, I learned about firewalls and how important and valuable they are. I installed the free version of ZoneAlarm and discovered six hits at my computer that were blocked within the first ten minutes. During the first hour the log file recorded approximately twenty-five attempts to access my computer data. I decided to have a firewall on my computer whenever I connected to the Internet from then on. 

ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro — the flagship products from Zone Labs, Inc., provide security for home computers and home networks. The Pro version also targets small businesses and corporate Networks, providing them with security and protection. Just as importantly, they provide peace of mind to the owners and users of those computers. This review will focus on the use of ZoneAlarm Pro on the home computer. Home computer users are vulnerable whenever they are connected to the Internet. Hackers have the ability and more importantly the desire to go where they’re not supposed to be and to obtain information they’re not supposed to have. One way they can do this is by gaining access to your computer while you’re connected to the Internet, and then gathering personal information from existing data or files on your system. If you are unprotected, it is likely that you won’t even know they were there. Some other hacker favorite techniques consist of sending “Trojan Horses” and “Spyware” to their intended victims using e-mail attachments or attaching these sinister programs to downloads that users acquire from the Internet. Once they are there, and activated on your system, these programs can search for and disseminate private, personal and even financial information from your computer to theirs. It is unfair to suggest that all hackers are attempting to steal your identity or credit card information. However, there are those who have exactly that intent. 

Now that the danger seems clear, what steps are necessary to protect ourselves? First a note of caution, do not assume that you are safe because you use a dialup Internet connection. You too can be hacked. However, those of us using cable modem or DSL Internet connections are most at risk.

ZoneAlarm Pro guards your computer from unauthorized attempts to get into your computer or network. This program allows the user to set either or both local and Internet security to high, medium, or low. Applications can be set with access allowed or blocked as you choose. 

The firewall is divided into the local zone and the Internet zone. Within each zone, you may configure specific programs to always be denied access, always be allowed access, or to ask for permission. Another nice feature is that you can block all access to the Internet by locking access, eliminating any data transfer in either direction. For example, you can automatically lock access when your screen saver activates or you can set the Internet Lock after a specified amount of time. The alert system provides you with alerts whenever an unauthorized attempt to access your computer occurs. Not only that, but you can set the program to alert you whenever your computer attempts to send data to the Internet. Alerts can be set to appear in a popup window and/or be logged in a text file. Alerts tell you what program is attempting to send information and lets you decide whether you want it sent or not. They also warn you when the Internet attempts to communicate with your computer. Another significant aspect of alerts is that ZoneAlarm Pro keeps a log file of these alerts. With this recorded log text file, you can track where the blocked access generated from or which program on your computer attempted to access the Internet. 

MailSafe is an added feature of ZoneAlarm Pro that recognizes harmful Visual Basic scripts in e-mail attachments. It then allows the user to open the attachment or quarantine it by changing the name of the file extension. Viruses can be spread by innocent looking or sounding files, often with the true .vbs file extension hidden but not inoperable. ZoneAlarm Pro is not a virus protection program, for that, you need a good antivirus program, but MailSafe will help protect your system from intentional or even accidental damage from viruses or hacker attacks.

The strength, control and flexibility of ZoneAlarm Pro sets it apart and earns my respect and recommendation. It works on Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000 and XP. ZoneAlarm Pro is available online for download and purchase at <http://www.zonelabs.com>. A single user license for one year is $39.95 but ZoneAlarm is still free for home users and non-profits. Check out their Website for some interesting, specially priced program combinations.

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