Do you need a firewall utility alone, or one that comes with an antivirus? Do you want it for free, or are you willing to pay? No matter your choices, Check Point has a product for you. With Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017, you get advanced firewall protection along with antivirus technology licensed from award-winner Kaspersky.
Yes, this is the for-pay edition, with both antivirus and firewall protection.
Specifically, you pay $39.95 per year, the same as you’d pay for Kaspersky Anti-Virus itself, or for the majority of top-rated antivirus products.
You get a better deal if you need more than one license. $59.95 per year lets you install the product on five PCs. While it doesn’t offer firewall protection at ZoneAlarm’s level, McAfee AntiVirus Plus gives you unlimited installations on multiple platforms for that same price.
Three large panels dominate the product’s main window, each with links to three or four significant features.
The layout is precisely the same as in the ZoneAlarm suite, with suite-only features grayed out. You have to look closely to see the one difference between this product and the ZoneAlarm premium firewall—the Antivirus/Anti-Spyware link is enabled, not grayed out.
Shared FeaturesFirewall protection in this product is identical to what you get with Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Firewall 2017, so I won’t go into full detail here. You can read that review if you want to know more.
ZoneAlarm successfully stealthed all ports and resisted Web-based attacks in testing.
It didn’t block exploit attacks, but then, it’s not meant to.
If exploits are your concern, Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic is a good choice, based on my testing.
Advanced firewall features include the ability to manually define firewall rules and to fine-tune exactly what network events are permitted in the Public and Trusted zones. However, few users have the knowledge needed to use these features.
The application control component automatically assigns network permissions for a vast number of known programs found in the ZoneAlarm database online.
In the default configuration, ZoneAlarm makes its own decision about how to handle most unknown program.
If you crank protection to the max, it asks you how to handle every unknown.
In addition, at that level the OSFirewall behavioral detection system reports a variety of suspicious behaviors, flagging both good and bad programs.
To this basic application control, the premium edition adds a number of other monitoring styles aimed at nabbing malware that tries to evade detection.
Enabling these will result in more popup queries from the firewall. You’ll have to read and consider these carefully, as blocking the wrong event could cause problems. Like the advanced firewall rules, these features are best used by experts.
New in this edition, ZoneAlarm’s for-pay products offer an interesting take on antiphishing.
A phishing page masquerades as something important—perhaps PayPal or your bank—in order to steal your login credentials for the real site.
It’s harmless until the moment you start to type something.
That being the case, ZoneAlarm doesn’t bother scanning pages until that moment.
If it detects a fraud, it replaces the page with a clear explanation of what happened.
In testing, ZoneAlarm proved just as effective as long-time antiphishing champ Norton.
It beat the detection rates of Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox, too. Only Kaspersky, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016, and Webroot have recently beaten Norton in this test.
The one catch; for now, this feature only works in Chrome.
Enhanced Malware BlockingLike Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ 2017, this product relies on Kaspersky’s technology for its antivirus protection.
Among the premium features, real-time cloud-based scanning and Web monitoring are enabled by default. You can optionally turn on scanning of files on network drives and scanning mailbox files.
The paid edition also checks for antivirus updates more often.
Those using the free edition can manually check for updates at any time, but automatic updates happen just once per day.
The paid edition checks every hour, by default, but you can set it to intervals between 30 minutes and 24 hours.
Free users get DIY-style tech support, with FAQs, forums, and knowledge base articles. When you pay, you move up to premium support.
That means you go straight to live chat support, with remote-control diagnosis and repair if necessary.
While the independent antivirus testing labs heap honors on Kaspersky, those honors don’t necessarily apply to ZoneAlarm.
The labs make it very clear that results apply only to the actual tested product.
That being the case, there’s simply not enough information to come up with an aggregate lab results score for ZoneAlarm.
Given that the premium product includes antivirus features that the free product lacks, I went back to the beginning and ran all of my hands-on tests again. One test starts when I open a folder full of samples. Just the minimal access required for Windows Explorer to display the filenames is enough to trigger most on-access scanners, and ZoneAlarm is no exception.
In the free edition, it always scans on any access. Premium users can choose to only scan files as they’re executed.
The default Smart Mode uses its own rules to optimize scanning.
I did observe that one sample blocked on sight by the free edition wasn’t caught until launch in the paid edition—but it was caught.
The premium product scored slightly better in this basic malware blocking test, 8.7 of 10 possible points where the free product took 8.5 points. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus aced this test, with a perfect 10 points.
For my malicious URL blocking test, I start with the most recent list of malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas.
I launch each URL and record whether the product diverts the browser from the URL, eliminates the payload during or immediately after download, or sits idly by doing nothing.
ZoneAlarm’s free antivirus was at a disadvantage in this test, as it doesn’t include any Web-based protection.
Even so, it managed to wipe out 62 percent of the malware downloads.
The premium antivirus, with browser-independent Web-based protection built in, proved significantly more effective. Not only did it steer the browser away from 57 percent of the nasty URLs, it also warned when I copied a poison URL to the clipboard.
Another 17 percent of the malware samples got axed during download, for a total of 74 percent protection.
That’s a decent score, given that the current average is 69 percent protection. However, Avira Antivirus 2016 blocked 99 percent, all of them at the URL level, and Norton managed 98 percent.
See How We Test Security Software
Other Shared FeaturesAll four ZoneAlarm firewall products, free and paid, with antivirus and without, share a number of bonus features. McAfee AntiVirus Plus, a PCMag Editors’ Choice, offers 1TB of hosted online backup for $59.50 per year. Your ZoneAlarm subscription gets you that same backup technology, but just 5GB of storage.
Another partner, Identity Guard, supplies a year of credit and identity monitoring to go along with your ZoneAlarm product.
Similarly named but quite different Identity Lock is a tool to prevent user-defined personal data from being transmitted out of your computer via Web or email.
Worth a LookIf you want to use ZoneAlarm’s firewall and antivirus combo in a business setting, you must pay.
The free edition is licensed only for non-commercial use.
But in truth, even in a home setting ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017 is worth a look.
It combines the formidable ZoneAlarm firewall with antivirus protection licenses from award-winner Kaspersky, and its new antiphishing component is both innovative and effective.
On the other hand, you could go straight to Kaspersky Anti-Virus itself.
Along with Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016, it’s a perpetual winner in third-party lab tests.
Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic also does well in testing, and its Intrusion Prevention System blocks exploit attacks that ZoneAlarm doesn’t. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the tiniest antivirus around, and its unusual journaling system promises to reverse any actions by malware, even ransomware.
And for the price of five ZoneAlarm licenses, McAfee AntiVirus Plus offers unlimited installations.
Do consider ZoneAlarm, but also keep these five Editors’ Choice antivirus products in mind.
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