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Review: ZoneAlarm Security Suite 6.0

Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm Security Suite is a clean, neat, light-on-its-feet suit of armor built around what is arguably the best software firewall currently available for consumers and small businesses. The outfit for battle comes complete with anti-spyware, anti-virus, program control, e-mail protection, privacy features, IM security, parental control, popup blocking, and ID lock software.

ZoneAlarm is easy to use for beginners, but comes with advanced options. The security core was designed so users can let the whole thing go on autopilot and choose how much they want to be bothered with alerts. If you're a bit more hands-on, the firewall's main page offers sliders for making decisions about high (stealth mode), medium (protected mode), and low (off) security for the Internet and your internal network (called, respectively, the Internet Zone and Trusted Zone).

Sliders help you choose the best general firewall settings.
(Click on image to expand.)

You can view a list of your applications, and toggle rights for each one to Allow it access to the Internet Zone or the Trusted Zone, Block it from access to each of those areas, or Ask each time whether it should have access. Every application can be allowed or denied the right to Send Mail, as well (blocking mail rights prevents a program from being used as a mailer by a third party). When it scanned my system, I found that ZoneAlarm made pretty good calls on which rights to assign to each application, so you can get it going, then tweak later. Zone Labs also performs many of these duties for AOL, ICQ, MSN, and/or Yahoo instant messaging in its IM Protection module.

ZoneAlarm Security Suite 6.0 boasts a new level of protection. Until now, the firewall protection stopped access at the network and program level. The new protection is what ZoneAlarm calls an 'OS firewall,' built on a behavior-based strategy that monitors activity at the kernel-level. The new approach promises to quickly blow the whistle on Trojans and keyloggers by closely monitoring internal computing resources, such as vital files, registry keys, and start-up processes. When ZoneAlarm sees unusual activity between applications, it can put the kibosh on memory being read, or quash unauthorized driver and service loading.

Version 6.0 helps protect programs from hijacking, stops browser home page hijackings, and Web browser changes caused by Browser Helper Objects (DLLs that customize and control Internet Explorer). Also new to 6.0 is unsecured wireless detection, and automatic selection of the right protection for the exposed wireless network. Automatic network detection has been enhanced too — both wired and wireless.

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