While having the most up-to-date and thorough protection for your system is ideal and highly recommended, in reality it isn't a high priority for many people. Some people want to run weekly or daily scans, and establish anti-phishing and anti-theft protection. Other people just want to ensure their computer isn't rendered effectively inoperable due to an influx of viruses, which is fine because each user has different needs and there are enough products to satisfy each of those needs.
If you're one of those lower maintenance users who wants the most basic of protection, ZoneAlarm may be right for you. ZoneAlarm offers a solid Firewall that also offers some anti-virus protection if you don't already have the software installed. And in an upgrade from previous versions, Zone Alarm also has identity theft capabilities and online backup as well. And the best part of it all is that the product is entirely free. While it may not be the most effective product on the market, free will always be enticing to many people. Particularly those who lean towards a minimalist approach to protection.
But if you do want extra protection, you are also able to upgrade to a premium version of ZoneAlarm, which is competitive with most of the top Firewall and anti-virus products on the market.
Once installed, you will only have access to the Firewall as the program assumes you already have your preferred anti-virus protection installed. But if you don't have any other anti-virus protection installed, using ZoneAlarm's anti-virus protection is simply a click away. And if you opt to use ZoneAlarm's protection, this upgrades the software from simply a Firewall to ZoneAlarm Free Anti-virus + Firewall.
Assuming you are only using the Firewall, ZoneAlarm's network and internet permissions are automatically set to medium. At this level, the program attempts to strike a perfect balance between protection and minimal alerts. It also automatically adds a number of known good programs to its DefenseNet database and enables relevant permissions for those programs.
When set to medium, ZoneAlarm typically allows you to make outbound connections without interruption. However, that changes if you happen to click the permission settings up to maximum. In this instance, you are typically prompted with a message asking when it notices an access attempt. While the program can be left largely to its own devices and be allowed to give good protection straight out of the box, having the option to increase the permission level is nice to have.
However, if you do opt to use the anti-virus, there are things you should note. First, the anti-virus add-on is licensed by Kapersky, which is one of the better anti-virus providers around. Kapersky's anti-virus is consistently rated among the top, so because ZoneAlarm's engine is licensed from them it is safe to assume that it offers pretty solid protection.
The average time required to complete full scan by most current antivirus products is about 28 minutes. ZoneAlarm offers an ordinary full scan and a more complete scan that looks inside archive files. ZoneAlarm's initial full scan typically takes about 45 minutes, which is significantly longer than the average of most competitors. And follow-up scans typically take about 10 minutes which, while still longer than its competitors, isn't terribly long.
ZoneAlarm is fairly strong in protecting against malware as well. ZoneAlarm Free Anti-virus + Firewall detects about 82 percent of malware. While this figure is a bit lower than its competitors, it is still relatively strong. Especially considering that it is free. However, if you do desire increased protection, users can upgrade to ZoneAlarm Pro Anti-virus + Firewall.
ZoneAlarm's Pro Anti-virus + Firewall is far more robust and effective than its free counterpart. In tests, the Firewall effectively resisted all web attacks. In addition, it allows you to you identify the networks you connect with as Trusted or Public. However, the one caveat of the upgraded Pro version of ZoneAlarm is that it does require a bit more knowledge.
For example, the free version merely allowed you to view your networks and assign them to zones. Conversely, the paid edition lets you fine-tune exactly what controls are applied in each zone. But if you don't know what to do with the zones and which items are best in each, it is meaningless to you and probably best if left alone.
Moreover, the Pro upgrade allows you to blur your online identity which is another very helpful too. Blur Your Identity allows you to see which ad aggregators attempt to track your online behavior and block them for doing so.
In addition, it also offers a masked email feature which allows you to communicate with online vendors without divulging your actual email address. So, for example, when you fill out an email address field, the blur feature offers to create a masked address. And any mail sent to the masked address reaches your inbox, but the merchant doesn't have your real address. And if you start getting spam from a masked address, you can simply disable or delete it.
Prices and Rates
The greatest appeal of ZoneAlarm's free Firewall, and its optional anti-virus protection, is obviously that its free. Clearly, this is a very big point in its favor; however, it is limited in its protection. ZoneAlarm Pro Anti-virus + Firewall offers a far more thorough product with a price that is commensurate with its level of protection and comparable to its competitors. Priced at $44.95 for one year and three licenses and $79.95 for two years and three licenses, it comes at a reasonable price as well.
ZoneAlarm's customer support isn't the most thorough but is passable. There are a number of frequently asked question pages you can scan through in order to troubleshoot on your own. Additionally, there is an online form for you to e-mail any questions or concerns. However, there isn't an online chat feature nor could we find a telephone number for further support.
Verdict - Average
While ZoneAlarm's free Firewall and anti-virus doesn't offer the most thorough protection it is an appealing choice to low maintenance users who want a reasonable sense of security for their computers. However, ZoneAlarm's upgraded offering is likely among the best in terms of protection and while possibly a bit more expensive than most, isn't unreasonably priced.