Many years ago I was a big fan of the ZoneAlarm Firewall. I loved using it, it provided great protection and it was free. What more could you ask in those days? Since then, I have switched to using more complete security products and for some reason I did not use ZoneAlarm products for long. Therefore, I was very curious to learn how ZoneAlarm is doing nowadays. Do they still have a great firewall? What about the antimalware protection? How effective is ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 or version 11 in revealed by its internal version system? To learn the answers to these questions and more, read this review.
The ZoneAlarm trial version can be downloaded in two steps: first you download a 2.1MB file that downloads the security suite. If you opt for a quick installation, it will download 143MB in files but, at the end of the installation, you won’t have access to the latest definitions and file versions. They will be downloaded when the security suite updates itself. If you opt for a custom installation, you can set it to download the latest product with all the latest files and definitions. In this scenario it downloads about 243MB in files.
In both installation scenarios you are not able to customize which modules get installed. You can only set if you want to install the ZoneAlarm Security Toolbar. However, you can enable or disable each module after the installation of the suite, so that you use only the modules you are interested in.
During the installation, I appreciated that ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite did not ask many questions and the only personal information that was requested was my email address. Providing it was entirely optional and I could use the product straight away even though I did not enter it. No restart was required and the product updated itself automatically after a while.
I was greeted with an interface similar to the previous version we tested. I found it calming and friendly.
I was pleased by the first interactions I had with ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013: I did not have to go through too many hoops to get it downloaded and installed and I could use it without providing any personal information. A good start indeed.
Integration with Windows 8 & Windows 8 Apps
Next, I tested how well is ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite integrated with Windows 8, its features and apps plus all the major Internet browsers.
First, I noticed that ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite disables both Windows Defender and the Windows Firewall, eliminating a cause of possible conflicts and performance issues. The suite detects how you have set up your network connection and assigns it the appropriate zone (Public or Trusted). Then, when you connect to new networks, it asks what zone to assign. However, if you use Windows to change the network profile, ZoneAlarm doesn’t update to reflect those changes. You need to manually update it yourself. While this is not ideal, it is definitely better than what many other suites provide in terms of integration with Windows.
If you set the zone correctly, you can use the Windows networking features without any problems caused by the security suite. Updating Windows 8 apps works just as well. One minor quibble I found was that ZoneAlarm did not update its icons. It still uses the ugly Windows XP style icons, instead of smooth-scaling icons that look good even when you zoom in.
When it comes to performance, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 uses about 70MB of RAM in normal usage scenarios and more, when stuff is going on like: blocking attacks, scanning for malware, removing a virus infection, etc. Regarding boot timings, ZoneAlarm added 21 seconds to the boot procedure. That is quite a lot. However, when using the computer, the NovaBench benchmark did not detect any meaningful performance impact, which is good.
Some of its running processes are not very well protected. I was able to terminate the Spam Filter and the ZoneAlarm Browser Security processes easily. Luckily, the ZoneAlarm Browser Security bounced back after a while and resumed protecting my system. Also, ZoneAlarm doesn’t protect its downloader from termination. If you try to install it on an infected system, a nasty virus might kill its process and not allow you to install the suite. Unfortunately this is far from ideal. ZoneAlarm should have protected all its processes from termination.
When it comes to integration with all the major web browsers, things are not great. ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 is well integrated only with Internet Explorer. You get additional protection only for this browser and not for others. There is some support for Firefox but, unfortunately, the ZoneAlarm Security Engine doesn’t work with the latest version of this browser.
You also have the ZoneAlarm Security Toolbar. Even if it does provide some security features and it also works with Firefox, you will not enjoy using it. This toolbar adds quite a bit to the time it takes to launch the web browser. After a few launches of your browser, you will want to disable the toolbar.
Also, the security suite doesn’t scan your HTTP traffic, leaving you completely unprotected if you are using browsers other than Internet Explorer.
ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 is well integrated with Windows and its networking features but provides little in terms of integration with web browsers. You will benefit from additional protection only if you are using Internet Explorer. Also, the suite adds quite a bit of time to the boot procedure.
Default Settings You Might Want to Improve
I looked at the default settings of this product and I was quite pleased. There are few things you might want to improve. The things I found worth changing are the following:
- Antivirus/Anti-spyware Settings - You should consider enabling scanning of network files if your computer is part of a network.
- Antivirus/Anti-spyware Settings - Consider enabling all behavioral scan categories. There are some which are missed, for no apparent reason.
- Scheduled Tasks - The default schedule scans schedule is rather poor and it is worth improving. Running a full antivirus scan every 3 months is way too little.
Except the schedule of its default scans that needs improving, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 is a well configured security suite which requires little additional tweaking from the user’s part.
Ease of Use & Configuration
When it comes to ease of use and configuration, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 is quite easy to use both for novices and advanced users.
Novices will appreciate that, for each module you have a basic set of settings, with switches and easy to understand language being used. If you are a more advanced user, you also have an Advanced Settings button which displays everything that can be set about the functioning of a specific module. This way, ZoneAlarm manages to keep both novices and experts happy with this approach, which is great.
The suite provides all the standard scanning options, except creating custom scans. You can only select what is included in the Full Scan. When it comes to default scans, there are default scans enabled by their default schedule is poor and needs improving. Also, you cannot set your own custom schedule scan, which is again limiting for advanced users.
Most configuration options are easy to understand. Unfortunately though, the offline documentation is very thin in content to the point that it is useless. If you want to learn anything worthwhile, you must check the online documentation. Luckily, that seems to be complete and useful.
The support options provided by ZoneAlarm are pretty standard: access to its online documentation, to its community and list of frequently asked questions. However, if you want to get in touch with a support person, you need to pay an extra $49.95. That is not going to be appreciated by users.
In terms of reporting capabilities, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 offers only detailed logs. They are complete and useful but only to advanced users. Novices will not know how to use them or interpret most of the data inside. Visual reports would have been a nice touch for them.
Regarding the alerts being shown, there are not that many. Only the antivirus bothers you when threats are detected.
The interface of this suite is generally well designed. It provides easy access for novices to the simplest settings while giving an Advanced Settings buttons for experts. However, more advanced users will not appreciate the lack of custom scans and custom scheduled scans. Also, getting in touch with a support agent costs extra.
Working with the firewall is very similar to working with previous versions of the suite. Not much has changed in the way you configure it. However, its effectiveness seems to have improved since the last time we tested a ZoneAlarm product.
When connected to a network that is set as Trusted, our scanning with Nmap revealed that 11 ports were found open, the MAC address and the operating system used were identified. Luckily, the open ports had little to no impact on system security.
When, connected to a network set as Public, our scanning revealed that no open ports were found and only the MAC address was identified. A good result indeed.
As always with ZoneAlarm software, advanced users have plenty of things to configure and can set custom rules for just about anything. Also, with its default settings turned on, the firewall is a silent companion that will show almost no warnings.
The firewall protection provided by ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 has improved since the 2012 version. This will be welcomed by its users.
Antivirus and Antispyware
Before I tested the antivirus and antispyware capabilities of ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013, I looked at what other independent organizations had to say about its performance and I noticed that ZoneAlarm was not included in the tests made by Virus Bulletin and AV Comparatives. This is generally because the company requested that they not be included. And this is not a positive sign. Later, during my tests, I learned why ZoneAlarm may have asked not be included: the performance of their antivirus and antispyware protection is below what other similar products offer.
First of all, you get malware protection while browsing the web only if you use Internet Explorer. This is the first bad sign. Then, there’s another thing that surprised me negatively: the prompt you receive when you are about to download a malicious website. It is the worst prompt of its kind. It says that the file can harm your computer but you are given the options to Run, Save or Cancel. Why is Run the first choice? Why the fact that you are about to get infected is not highlighted with big red letters? Why is this message so casual that you are very likely to press Run? I was baffled.
Then, in other browsers except Internet Explorer, it was easy for me to access malicious websites and download malware. Therefore, in a couple of minutes I managed to contract a nasty virus that said it was named Win Defender. I downloaded the malicious file and ZoneAlarm did not identify it as a virus. I ran the file and ZoneAlarm was silent. The virus infected my computer and ZoneAlarm kept saying that my computer is secure.
I restarted the computer and hell unleashed. The virus successfully disabled ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 and all its processes. It took over the system and I could not run a thing. The only way to get rid of it was to restore Windows to a previous state.
After restoring my Windows 8 image, I plugged in an USB memory stick filled with viruses. The real time protection detected some of the infected files but not all. I ran a scan and ZoneAlarm detected a few more malware samples but a few remained untouched. No matter how much I scanned the memory stick, two infected files remained unnoticed.
Another test I make is to infect a Windows installation and then install the security suite and have it detect and disinfect the installed malware. Unfortunately ZoneAlarm had a hard time disinfecting the computer. First, it was not able to update itself. Probably because of the malware messing around with my computer. After a restart and a couple of tries, it managed to update itself to the latest version. But, the real time protection did not seem to be very effective and the malware remained undetected. Only when I triggered a quick scan, did ZoneAlarm identify the infection. Then, the suite recommended to start its Advanced Disinfection module. I followed the advice and... surprise: ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 removed the malware but it also removed a few files used by several Windows drivers. Windows crashed with a black screen. After a forced restart, I could use my computer again, malware-free but Windows complained that some drivers are no longer working and needed reinstalling. Not a good way to remove a malware infection. As you can imagine, I was very disappointed.
I also monitored how long it takes ZoneAlarm to scan a 30GB partition with 21GB of files: it took about 15 minutes, which makes it the slowest scanner I tested so far.
Regarding independent tests, there is only one organization which tested the previous version of ZoneAlarm which, at least in our previous testing procedure, fared better. It was awarded a good 5.5 out of 6 for protection, an average 4.0 for repair and 5.0 for usability. Reasonably good results. However, I doubt that the new version will obtain similar results.
The antivirus and antispyware protection provided by ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 is simply disappointing.
According to the official website, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 provides the following features that can be considered extras:
- Identity Protection - it is a separate product, provided by another company named Intersections Inc. You first need to provide your credit card information and only then you get access to this product which you can use for free only for the first year. Then, you will have to pay for it separately.
- Online Backup - is another separate product, named iDrive, provided by Pro Softnet Corporation. In order to use it, you need to create a separate account just for this product. Then, you need to install a couple of items, including the ZoneAlarm Backup Explorer which, at least in Windows 8 doesn't work. At some point it returns the error “The ZoneAlarm Backup Powered by IDrive Explorer plugin that you are trying to install is not compatible with the ZoneAlarm Backup Power by IDrive Classic version installed on your computer". Also, I was not able to uninstall this product. There is no uninstall shortcut nor any entry in Programs and Features. At this point I was way too frustrated and simply stopped testing this specific product.
- Parental Controls - at the time I tested this security suite, Parental Controls were not compatible with Windows 8.
The extras provided by ZoneAlarm are products provided by other companies, for which you need to create a different set up and which will cost extra at some point in using them. Also, Parental Controls are not yet compatible with Windows 8.
There are some good aspects about ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013: the positive installation experience that requires no personal information to use the product, the interface that is easy to use for novices but also provides easy access to advanced settings, for the more knowledgeable users, the firewall which provides more effective protection compared to its previous version, etc.
However, the antivirus and antispyware protection being offered is subpar. It was too easy to infect my test system when ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2013 was running and too difficult to remove malware infections. This coupled with the fact that Internet Explorer is the only browser for which protection is offered, do not allow me to recommend this security suite to any of our readers. You should stay away and try other security suites we evaluated.