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ZoneAlarm's New Auto-Updater Prompts Confusion

While I was out in San Diego for a security conference last month, I struck up a conversation with a guy from Check Point Technologies, which makes the popular ZoneAlarm line of firewall products. I asked him whether the company had considered adding an auto-update feature to help users stay on top of new versions of the software that it seems to ship about once every month or two.

The guy I met forwarded my query to Laura Yecies, vice president and general manager of CheckPoint's consumer and small business division. Turns out that sometime in June an update the company shipped to the (free and pay) 6.5.x versions of ZoneAlarm allows the program to silently download and install fixes on its own. Yecies said the company switched on the auto-update for two reasons.

"One was just the convenience feature, where we can do bug fixes or security improvements with just a patch and that saves the customer the inconvenience of having to install a whole new product," Yecies said, though she acknowledged that customers will from time to time still be prompted to install new versions of ZoneAlarm. "The other reason is that in emergency situations where we're concerned that vulnerability exists in our product, we can ship a security patch quickly."

All positive developments, if you ask me, but why not make sure your customer base is aware that you're taking this step? It strikes me as a good selling point for average computer users who probably would rather not be bothered with updates anyway. And informing users about security steps you're taking is a good idea for power users who may be accustomed to more control over the application.

From the comments posted to ZoneAlarm's user forum and on BroadbandReports.com's security forum, it seems that a great many ZoneAlarm users had no inkling of this change until they received a prompt from ZoneAlarm that an update had been completed and that it was time to reboot the machine. Most seemed baffled because they were accustomed to the firewall asking for users to give approval before it applied updates.

By Brian Krebs  |  October 25, 2006; 3:55 PM ET
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Comments

I agree with your last paragraph, Brian. I was startled when I saw the prompt, and irritated because I'd spent a few minutes trying to figure out why my internet access was suddenly slow! It didn't last too long, but it's the kind of change I'd like to have known about. I'd also like to be able to configure it to automatically check, but then ask if I want to download and install updates now. That way I can avoid a download if I'm on my laptop and stuck with a dial-up connection. Having said all that, I do love ZoneAlarm!

Posted by: mark | October 26, 2006 8:47 AM | Report abuse

All your Zonealarms are belong to us

Posted by: noway | October 26, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Auto updates? Now I am confused. Users still have to download the updates and do a clean install in order to make things work well. I would love it if I didn't have to do this, but I just did it less then a month ago.

Posted by: Matt Simpson | October 26, 2006 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm a longtime ZoneAlarm user and would normally welcome an auto-update process (except when it forces my machine to reboot - in particular my desktops I normally depend on having running 24x7)... But ZA seems to have some mini-feuds going on with other vendor apps... F-Secure in particular (an anti-virus app that IMHO blows away the junk from Symantec/etc). F-Secure and ZA were requiring you to uninstall the other's app in order to install or update theirs.
Since I have external firewalls and only depend on ZA as a 'backup' on my systems, F-Secure won out that feud on my boxes, and ZA no longer gets updated (I live with whatever protection the older version still affords).

Posted by: CB | October 26, 2006 1:01 PM | Report abuse

CB,

With a small amount of directory renaming, you actually can install Zonealarm while F-Secure Antivirus is present. See:
http://groups.google.com/group/sfnet.atk.ms-windows.ohjelmistot/msg/95e5830208d10910?hl=en&

This method takes a lot less time than an uninstall/reinstall. Also, the ZoneAlarm autoupdate "patch" that was pushed this week (the one that BK's article is discussing) worked fine even though F-Secure AV was running on my machine, so it looks like I'll only need to use the "rename" trick when Zonealarm releases a whole new version and not when they just issue a patch.

Posted by: mojo | October 26, 2006 6:49 PM | Report abuse

If they are going to do automatic updates, they should put if off until a randomly selected time of 4-12 minutes after boot. That way it isn't fighting with Microsoft and the AV program (if you don't use CheckPoint's) plus anything else which all seem to do it at boot time. Actually, I think EVERY program out there that does auto-updates would do it that way unless it is a critical security patch. I have frequently had to do the same thing in the reverse direction. I have to stop ZA or other firewalls while the AntiVirus programs update the main program. The procedure is the same - just the names change. Actually I haven't noticed any ZA processes are running after you stop it.

Posted by: hhhobbit | October 28, 2006 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Part of ZoneAlarm's appeal has been users' ability to control its behavior and minimize software conflicts. By adopting this fully automated approach with no opportunity for user intervention, Checkpoint seems to be destroying their own product's advantages. Why should I ever be willing to pay for a ZoneAlarm security package that's going to be just as ham-handed as the Norton or McAfee products I can get for free through upgrade and rebate offers?

Posted by: Steven Kurth | October 31, 2006 10:34 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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