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ZoneAlarm for Windows Vista Released

For the millions of computer users who purchased a new PC during the past five months, there have been precious few options for true, two-way firewall software on Windows Vista. But now, Check Point Software Technologies has released its popular line of ZoneAlarm products with versions designed to run on the latest Windows operating system.

At the moment, hardly any security vendors offer firewall protection for Windows Vista users, let alone free versions. Kudos to Check Point for continuing to offer its free version of ZoneAlarm, when almost all other security software vendors have abandoned the free firewall market with the advent of Vista.

Microsoft made a great deal of noise about the security improvements it was bringing to Vista, but in my opinion it failed to deliver on true, two-way firewall protection in Vista's Windows Firewall. Yes, the built-in firewall allows users to build custom lists that block not only incoming connection attempts but also outgoing attempts. But the Windows Vista firewall interface is hardly much different from the one included in Windows XP, which is not very intuitive or interactive for the average user.

Check Point's entry into the Vista market was delayed in part by wrangling between the security software industry and Microsoft over just how deeply security vendors could delve into the operating system to stave off new attacks that seek to undermine the security of the system at a fundamental level. At the core of this rather public row was a Microsoft technology called "PatchGuard," which was designed to help block malicious programs from making key changes to the core of the Windows operating system. For a while, it looked as though Microsoft planned to keep security vendors out of this space as well, but ultimately Redmond and the industry that it helped spawn came to an agreement of sorts: Microsoft would develop a custom programming interface that third-party security providers could use to approximate that fundamental level of access.

Check Point, like most other security vendors, offers various security suites that seek to provide additional layers of protection, including anti-virus (from Russian software maker KasperskyLab) and anti-spyware features. Key among the features not included in the free version of ZoneAlarm is the OS-Firewall, which tries to block activity from programs that exhibit certain suspicious behaviors.

All of the ZoneAlarm suites come with a free 15-day trial period, so if you're running Vista and are curious about the non-free options, check them out. I'm still experimenting with the copy of the suite I received from Check Point, and so far it's fairly impressive. Customers who purchased a license for one of the suites on Windows XP should be able to transfer that license over to a Vista machine, according to Laura Yecies, general manager of ZoneAlarm's consumer and small business division.

However, my experience with software security suites has fairly consistently been one of "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." Most of these suites tend to be a tad bloated and heavy users of system resources, even on modern machines with plenty of memory and processing power.

Case in point: Up until last month, my father-in-law was using the ZoneAlarm Security Suite to protect his Dell PC, which sports a 3.0 GHz Pentium 4 processor and more than 2 gigabytes of RAM. But he complained the system just wasn't running as swiftly since he had installed the program. Earlier this month, he un-installed the suite and opted for the free version of the firewall alongside a third-party anti-virus program. He now says the change has sped up the performance of his machine remarkably.

What about you, Security Fix readers? Tell us about your experience with software security suites, or whether you've chosen to mix and match security software on your Windows PC.

By Brian Krebs  |  June 13, 2007; 10:35 AM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  
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