ZoneAlarm Free Firewall has been arguably the most popular third-party firewall for Windows. It’s a two-way firewall that’s designed to help protect your PC from hackers getting in and any malicious programs on your PC from sending data out. However, it doesn’t protect against Web-based exploits like some (but not all) other firewall solutions do. It does include anti-phishing to help detect and block dangerous sites, though. Additionally, it includes 2GB of free online storage for backing up your files, also offered separately from ZoneAlarm.
When you install ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2012 (Itested version10.1.065), you’ll find product registration is required but you canopt-out of providing your email address if you wish, and only have toenter your name.
By default, it will install the ZoneAlarm Security Toolbar for InternetExplorer and make the Bing-powered ZoneAlarm Web search site yourdefault home page and search provider. The ZoneAlarm Security Toolbarcan be useful for some users, especially if you customize it and addmore apps, but can be annoying if you already have similar toolbars. Ifyou’re a fan of another search engine–something other than Microsoft’sBing–you’ll probably want to forgo changing your home pageand searchprovider. Lucky you can opt-out of each of these by unmarking theappropriate checkboxes within the installation wizard.
Before installing, the installation wizard must download additionalfiles–another 34MB during my evaluation. However if you’re installingit on multiple PCs via a network or flash drive they offer a fullinstaller so you don’t waste time and bandwidth downloading theadditional files for each installation. But keep in mind it’s a big(148MB) file.
Once installed, you’ll find a simple interface showing the status ofthe main protection areas: Computer, Internet, and Identity &Data. Each shows their status and changes color accordingly. You canalso click on each to see status details and shortcuts for the relatedcomponents.
Typically no manual configuration is needed. The firewall andanti-phishing will just do its job. You might not even be alerted toallow or deny applications through the firewall since it automaticallyconsults its DefenseNet cloud service for the safety info on theapplications. The advantage of this is fewer annoying popups, butoffers less control by default and could even lessen your security.
Spot phishing sites
Since potentially safe applications could be used maliciously, it’sbest to double check the list of all the applications allowed throughthe firewall, which ZoneAlarm Free Firewall lets you do. For morecontrol you can even disable the automatic application controlaltogether so you receive all program alerts, but is best for advancedusers only.
If you opted in for the ZoneAlarm Security Toolbar, you’ll find it inInternet Explorer. You can use thesearch field to search using Bing.The Site Check button displays the current page’s security status,which can help identify phishing and other dangeroussites. You’ll alsofind buttons for shortcuts to other ZoneAlarm services, your email,Facebook, and more. You can evenadd more buttons by downloadingadditional apps for the toolbar.
If you’re not bothered by this app’s lack of protection against Webexploits, and can live with the rough edges of the interface, it’s goodchoice to download.
Note: This product is free for individual and not-for-profit charitableuse, but excludes governmental and educational organizations.