ZoneAlarm reboots home security suites

A much simpler interface, faster scans, and faster install headline the 2012 updates to ZoneAlarm's security suites, but it's the added-value features that may get you to take a new look at them.

Armed with some strong test results and new features, ZoneAlarm's latest consumer security suite revamp released today is a solid effort to attract new users and retain older fans. Available exclusively from CNET Download.com today, ZoneAlarm has updated its four main consumer options for download: ZoneAlarm Extreme Security, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite, ZoneAlarm AntiVirus + Firewall, and ZoneAlarm Pro Firewall to feature a new unified look, more-effective threat scans, and some interesting value-added features for users who don't mind paying more to get ancillary security features.

ZoneAlarm's new home screen is much easier to navigate than the previous versions'.

(Credit: CheckPoint Inc.)

The interface is the most apparent change to the suites, ditching a layout that was based on multiple workflows to reach a single feature and an eye-straining font size for something that looks more generic but is also more accessible. The new interface opens to a blue-and-gray window split into three large sections in the Extreme Security suite, revealing your security statuses for your Computer, Internet, and Identity. Click one to drill deeper into your settings, or to fix problems. In the lower-end versions of ZoneAlarm, there are simply fewer options.

ZoneAlarm Pro Firewall, of course, is a souped-up version of ZoneAlarm's free firewall, so it doesn't offer any antivirus protections. The core detection engine is new and identical across the three versions that do have antivirus protection. CheckPoint, the publisher of ZoneAlarm, licenses its antivirus engine from Kaspersky but says it offers better protection than the Russian security vendor does on its own. "We've tied it to the ZoneAlarm cloud, which we've been actively using since 2003," said John Gable, director of product marketing for CheckPoint.

For some, that's a hard argument to take, although if you love the ZoneAlarm firewall, it may make more sense now to invest in the ZoneAlarm antivirus protection that it comes from such a well-renowned pedigree. One of the major differences that CheckPoint built on top of the Kaspersky engine is how the suite handles what Gable called "security events." "ZoneAlarm will allow you to easily roll back changes in case it's a false positive," said Gable. Also new this year, ZoneAlarm now runs a prescan during the installation process to clean the machine before the install takes effect.

Other changes appear in the value-added features. For one thing, all users who buy a license to a 2012 ZoneAlarm product get a license to its new parental control Facebook program SocialGuard for free. SocialGuard doesn't come with the security suites as a mandatory install; instead, you can download it only if you want to use it. Also on the parental control front, more-traditional parental controls come baked into ZoneAlarm Internet Security and Extreme Security, licensed from NetNanny.

ZoneAlarm's new layout contains the same in-depth level of security customization as the previous version.

(Credit: CheckPoint Inc.)

Another value-added feature shows up only in the Extreme Security version. It comes with the CheckPoint product DataLock, originally released in March 2010. DataLock works like TrueCrypt to encrypt your entire hard drive. One of its biggest differences from that open-source freeware is that it comes with an optional 24-7 password recovery service. Without it, forgetting the password would render the hard drive inaccessible.

If you purchase a less-robust version of ZoneAlarm, you can upgrade easily by clicking on one of the grayed-out features. That will take you to a Web page explaining the feature, with an additional link to upgrade.

A three-computer license for ZoneAlarm Extreme Security retails for $79.95, with a 30-day trial. ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite retails for $10 cheaper at $69.95, and ZoneAlarm Antivirus+Firewall and ZoneAlarm Pro Firewall are priced the same at $59.95, even though one comes with antivirus protection and the other doesn't.

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