If you have antivirus protection along with a firewall, your PC is pretty well protected. A full security suite would add quite a few other components, but for some users, the basic antivirus plus firewall is sufficient. Check Point's ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ 2017 offers exactly that level of protection, at no charge. That's quite a deal, given that the antivirus component is licensed from award-winner Kaspersky.
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When you launch the installer, it downloads the very latest code and antivirus signatures, just as Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic does. The product's main window hasn't visibly changed since the previous edition. It still has the same relaxing color scheme of greys, greens, and blues, and it's still dominated by three big panels labeled Antivirus, Firewall, and Identity & Data.
Sharp-eyed users will notice a slight change in the product name. My Check Point contacts explained that they took the word firewall out of the name for SEO purposes, to clarify that this product's main feature is the addition of antivirus protection. But don't worry; the firewall itself is still in there!
As with many free products, this one is only free for personal use. If you want to use it in a business setting, or if you want tech support, you'll have to purchase the Pro edition. I will review that product separately.
Shared Firewall Features
Except for the antivirus component, all features of this product are identical to those of the Editors' Choice-winning Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2017. That being the case, I refer you to my review of the firewall for full details. Here, I'll simply summarize.
In testing, the firewall successfully fended off all of the port scans and Web-based attacks I threw at it, just as the built-in Windows firewall does. Unlike the Windows firewall, it also managed network and Internet permissions for all network-aware programs on the test system. At its default setting, it allowed my hand-coded browser to access the Internet without asking my permission. When I cranked application control up to the highest level, the firewall popped up to ask me whether or not this unknown program should be allowed access.
At the highest protection level, the firewall also reported suspicious behaviors by both good programs and bad. A similar feature in Comodo Firewall 8 displayed even more popup warnings for valid programs, which is not a good thing.
ZoneAlarm doesn't attempt to block exploit attacks the way Norton and Kaspersky Internet Security do. However, none of the exploits I use for testing actually breach security. In addition, the firewall proved resistant to attack; I couldn't disable it using techniques available to malware coders.
This product shares a number of bonus features with the basic firewall. Both come with 5GB of hosted online backup provided by Check Point partner IDrive. The full IDrive product is an Editors' Choice for online backup. Another partner, Identity Guard, provides a year of credit and identity theft monitoring for free. And the Identity Lock feature lets you control what user-specified personal information gets sent from your computer.
Limited Lab Tests
Since ZoneAlarm licenses the antivirus technology that's used in Kaspersky Anti-Virus, you might assume it would get the same results in independent lab tests. But don't make that assumption. The labs themselves state very clearly that their reported results apply only to the exact product that was tested.
In addition, this product doesn't include every single protective feature found in the Kaspersky antivirus. In the antivirus settings dialog, a page titled Premium Protection details some of the features that aren't here. In particular, ZoneAlarm doesn't offer real-time cloud-based protection, nor does it block Web threats.
So what can the labs tell us? Of all the labs I follow, only one, Virus Bulletin, directly tests ZoneAlarm. In that lab's latest RAP (Reactive and Proactive) test, ZoneAlarm rated 76.40 percent. That's rather low. The average score for products that I follow is 86.96 percent. But really, there's just not enough data here for me to come up with an aggregate lab score the way I can with top-rated products like Kaspersky or Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016.
For years, I've found that while Kaspersky excels in the independent lab tests, it doesn't do as well in my hands-on tests. In that situation, I defer to the labs, given that they can devote significantly more resources to testing than I can alone. I can't do the same for ZoneAlarm given the dearth of test results.
Decent Malware Blocking
Fortunately, the labs aren't my only resource. I keep a collection of malware samples so I can get first-hand experience of the way each product defends against them. When I opened the folder containing my samples, ZoneAlarm immediately started deleting them. For some low-risk samples, adware and such, it asked my permission first. Within a minute it eliminated over three-quarters of the samples.
On-access scanning in most antivirus products triggers on the slightest access. Some wait until a file is about to execute. ZoneAlarm defaults to scanning on any access, and in the free edition you must use this default. Those using the for-pay Pro edition configure it to wait for execution. There's also a smart mode that uses internal rules to decide when to scan.
When I launched the surviving files, the antivirus kicked in to prevent installation in most, but not all, cases. ZoneAlarm detected 87 percent of the samples and earned 8.5 of 10 possible points, slightly better than Kaspersky's score of 8.4. That's not surprising, as it's been well over a month since I tested Kaspersky, enough time for its detection to have improved. Still, this score doesn't come close to the perfect 10 points earned by Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus.
Tested with my previous collection of samples, Avast Free Antivirus 2016 detected 100 percent and scored 9.3 points. Panda Free Antivirus (2016) and AVG AntiVirus Free (2016) both detected 89 percent and earned 8.9 points in that test.
As noted, the free ZoneAlarm antivirus doesn't include Web-based protection, but it does check every file you download. To test that feature, I attempted to open 100 malware-hosting URLs from a feed supplied by MRG-Effitas. ZoneAlarm wiped out 62 percent of the downloaded files, a bit less than the average for this test. Kaspersky blocked 65 percent, mostly by denying all access to the URL. The top score in this test goes to Avira Antivirus 2016, with 99 percent protection.
See How We Test Security Software
ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ can be a good choice for the right user. You get a tough personal firewall that's an Editors' Choice, plus antivirus protection licensed from another Editors' Choice, Kaspersky. The independent labs don't explicitly test ZoneAlarm, though, and it doesn't have 100 percent of the protective technology found in Kaspersky.
Since the products involved are all free, you're free to experiment and see what works best for you. It might be ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+, or it might be ZoneAlarm Free Firewall in combination with one of our free antivirus Editors' Choice products, Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, or Panda Free Antivirus.