Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013

Israeli IT security vendor Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: CHKP) has been better known for its enterprise-grade firewall and intrusion prevention solutions, but it’s hoping to draw some attention to its consumer solutions as well with a new, free offering.

CheckPoint already offers Internet Security Suite and Extreme Security as consumer offerings, with anti-virus, firewall and other security features. Now its complementing those paid consumer offerings with a free offering, Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013.

The free offering is available for download from their Web site, although it took some searching from checkpoint.com. Going straight to zonealarm.com is much easier. According to CheckPoint the free offering includes most of the features of its paid suites, with a few exceptions. With the free version you won’t get parental controls, support, virtual browsing and performance optimization tools. Also, automatic signature updates are daily instead of hourly, although you can still check for updates manually.

What you do get is an anti-virus/spyware engine, a firewall, and download protection.

I began by downloading a 5.5MB installer, and when it ran I had the option of a quick or custom install. I choose custom, and found a number of options pre-ticked for me. I decided to pass on the ZoneAlarm Security Toolbar, which promised site evaluations, private browsing and, for some reason, a shortcut to Facebook. I can’t stand these sorts of toolbars, so I passed.

I also said no to changing my default search engine and browser home page to search.zonealarm.com. I don’t see any reason for doing that (nor did it give me one) and I was a bit annoyed to be asked, never mind have the box pre-ticked. I guess this is why it pays to chose custom install.

Next I had two install options, a 65MB “light” version and a 100 MB “full” version. Basically, the choice was download updated signature file now or later. I picked now, but it’s not bad having the choice. Most suites do the update once the program is installed. Finally, I had to choose my “application control mode.” Basically, it could auto-learn how to configure my security settings based on my behaviour, or I could manually configure them. Here, I opted for optimization.

Finally, after being prompted to uninstall Microsoft Security Essentials as a competing program (surprisingly, Microsoft didn’t whimper when I pulled the plug) I was into the user interface. It could be less cluttered (I really don’t need a button to “like” my security software on Facebook in the control panel), but everything is easy enough to find and, with options for a quick or full scan (or full with archives), I picked full and the scan was underway.

I’d ran a full scan with the Microsoft solution before uninstalling it so I was surprised when ZoneAlarm got two hits, neither of them the usual, boring tracking cookies. Instead, it claimed two virus hits, both related to an FLV player I’d downloaded from Cnet.

Digging further into the features, there’s tools to schedule updates and scans and even a game mode, to disable pop-up alerts when you’re immersed in virtual worlds and don’t want to be disturbed (you can chose to ignore alerts or take recommended actions automatically).

Many of the options in the UI seem to be about up-selling or installing trial offerings. There’s a prominent line in the UI “Share and win the new iPad. New winner each week!” that offers iPad draw entries for referring friends to the free suite, and a free copy of the paid ZoneAlarm product if three friends download the free version. It was a little Amyway-ish for my tastes. You can also activate a free year of a Check Point identity protection suite.

All in all, if you can live with the limitations of the free suite (perhaps you don’t have kids to control) then this is a decent free option. It installed quickly, scans fairly quickly, and got results. The real-time monitoring doesn’t appear to be too resource-intensive either. I just wish it was a bit less tacky with the referral business.

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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