Security For Everyone - Reviewing ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015

Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

ZoneAlarm is a company that is best known for their free firewall application. However, they also release commercial security products that include both antivirus and firewall protection, like ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2015. The last time we looked at it, in 2012, this product did not manage to convince us as it was not a great performer in our testing. A lot of time has passed since then and we thought we should give it another chance. After testing it thoroughly, we are now ready to share how effective ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2015 is in securing your Windows computers and devices. Read this review to learn more:

First Impressions

Downloading and installing ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2015 is easy and straightforward. First, you download a small executable file of about 3 MB in size. Then, you run it in order for the suite to be downloaded. At this step, you are offered two options: you can either do a quick install or a custom install. The only difference is that, if you choose Custom, you are able to set ZoneAlarm Search as your browser's homepage and default search provider. Unlike other products, ZoneAlarm doesn't automatically select all these possibly unwanted options by default, so you can safely choose the quick install option without having to worry.

Next, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 begins to download its setup files and then installs itself. In total, you download about 291 MB of data. The suite is quite large so, depending on the speed of your Internet connection, it might take a while.

When done, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 performs a quick scan of your system. Then, if everything worked out well, it informs you that the suite has been installed. Also, you will have the option to register the product and be informed via email about future updates and security news. Keep in mind that ZoneAlarm doesn't automatically select these options for you and it doesn't force you into registering. You can press Finish and start using their product without being signed up for anything you don't want to receive.

Now that everything is done, the suite automatically starts protecting your system. Also, there is no need to reboot your computer in order for ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 to function properly. A nice aspect about ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 is the way it handles automatic updates. The first update is triggered 5 minutes after the installation of the suite. Then, it schedules itself to check for updates each hour. We believe that this behavior is good for users, as it leads to a high level of protection, with the suite being updated almost in "real time". Out first impressions of ZoneAlarm Internet Security were positive. The download & install process is easy and straightforward, the suite updates itself shortly after it is installed and you don't have to reboot your computer in order to be protected. Also, giving personal information to ZoneAlarm is not mandatory. All in all, that was a good start.

Integration With Windows 8.1 & Modern Apps

When it comes to Windows 8.1, its modern apps and networking features, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 works very well. In order to avoid possible conflicts and performance problems, the suite disables both the Windows Firewall and Windows Defender. ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 doesn't cause issues with any of the networking features that are available in Windows 8.1. We didn't encounter any hiccups when browsing the local network or when we joined the Homegroup. The same was true when streaming media or playing games online. The modern apps ran well and installing or updating them worked without problems or any additional configuration on our part. The suite doesn't need to include any browser extension in order to protect its users when surfing the web. ZoneAlarm opted for scanning all the HTTP traffic. This is a good approach, as it doesn't matter what browser you prefer - you are protected either way.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 needs about 215 MB of RAM when running in normal conditions, but that value can increase up to 300MB when making system scans or when disinfecting files.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 efficiently protects all its services from termination. We didn't manage to kill any of them, even though we tried doing this in several ways. The suite's impact on boot timings is quite large: on our test system, it added more than 9 seconds to its boot time. The imprint it leaves on general computing performance is also significant. We didn't want to rely only on our subjective experience, so we tried running a few tests with the popular benchmarking solution PCMark 8. The average performance score before installing the suite was 2047. After installing ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2015, we encountered issues when running this benchmark. Out of six tries, only one was successful, meaning that only one time did we manage to run the benchmark until the end. The rest of the time, it crashed unexpectedly in various stages. Even if we tried different configurations for the security suite, this problem did not go away. However, when the benchmark did make it to the end, we obtained a score of 1823, which is 11% slower than before the suite was installed. ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 works well with Windows 8.1, its networking features and modern apps. Also, because the suite scans all HTTP traffic, you are protected when surfing the web in all web browsers. The only negatives we identified are a large impact on boot timings and a decrease of the general system performance after installing this suite.

Ease Of Use & Configuration

While it doesn't offer the most modern of user interfaces, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 is easy to understand and use, even for novices.

All its main protection modules are accessible from the home screen. A click or a tap on a module opens its specific page, where you get access to a basic set of configuration options and settings. Most features include switches that you can use in order to turn them On or Off. Also, many common settings can be quickly accessed through the links provided on the main page of each module. The suite uses a language that's accessible to most users and it also includes buttons for accessing the Advanced Settings of each module. This approach is good both for casual users and experts.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 doesn't offer custom scans but it lets you configure what is included in the default Quick Scan and Full Scan that are available.

A default antivirus quick scan is scheduled to run each week, and a full system scan every three months. If you don't like the dates and times when the suite is configured to run these scans, you can easily change the frequency of each scan.

An important problem we found is the fact that there are no options for you to set the antivirus module to automatically scan a removable drive when you plug it in. The suite doesn't trigger this type of scan on its own and also doesn't ask you about scanning removable drives. They are scanned only on file access (when you open, copy, save or delete a file).

Help and documentation are available directly from the main interface. You get access to both online and offline help files, a set of frequently asked questions, online forums and a live chat service. The live chat link on the main interface of the suite is not working properly. It always redirects you to the main ZoneAlarm website. However, you can access this service by opening the Support page, here: ZoneAlarm Support.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 doesn't offer any visual logs that can be easily understood by casual users. If you are an advanced user, you will be more than happy with the amount of information included in its very detailed text logs.

The number of alerts shown by this suite is small and ZoneAlarm allows you to configure its alerting behavior. If you want to get notified about everything that happens on your computer, you can. Otherwise, you can also choose to never see any alerts, except for how the suite handles some of the programs that you use on your computer.

Overall, ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 offers a good user interface, that provides easy access both to its common settings and more advanced configuration options. The Help documentation is good, with the only exception that the technical support link appears to be broken. The detailed logs and the fact that you can configure how many alerts are shown when you use this suite are both things that will please advanced users. However, the lack of any visual reports is a bad thing from a novice user perspective. Also, the only major flaw of the security suite is the fact that we couldn't find any option for setting the antivirus module to automatically scan removable drives when they are plugged in.

Firewall Protection

The first thing we noticed about ZoneAlarm's firewall is the fact that it monitors the network profile you set in Windows and configures itself accordingly. Setting your network as private in Windows 8.1 makes ZoneAlarm set its firewall to the Trusted protection level. Setting the network location to public will tighten the security offered by the ZoneAlarm firewall.

To test how good the firewall is, we tested it's reaction to several network attacks made with tools like Nessus and Nmap. When using a private network, Nessus found 5 open ports, correctly identified the operating system and the MAC address of our test computer. It also showed that the computer was vulnerable to "man-in-the-middle" attacks. Nmap managed to find 14 open ports and correctly identified the MAC address. On a public profile setting, both Nessus and Nmap did not manage to find any open ports. The only thing they discovered was the MAC address and this information doesn't pose any security risks. The firewall protection offered by ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 is good when using a public profile for your network. However, we can't say the same thing about the fact that you are exposed to "man-in-the-middle" attacks when using a private network profile. Overall, we are declaring ourselves moderately satisfied with the firewall protection provided by this security suite.

Antivirus & Antispyware Protection

One of the most important things about a security suite is how good its anti-malware protection is. The first thing we tested was this suite's behavior when surfing malicious websites. We visited the same set of malicious websites, using all the major browsers available: Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera. While trying to visit all these malicious websites, we were pleased to see that our access was blocked with the message: "Access Denied [...] To protect you, this page or object has been blocked".

Earlier in this review, we mentioned that ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 scans all the HTTP traffic in order to protect your computer. Because of that, it does not include any browser extensions and this is a good thing. You are secured even if you are using a "no-name" browser for surfing the web. Next, we wanted to see what ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 is doing when connecting a removable drive that we previously filled with malicious files. We took the infected USB memory stick and plugged it in. The suite didn't start an automatic scan, nor did it ask if we wanted to scan this drive. In our opinion, any of these actions would have been a good approach. Instead, ZoneAlarm scanned these files only when they were accessed. In one case, the suite asked to restart the system in order to correctly remove a virus. When it was done, the antivirus results were satisfying, meaning that the suite managed to remove all the malware it found and the system was secure.

The next test we performed was to install ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 on a computer that was already infected with more than 20 samples. The process went great and the suite was able to install itself and then start its real time antivirus and firewall services. When done, the suite immediately began detecting and disinfecting all the malware. We let it do its job and then we also triggered a manual full system scan. At the end, the operating system was up and running like nothing happened. A great result!

Now it was time to measure the scanning speed of this suite's antivirus engine, so we ran a few scans of our test computer's Windows partition. This partition is 38 GB large and it has approximately 32 GB of files on it. The first scan was the slowest: it took almost 50 minutes for it to end. The second and third scans we ran took under 2 minutes. These results are great! We were curious why ZoneAlarm has a behavior similar to that of Kaspersky when it comes to scanning speeds, so we looked online to find some information about its antivirus engine. We learned that ZoneAlarm actually uses the Kaspersky anti-malware engine - one of the best security engines on the market.

Finally, we wanted to see what other independent security organizations had to say about ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015:

  • AV-Test awarded this suite a score of 5 points out of 6 for protection, a 3.5 out of 6 for performance and 6 out of 6 for the usability it offers. Overall, we tend to agree with these scores, as they are similar to what we've seen when testing ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 for ourselves.
  • AV-Comparatives didn't test any ZoneAlarm security product. Generally, this happens because a security vendor refuses to participate in security tests.
  • Virus Bulletin measured ZoneAlarm's performance and it received an 87.18% reactive protection rate.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 offers a good level of protection against malware threats. It does well when it comes to detecting and removing malicious files from your system or when blocking access to infected web pages. Overall, ZoneAlarm's antivirus module is efficient and reliable.

Extra Features

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 includes a few extra features:

  • Privacy Toolbar is a toolbar available only for Mozilla Firefox and for old versions of Internet Explorer (up to version 10) that promises to defend your online privacy and prevent online tracking. We don't recommend using this toolbar, as some of its features are offered by modern browsers (e.g. Incognito Mode) while others are not useful (the links to Amazon, Ebay, Facebook or Twitter) or don't seem to work (the Site Check button).

  • Anti-Keylogger is a tool that blocks the logging of the keys that you press on your keyboard. You can enable this feature from the Web & Privacy tab, in the main user interface.
  • Anti-Spam helps with blocking spam messages when using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express.
  • Online Backup offers 5 GB of online cloud storage space. You need to install a separate app and register an account for this service. Unfortunately, the app is rather prehistoric in the way it looks and works and the free space offered is less than you can get from other cloud storage services like: OneDrive, Dropbox or Google Drive. Its only advantage is that you can encrypt the files that you store online.
  • Identity Protection is a third-party service that is designed to protect your identity when online. It is provided free of charge for one year, after which you have to pay for it. You can find more information here.

Alongside the features mentioned above, you will also find links to other features which don't work in this product: Threat Emulation, Parental Controls, Find My Laptop and PC Tune-Up. These links are provided only to convince you to purchase the more expensive ZoneAlarm Extreme Security Suite 2015, which includes these extras. The extra features included with ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 are not that useful. With the exception of the Anti-Keylogger tool, they don't offer any real value to their users. Most of these extra tools are either outdated or provided by other third-party companies that will eventually ask you to spend more money. Our recommendation is for ZoneAlarm to remove most of these features as they do not add any value to their products or update them so that they become useful to all users. We also recommend our readers to try the cheaper ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2015. This product has all the core protection modules covered in this article, it costs 15$ less and it provides most of the protection you get from using the Internet Security Suite.

Default Settings You Might Want To Adjust

There are a few things that you might want to adjust regarding the default configuration provided by ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015:

  • Change the schedule for the Antivirus Full Scan from three months to one month. In our opinion, running a full scan using a three months interval is too long to ensure the best level of malware protection. You can get to these settings from the main interface, using the Tools link in the top right corner of the ZoneAlarm window.

  • If you have other computers or devices connected to your local network, you might want to enable Network Files Scanning. When this setting is enabled, the suite monitors and automatically scans the files found on network drives. This option can be found in the Premium Protections tab from the Advanced Settings list available for the antivirus module.
  • In case you use an email program on your computer, it may be a good idea to enable Mailbox Files Scanning. When this option is enabled, whenever a full system scan is performed, the antivirus also checks mailbox files (such as.pst or.ost Outlook files). You will find this setting in the Premium Protections tab mentioned earlier.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 allows its users to change all its advanced settings. However, we think that its default configuration is good and it doesn't need many improvements from its users.

Product Rated
4/5

Verdict

ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 was mostly a positive surprise for us. The anti-malware module is a lot better than in previous versions, the process for downloading and installing this suite is very friendly and the overall protection it offers is very good. Also, the user interface is generally intuitive and easy to use for just about anyone. To make things even better, the default configuration of this suite is good and there are few settings that you can improve. The only negative we could find is its impact on boot timings and general system performance, which is higher than that of other suites. Overall, we are pleased with ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2015 and we recommend it to our readers.