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Check Point’s ZoneAlarm Extreme Security NextGen weds the firewall, malware, and ransomware protection from ZoneAlarm’s other products in a sharp new interface, but it’s still shedding features.
The typical product line for a security suite company involves at least a standalone antivirus program plus a full suite that builds on that antivirus. Many add an even bigger suite, either a mega-suite with more features, a suite with cross-platform protection, or both. Check Point’s pattern is a bit different. The ZoneAlarm product line includes a free personal firewall, free antivirus plus firewall, and feature-enhanced paid editions of both, as well as a standalone anti-ransomware product. The line culminates with ZoneAlarm Extreme Security NextGen, which fits best in the mega-suite category. It has an attractive new interface, but the suite’s feature set continues to dwindle, to the point where we can’t recommend it.
What Does ZoneAlarm Extreme Cost?
Protecting a single PC with ZoneAlarm Extreme costs $59.95 per year, the same (or nearly) as ESET Smart Security Premium and Bitdefender. Paying $64.95 gets you three licenses, but on a per-license basis you’re better off choosing five licenses for $69.95. A 10-license subscription, at $139.95 per year, costs almost exactly twice as much as five licenses, but Check Point doesn’t stop there. You can get 25 licenses for $289.95 per year or 50 for $549.95. This is a consumer product, though, and I doubt many consumers will purchase 50 or even 25 licenses.
A tech enthusiast who really might use 25 or 50 licenses will be better off with McAfee. Yes, you pay $159.99 for an unlimited McAfee Total Protection subscription, but that covers every Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS device in your household. At the Extreme level, ZoneAlarm extends protection to mobile devices, but not Macs.
ZoneAlarm’s Next Generation
With the latest product line release, Check Point has made some big changes in the ZoneAlarm line. Gone are the pastel gray and green rectangles that graced ZoneAlarm products for more than 10 years. Each product now emphasizes a security status icon, a green checkmark surrounded by concentric green circles if all is well, or a red X and red circles when there’s a problem. Across the bottom, four icons offer access to four security areas: Antivirus, Firewall, Web Secure, and Anti-Ransomware.
In ZoneAlarm Extreme, reviewed here, all four icons are available. Each of the other products has a “Buy Now” label overlay on one or more of them, meaning the feature isn’t available. The free antivirus lacks Web Secure and Anti-Ransomware, while ZoneAlarm PRO has everything except Anti-Ransomware. ZoneAlarm Anti-Ransomware has Antivirus and Firewall marked as unavailable.
These distinctions seem clear-cut, but in reality, things are messier. The free antivirus includes a limited version of Web Secure, one that only works in Chrome but that aced our phishing protection test. In testing, the paid antivirus turned out to include some ransomware protection components. And the dedicated anti-ransomware tool duplicates some antivirus features. Confused? Well, Extreme Security has all the features, so there’s no confusion if you go for the suite.
Zone Alarm Features
ZoneAlarm security features differ over the three different plans: Antivirus, Antivirus + Firewall, and Extreme Security. Each subsequent plan is costlier than the previous one and includes a more comprehensive suite of virus and malware protection. Some of ZoneAlarm’s features and services can also be downloaded separately as standalone software.
Let’s start off with a ZoneAlarm antivirus review. This antivirus software is Check Point’s bread and butter, acting as a pillar for the product’s defense systems. ZoneAlarm’s antivirus software is completely free to download and can be acquired separately from other add-ons like the firewall or browser security extensions.
Like any software of this type, ZoneAlarm antivirus’s main purpose is to provide real-time protection for your PC. Once installed, the software will constantly perform low-level scans of your system, working to catch any malicious elements that might have slipped past the firewall and other outer defenses.
A quick ZoneAlarm free antivirus review will also reveal that you can run on-demand scans with the software. These can either be full or quick scans. Full scans, as the name suggests, scour through your entire system in search of any viruses or other threats. As such, they can take quite some time, and you won’t be able to use your PC effectively while they run. Quick scans, on the other hand, can be customized to only go through certain folders. Furthermore, you can schedule scans to occur at set points in time.
Antivirus Lab Tests
But is ZoneAlarm good when it comes to antivirus protection? Like most top-class antivirus software, ZoneAlarm operates at the kernel level – the most basic core element of your operating system.
In the course of this ZoneAlarm review, we turned to AV-TEST, an independent antivirus testing laboratory, in order to check the quality of the protection provided by this software. The last test the company ran was in 2016, when it gave ZoneAlarm between 99% and 100% scores for anti-malware protection across the board. This is on par with or in some cases above what other AV software gets. Therefore, we can safely say that ZoneAlarm’s antivirus protection is superb.
What’s Not in ZoneAlarm Extreme
ZoneAlarm Extreme had diminished in features the last time I evaluated it a few years ago. It previously included several components licenses from other companies such as parental control from Net Nanny, tune-up from Large Software, and spam filtering from SonicWall, and online backup from IDrive. These departures did serve to make it more a ZoneAlarm product and less a basket of disparate parts. It also dropped the in-house Find My Laptop feature.
With the NextGen evolution, more features have exited the scene. As noted, the Application Control half of the firewall’s protection is on hiatus, though it’s slated to return in the third quarter of 2022.
The identity and data protection features have also flown the coop. You used to get a free year of simple identity protection with ZoneAlarm, supplied by partner Identity Guard; no longer. And the Identity Lock feature used to let you store 15 types of personal data and prevent transmission of these items from your PC to the internet. However, when I last reviewed ZoneAlarm this feature didn’t handle secure HTTPS connections, making it useless.
Past versions of what’s now called ZoneAlarm Extreme Security NextGen included backup, system tuneup, spam filtering, and parental control components, all licensed from third parties. With this latest version, identity protection and private data protection are also gone, and Application Control is missing in action until a future date. With this suite you get antivirus, half a firewall, and ransomware protection. Some nominally standalone antivirus utilities give you more.
Bitdefender Total Security packs in way more features than the still-shrinking ZoneAlarm, and its antivirus routinely gets excellent lab scores. If what you like about ZoneAlarm is cross-platform protection, well, Norton 360 Deluxe does that better and includes VPN protection. Both of these alternatives have earned our Editors’ Choice award.
With the rapid development of smartphones, they too have become an increasingly attractive target for cybercriminals. For that reason, Check Point has developed its ZoneAlarm Mobile Security app, which provides a high level of protection for mobile devices. You can get ZoneAlarm for Android and iOS, and the app is completely free to download.
Mobile Security protects your phone on multiple levels. First of all, it ranks public WiFi networks, shielding you from fake ones that might try to steal your credentials. Secondly, it prevents unauthorized access to your phone’s camera and microphone. During this ZoneAlarm mobile security review, we found this feature to be particularly useful, as camera/microphone hijacking has become an eerily common form of cyberattack. Additionally, the Mobile Security app will scan all other apps you download, warning you in case they are malicious.
ZoneAlarm vs. Avast
ZoneAlarm and Avast are some of the popular malware removal choices thanks to their free versions. However, some important differences may influence your choice.
The first one is the most obvious. If you’re a Mac or Linux user, you won’t be able to use ZoneAlarm at all, as it’s exclusively based on Windows, Android, and iOS.
With rampant ransomware attacks becoming more common, having at least some kind of protection is important. Avast and ZoneAlarm take these risks into account, with both offering ransomware and phishing protection.
Depending on the number of devices you need to cover, Avast may be a preferable solution. This is especially true if you need to cover up to 10 devices at $44.99 per year, including operating systems not supported by ZoneAlarm.
ZoneAlarm vs. Comodo
Both ZoneAlarm and Comodo offer a firewall on top of their antivirus package. However, Comodo goes the extra mile with a two-way firewall solution that will prevent your PC from attacking other devices. While it’s a nice feature to have, it sort of defeats the purpose if your computer has already been infected.
Comodo does have a helpful “Sandbox” feature, which allows it to run programs in a virtual environment and block them off from the rest of the system.
Then there’s the price tag. ZoneAlarm covers five devices per year at $44.95, while Comodo can only cover three Windows PCs for $39.99.
The main downside we’ve identified with Comodo’s malware solution is platform limitation. Comodo only works with Windows, while our ZoneAlarm review shows that this product can also cover mobile devices. That’s why we’d recommend ZoneAlarm to most users, as protecting mobile devices is just as important.
One of ZoneAlarm’s most glaring issues was its vastly outdated interface. Someone might consider visuals to be a totally unimportant aspect of an antivirus program; after all, its function is to protect your PC, not to look pretty. While this is true, there’s really no justification for visuals being this horrendous. When you look at screenshots from ZoneAlarm antivirus reviews, it’s hard to tell whether they’re from 2020 or from 2005.
The color scheme is blue-gray-green, reminiscent of old Windows XP programs. The software also seems blurry, probably due to the fact that it isn’t adapted to higher screen resolutions. Other than that, the interface is pretty easy to use. While ZoneAlarm usually keeps running in the background, you can access its interface to fine-tune various settings.
However, ZoneAlarm has recently made the beta version of its Next-Gen update publicly available and free to use for one year. After conducting a ZoneAlarm Next-Gen review, we were impressed by the changes the company has made to the interface. Gone is the pixelated dashboard that made you squint your eyes to see anything. Instead, a minimalistic, modern interface with a clear white background has been introduced, finally making ZoneAlarm a joy to use.