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Check Point relaunches ZoneAlarm antivirus as free product

Adds firewall and cloud protection

Check Point is offering its ZoneAlarm antivirus software as a free consumer product for the first time, adding the company's no-cost firewall to the bundle to offer all-in-one PC protection.

The thinking behind ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013 appears to be to pack more under the 'free' banner than its rivals, which stick pretty much to file scanning with a layer of realtime threat detection.

The combined product gets identity theft protection (first added to the paid software in 2008), an anti-phishing toolbar of the sort sometimes found at the browser layer, and free online backup for those who want an alternative to Google's Drive or Microsoft's SkyDrive.

It also comes with a download protection layer that monitors for known 'bad' files and what Check Point calls an "OS firewall", a way of monitoring for craftier threats that have somehow bypassed Windows itself.

However, the most interesting addition is the integration of the antivirus client with Check Point's free firewall, which uses Check Point's DefenseNet cloud system to analyse a PC's files against known bad examples.

An obvious question is what customers of the company's paid software - Internet Security Suite 2012 - will get over and above the free client and the answer seems to be extras such as parental controls, credit monitoring and the company's virtual browser technology.

Malware signature updates are also more frequent at once per hour although the once every 24 hours default on the free product can be adjusted to occur more frequently if desired.

"Most consumers are unwittingly making themselves an easy target for cyber criminals," argued ZoneAlarm president, Bari Abdul. "They lack a strong 2-way firewall, are unwilling or unable to pay for security, or they have just left their security on the back burner."

Microsoft last week announced version 4.0 of its free Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) rival, featuring subtle improvements over previous versions, mainly in the way it interrogates files using the company's SpyNet cloud system (now dubbed 'MAPS').

ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013 is available from 1 May.

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