CheckPoint ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 8.0 (one-year three-user licence: £43) provides solid firewall protection along with a host of other security functions.

If anything, ZoneAlarm Extreme may be guilty of having too many pieces: it bundles together the basic security suite with the unique features of ID theft mitigation and recovery service, online data storage, and the optional PC utility. This premium suite gives a lot of bang for the money, including one year of free identity fraud monitoring.

ZoneAlarm licenses its antivirus protection from Kaspersky, and in AV-Test.org's extensive malware-detection tests, ZoneAlarm Extreme did a decent job in both the on demand and on access detection of 2,735 malware files and scripts, scoring 100 percent against each, although it only caught 81 percent of the macro viruses.

ZoneAlarm Extreme did well against the zoo Trojan horses, worms, password-stealers, and other nasties thrown at it, identifying on average 94 percent of the 722,372 collected samples.

ZoneAlarm Extreme scored very strong numbers when it came to detecting and removing rootkits - stealth malware used to hide infections from PC users and security software alike. It successfully detected and removed nine out of nine active rootkits.

In proactively identifying unknown malware for which it doesn't yet have a signature, ZoneAlarm Extreme scored above average. In tests with two-week-old signature files, it identified 42 percent of samples. And with four-week-old signature files it identified 38 percent of samples.

According to AV-Test, ZoneAlarm Extreme responds very quickly to new widespread malware attacks, typically in 4 to 6 hours. Not surprisingly ZoneAlarm issued many updates per month, issuing 636 in January 2009, 732 in February 2009, and 723 in March 2009, averaging an amazing 23 updates per day.

AV-Test displayed long on-demand scan times of up to 179 seconds on a 741 MB file and on access times of 103 seconds compared with only 41 seconds to copy the same file on a system without antivirus installed.

ZoneAlarm Extreme doesn't scan incoming mail nor IM messages; instead, it scans the files associated on access. Many of its security features rely on software apps from other vendors.

For example, ZoneAlarm Extreme uses SonicWall for antispam protection, MailFrontier for email filtering of phishing attacks, and Netcraft for web antiphishing protection. Web surfing protection, a new feature, comes from ZoneAlarm ForceField (a utility also sold separately). On Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers, ForceField blocks drive-by downloads of malicious code.

ZoneAlarm Extreme is perhaps a bit too cautious with the web. For example, ZoneAlarm doesn't actively warn you about a particular site; instead, you simply can't access that site. ZoneAlarm does allow you to change the setting for individual blocked sites to allow access, but it would be helpful to see in advance what other sites it doesn't allow.

The ZoneAlarm interface uses a lefthand navigation pane to open configuration options that are straightforward and easy to use. Within the right window pane, ZoneAlarm includes Parental Controls from Blue Coat, provides 2GB online backup from iDrive, and identity fraud protection and recovery service from Intersections and an optional PC diagnostics tool from Large Software.

The latter is new this year, and on our system it detected several mangled Registry listings and fixed them, improving system performance.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 8.0: Specs

  • Microsoft Vista SP1/XP SP2/SP3: 2GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor (1GHz 32-bit processor or higher for XP)
  • 2GB (32-bit) and 4GB (64-bit) RAM (768MB for XP)
  • 250MB of available hard disk space
  • internet access
  • Microsoft Vista SP1/XP SP2/SP3: 2GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor (1GHz 32-bit processor or higher for XP)
  • 2GB (32-bit) and 4GB (64-bit) RAM (768MB for XP)
  • 250MB of available hard disk space
  • internet access

OUR VERDICT

Overall, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security offers the most complete set of security features of any suite we've tested - from online backup and ID fraud protection to solid antivirus and firewall tools. Where it counts, ZoneAlarm did well in blocking traditional and zoo malware and removing rootkits. It could do better on behaviour-based protection, however.

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