Sometimes even the most protective phalanx of antivirus, antispyware and antiphishing programs is not enough to shield a computer from online dangers.

Check Point Software's ZoneAlarm ForceField provides an extra defensive layer by cloning your web browser to catch dangerous software before any damage can be done.

Rather than providing a magic bullet to stop online attacks by itself, ZoneAlarm ForceField augments traditional security software.

While using ForceField, your browser looks and feels normal, but the program creates an encrypted virtual browsing zone that blocks malicious software at the first hint of an online threat.

ZoneAlarm ForceField looks for malware signatures and a range of suspicious activities; it also uses heuristics to identify and block phishing. The software also can block dangerous downloads and spyware while keeping websites from recording your computer's keystrokes or screen images.

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A test run

We downloaded and installed the 4.4MB program, which took about 5 minutes to set up. Unfortunately, ZoneAlarm ForceField only works with Windows XP and Vista computers that use Internet Explorer (version 6 or newer) or Firefox 2.0. That means that it can't protect Macs or those PCs that use Opera or other web browsers.

We tried ZoneAlarm ForceField with a variety of security software to see if it played well with others, and it had no problems with AVG Anti-Virus, Microsoft Defender, Symantec's Norton AntiVirus 2008 and Check Point's own ZoneAlarm Antivirus software.

The only visible element of ZoneAlarm ForceField is the toolbar it adds to your browser. (Unfortunately, ForceField doesn't integrate with Internet Explorer's toolbar, which would save some space). The toolbar features the ForceField logo and three icons: Protection Activity, Site Status, and Private Browser.

Clicking on the logo leads to a variety of settings for tuning the level of protection. Although ZoneAlarm ForceField duplicates what other programs do - it has its own spyware, phishing and keystroke logger - we tend to prefer the belt-and-suspenders approach of extra protection. In other words, it doesn't hurt to have a bit of backup.

ZoneAlarm ForceField's Protection Activity button keeps tabs on items that the program has blocked. The Site Status button lets you see if the current site is potentially harmful and displays a quickie safety report.

Our favourite, however, is ZoneAlarm ForceField's Private Browser button, which is the approach to use if you want online anonymity. Click on this, and it opens a new browser window that isn't only safe from malware but also won't leave any record of your web excursion behind.

NEXT PAGE: testing ZoneAlarm ForceField, and our expert verdict > >

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