Langa Letter: Readers Rate Desktop Firewalls - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
08:31 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Readers Rate Desktop Firewalls

Fred asked; you answered. Here are your top recommendations for the best desktop firewalls.

(Recommended by 43% of respondents)


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The most-recommended product in our survey, ZoneAlarm ("ZA") has grown to five versions ranging from the free, basic ZoneAlarm firewall; to the $70 ZoneAlarm Security Suite, which includes, anti-spyware, anti-spam, anti-virus, and more. This link will let you compare all the versions of ZA.

Of those readers reporting ZA use, the basic ZA firewall received the most recommendations, followed by ZA Pro, and the ZA Security Suite, respectively.

Fred: I recommend the Zone Alarm (free version) because it's robust and free. It also gives visibility to processes and applications that have Internet access.
-- Joseph Colson

Hi Fred! Zone Alarm has been on my computer for many years. This month I upgraded to the Zone Alarm Security Suite. I find it excellent, and have got used to the pop-ups :-). So far, I have resisted turning on the Email Protection to "HIGH: Challenge unknown senders". I hate getting "challenge" messages myself, so I don't feel I should inflict them on others :-). The AV and Anti-spyware are welcome additions and (hopefully!) are working well. As yet they have not caused any problems nor conflicted with AVG PRO I have installed.
-- Lance in Australia

I have used Zone Alarm for years -- through many upgrades. I use the professional version but I believe the free version is very good also. Have had no problems, and experienced excellent protection for my computer which is on a cable modem.
-- Ronald Schwartz

Fred, For me the old ZA Free Version is my pick. Why?..easy to configure, effective, and it has both inbound and outbound protocols. The last has saved me on two occasions when mysterious Trojans got caught by the outbound protocol when they sought permission to connect to the net.
-- John Cash

Fred, I installed the free Zone Alarm 6 a month ago with nary a problem. I've been using Zone Alarm for three years and so far have been intrusion free. I used a cable modem with a router, but the router is fairly recent in my system. I'm a happy camper with Zone Alarm.
-- Rich Warren

Fred: I currently use Zone Alarm Suite 6.0.667 and have not had any of the problems I have been reading about. I have used ZA (free and paid) for some time now and have had very few problems, but excellent protection. I periodically go to Steve Gibson's Web site and run his tests to determine the stealth level of my machine and, to date, the tests have not been able to access my system. I would strongly recommend ZA to anyone.
-- Jerry Lee

Hi, I use ZA Pro, and though I had problems with 6.0.631.003, once I loaded 6.0.667 and after wading through all the alerts, it has settled down. My system does boot and shut down slower, but that's the price of security these days.
-- Robert Matalavage

(Recommended by 27% of respondents)


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The two Sygate firewall products mentioned most by your fellow readers were the free-for-personal-use Sygate Personal Firewall; and the $40 Pro version. You can see and compare the features of both versions here.

Note: On Oct. 10, 2005, Symantec completed acquisition of Sygate, but as of this writing the firewall products mentioned here are still available, unchanged.

Hi Fred! We use Sygate Personal Firewall for several reasons:

  1. Historically, it has been well maintained and has been a robust program;
  2. It is free (if you know where to look);
  3. It is easy to use and configure -- things are logically arranged and easy to understand;
  4. It works!
-- Victor Gascon

Fred, I did a master's degree in network security with Capitol College in Laurel, Md., and part of the curriculum was to do an attack study using no firewall, one firewall, and then two firewalls. I used 2 Windows 2000 machines, one as attacker and one different machine as a target. No firewall yielded the obvious results (no alerts, and I compromised the box). Then I installed ZA free version (using default, out-of-the-box settings). Depending on the attack, it might alert (didn't alert on a low and slow, didn't alert on crafted packets, but did on standard, run-of-the-mill attacks. I also compromised the box again.). Then I uninstalled ZA, and installed Tiny Personal Firewall (again, default settings). Better than ZA, but still didn't alert on the low and slow (results will vary on how paranoid you set the settings. Still compromised the box.).

Then I uninstalled Tiny, and installed Sygate Personal Firewall (again, default settings). Sygate alerted on every attack I tried (and I was unable to compromise the box using my attacks). Then I uninstalled Sygate, installed Tiny and ZA, and even together they weren't as effective as Sygate (not enough alerts, and I compromised the box).

At this point, I stopped and wrote it up. I figured if Tiny and ZA weren't as good as Sygate, there was no use combining Sygate with one of them. One caveat: up until that point in time, Tiny was my preferred firewall. Now, I use Sygate on every computer I own. Most of the folks in my organization come to ask me what to use to protect their home computers from the assorted nasties on the Internet. Obviously, I always (now) recommend Sygate Personal Firewall. I do that for 2 main reasons: the out-of-the-box settings are more than adequate for 95% of the users I've recommended it to, and because of #1, the users aren't bombarded with the normal learning curve of the firewall, which is their biggest source of frustration with a firewall (which causes them to either disable or set the settings so low it's ineffective). I know that most people have their favorites, and hate to see their favorites trumped, but this was about as much of an objective test as I could figure out. I was going to use BlackIce, but decided it didn't really qualify as a firewall, so left it out. Anyway, hope this helps!
-- Regards, Robin Berg MCSE

Hi Fred! Used to use Zone Alarm and recommend it to my clients. After several bad experiences with ZA, I tried and now use Sygate Personal Firewall (free version). Don't know what will happen since the acquisition.
-- Doug T.

Fred: I have gone from Zone Alarm (free), Zone Alarm (paid), to Kerio (free), and then to Sygate (free), to Sygate Pro (paid). When I upgraded to XP Pro, I used the built-in for about a day and went back to Sygate. I have to say that Sygate has worked the best of any of the firewalls I have used. It is the least obtrusive and least invasive. Meaning it doesn't try to be everything else, just a good firewall. It works invisibly, unless there is a problem and doesn't add much overhead into the operating system. A firewall is kind of like an automobile, it has to fit each person's personal preference anyway.... I am not changing anytime soon.
-- Guy Burdick

Fred: I like Sygate Personal Firewall, myself. It's free, it's powerful, and the advanced features let me allow incoming VNC connections from one MAC address (my wife's computer) and from one other subnet.
-- Eric

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