ZoneAlarm Extreme Security review: Good protection in need of an overhaul

This Windows app hasn't changed much in at least seven years. The protection is good, but we have concerns about overall value.

Credit: Check Point

The more things change, the more they stay the same, the saying goes. That couldn’t be more true for our review candidate today, Check Point’s ZoneAlarm Extreme Security. We reviewed this software nearly six years ago, and in that time the Windows interface has not changed.

Sure, some features have disappeared and others have taken their place, but overall it’s the same program with the same dated interface. That’s set to change, however. A Check Point spokesperson told us the company is planning a major interface and user experience overhaul for 2020.

Note: This review is part of our best antivirus roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.

When you start ZoneAlarm Extreme Security the first thing you’ll notice is that it looks a little fuzzy. It appears Check Point didn’t update its app for high-resolution displays. We tested ZoneAlarm Extreme Security on a laptop with a 1080p display, and found that the menu items and tiles were noticeably lacking in sharpness.

zonealarmdashboard IDG

The primary dashboard for ZoneAlarm Extreme Security.

The basic dashboard for Extreme Security has three tiles: Antivirus & Firewall, Web & Privacy, and Mobility & Data. There are also four menu items in the upper-left corner: Scan, Update, Tools, and Help.

Click on one of the tiles, and you end up on a secondary interface with three tabs that have the same names as the tiles from the previous screen—making the first screen superfluous.

This secondary screen is where you have all the controls for your antivirus. You can start a manual scan, or turn on and off features such as Threat Emulation and Application Control. The former is a cloud-based feature to help prevent zero-day attacks, while Application Control prevents untrusted applications from running. In our tests, Application Control was a little too aggressive and wouldn’t allow PCMark 10 to run its Extended test. That was a pain but easily solved by setting a higher trust level for all of the FutureMark components.

Easily solved, that is, for anyone who knows their way around Windows PCs. Regular users who need a set-it-and-forget-it solution will find it problematic if they happen to install a program that isn’t on Check Point’s whitelist.

The two-way firewall allows for rule setting, permissions for VPN protocols, locking the hosts file, and so on. This section is best left alone for most users.

zonealarmmobilityanddata IDG

ZoneAlarm’s Mobility & Data section.

Then in the Mobility & Data section there is an anti-ransomware module, as well as identity protection. The latter checks a third-party database of recent breaches for your information such as email address, passwords, and so on.

There’s also a real-time monitor that scans for sensitive information trying to leave your PC. For the monitor to work, you need to add your information to a vault including PINs, addresses, bank cards, driver’s license, passwords, mother’s maiden name, passport number, phone, social security number, and so on. You can also choose to encrypt your vault.

In the settings, you can activate a game mode, set schedules for scans and updates, and view the app’s logs.

Extreme Security has a number of key features you’d expect in a deluxe security suite, but there are some noticeable gaps. It doesn’t have parental controls any longer, for example. It’s also missing items you usually find such as a password manager, a free VPN, or cloud storage.

The suite is also lacking PC tune-up tools, though we can hardly fault Check Point for that. We regularly note how these tools are not much of a benefit as they can easily be acquired for free from third parties, or are already built into Windows 10.

In addition to the desktop app, there are also apps for Android and iOS. Oddly, on Android at least, there is an automated VPN to protect your browsing while on open Wi-Fi.

Performance

zonealarm2 IDG

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security’s Antivirus & Firewall controls.

AV-Test gave Check Point’s ZoneAlarm Pro a 100 percent rating in September and October for its zero-day and malware real-world tests, and its widespread and prevalent malware test. The former used 335 samples and the latter nearly 26,000.

SE Labs gave ZoneAlarm its highest rating, AAA, in the testing house’s October-December 2019 report, but it didn’t explain whether the suite missed anything. In the July-September SE Labs report, ZoneAlarm was also awarded a AAA rating, but it missed one public threat while stopping everything else, including targeted attacks.

For our in-house performance tests ZoneAlarm did fairly well. The test PC’s performance took a hit of 74 points in the PC Mark 10 Extended test. In the file-transfer test it actually performed a little bit faster, by nearly two minutes, with ZoneAlarm running. Those were the only two tests where there was a notable difference.

By our reckoning, with ZoneAlarm installed you may see a bit of a hit with media rich applications, but overall it shouldn’t get in your way too much.

Pricing

zonealarmwebandprivacy IDG

ZoneAlarm’s Web & Privacy options.

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security has a promotional price of $45 for a year, covering five devices. The regular price is marked as $90. If you want to cover 10 devices it will cost $80 for the first year, and then $180 for each year after that.

That’s pretty good pricing for the first subscription period, but it’s way too high after that, based on the MSRPs CheckPoint displays on its website.  Norton Security Premium, for example, is $120 per year for 10 devices at the non-promotional price.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that ZoneAlarm Extreme Security offers good protection, but when you’re looking at a paid product, that’s not the only consideration. The desktop app is, I hate to say it, terrible. It’s way too outdated, and it doesn’t look good on high-resolution screens. That is set to change at some point this year, and we’re interested to try the new ZoneAlarm when it rolls out.

Extreme Security also has a single safe browsing extension that is only for Chrome. There are no considerations for Firefox or Edge, which isn’t very extreme. Yes, there are tons of safe browsing extensions out there, but when you’re trying to sell the complete package, it should be, well, complete. Chrome covers a lot of users, but it’s not what everyone uses.

Pricing is also a concern since it’s not as competitive after the first year is up. 

To sum up, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security is good in terms of protection, but in terms of overall value it’s not on par with competing suites. That could in change in the coming months once the updated suite is released, but for now we’re not excited about it.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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