ZoneAlarm 6.0.667.000: not MY idea of a firewall

15 September 2005, 11:08 am

I’ve been pretty happy with ZoneLabs’ ZoneAlarm firewall software since my computer security expert friend recommended it a couple years ago, but the update I installed this morning made it virtually useless.

The way ZoneAlarm works has always been pretty simple: whenever a program tries to open an Internet connection, you get a dialog telling you so, with options to grant or deny permission. You also can set programs as “trusted,” so that they don’t have to ask permission every time they connect, or ban a program from ever using net protocols.

There’s an option to set your default browser as trusted when you install or upgrade. ZoneLabs recommends selecting it in the installation instructions. I always de-select it, though, because I noticed it granted trusted status to Internet Explorer as well as my default browser (currently Firefox). I thought that was a poor implementation decision, but it was easy enough to override the default.

After I installed the 6.00.667.000 upgrade, several programs — including Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook Express — were automatically set to trusted the first time they ran. They didn’t appear in the ZoneAlarm control panel as trusted programs beforehand, so I had no opportunity to deny them access until they’d run at least once.

That means I have no idea what other software on my computer could be pre-flagged as trusted until it runs and does something I haven’t unauthorized.

Gee, thanks. What was the whole point of a firewall again?

Not only did the update force me to trust some software that I’d rather not trust, it also refused to let me authenticate some command line ‘net utilities I do use. And — in the catory of heaping insults atop injuries — it didn’t even uninstall cleanly.* I lost most of a billable day dealing with the assorted ramifications, and still haven’t found anything I like as well as pre-6.0 667 ZoneAlarm. Meh.
* In fact, on my first attempt to uninstall, I let the program try to open a survey for me to explain why my disatisfaction had reached the “uninstall completely” point, and that locked the machine. But the program was still functional after reboot, so the crash doesn’t excuse the dirty uninstall.

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