ZoneAlarm Pro update blasts ads, cookies

Zone Labs Inc. is tackling Internet irritations with a scheduled November update to its ZoneAlarm Pro firewall and computer security program, which the company says will block online ads, including pop-up and -down ads, and will prevent Web sites from planting cookies on your computer.

ZoneAlarm Pro 3.0 is also a smarter version, because it profiles the size of software programs that connect to the Internet, according to Fred Felman, vice president of marketing for Zone Labs. This reduces the risk that a hacker can modify a program's executable file or software drivers to trick a firewall into inviting a security risk into your PC.

Enhancements include more tutorials on how to use the software and an improved look. Pricing isn't announced, but current customers who licensed ZoneAlarm Pro 2.6 (priced at US$39.95) within a year will be able to upgrade free of charge. Upgrades will be available at a discount for other ZoneAlarm users.

Zone Labs will also offer a free version of ZoneAlarm 3.0 that has limited features, Felman adds. The free version will have usability improvements, and will profile applications to prevent against clandestine manipulation. But the free version of ZoneAlarm 3.0 will not include ad or cookie filtering.

Security zone surfing

ZoneAlarm Pro 3.0 also beefs up security when you're surfing the Internet. An Active Content Control warns you about Java and ActiveX components when you come across them on a Web page, or automatically blocks them entirely.

Another feature, Performance Ad Blocking, is designed to give you relief if your Internet connection is slow enough that ad-loading is painful. You designate in advance how long you are willing to wait for ads to appear. The function sniffs out the total size of ads when you land on a page. If a Web page can't meet your time limit, ZoneAlarm will simply load the Web page without the ads.

Enhanced network support now lets your PC or notebook better differentiate the Internet and a local area network. This enables fine-tuning of access permissions for sharing files and granting remote access to your PC. Other controls let you dictate what type of files you're willing to share over a network, and with whom.

Growing interest

The four-year-old Zone Labs has grown with the popularity of the Internet, according to Jan Sundgren, industry analyst with Giga Information Group. Unlike many Internet firms that have recently withered in a cooling economy, Zone Labs appears to be bucking the trend.

Counting all versions, ZoneAlarm has been downloaded 15 million times in the past two years, Felman says. Also, downloads have experienced 30 percent compound growth over the past two months, they say.

Sundgren says Zone Labs is commanding its leadership by focusing on a trend for personal firewalls. He says more businesses and consumers are putting firewall security directly on the client PC rather than relying on one central firewall.

Leading firewall vendors like Check Point Software Technologies, PGP Security, and Cisco Secure PIX Firewall aren't going anywhere, Sundgren adds. But he expects business will increasingly be turning to client PC firewalls to protect data on notebook and desktop PCs as more data travels inside corporate networks.

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