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ZoneAlarm Firewall Protection

Firewalls are used to protect computers from unwelcome intruders from the Internet. A personal firewall is designed to lock down the thousands of ports (points of entry) on a computer, but any firewall is only as good as its current configuration. There are many commercial firewalls available, but one of the most popular, and Mr. Modem's personal favorite, is ZoneAlarm, available in freeware and paid versions described below.

ZoneAlarm Versions:

ZoneAlarm - Provides reliable Internet protection for the home user. This version is free for personal and non-profit use (excluding government and educational entities). All versions of ZoneAlarm are compatible with Windows 98, Me, NT, 2000 and XP.

ZoneAlarm Plus - Excellent for users who don't require the advanced protection afforded by ZoneAlarm Pro. ZonaAlarm Plus stops hackers, data thieves and automated threats, plus tracks the source of intrusion attempts and provides advanced e-mail protection. $39.95 to purchase. Includes one-year of support and updates.

ZoneAlarm Pro - Voted "Best Security Software" by PC World Magazine, the Professional version does everything ZoneAlarm Plus does, plus it prevents Web sites from tracking your online activities. It also provides an additional layer of e-mail protection. $49.95 to purchase. Includes one-year of support and updates.

Configuring ZoneAlarm

The first time you launch ZoneAlarm, you'll be escorted through a simple installation and setup wizard that will ask questions in order to determine how you'll be using the program. The questions it asks are based on the type of connection you specify. Questions include:

Do you want ZoneAlarm to notify you when it blocks Internet traffic or do you want it to protect your connection silently? If you're easily annoyed by messages popping up, I'd suggest choosing to be protected in silence. You will still be asked to verify any programs requesting access to your system.

Do you want ZoneAlarm to configure your browser's security settings during the set-up or the first time you launch your browser? It's safe for most users to do it right away, during the set-up. Advanced users will probably want to customize access and server permissions. Novice users need not get involved with the advanced options.

When you're finished with the set-up, you can customize additional settings. Let's review the focus of each portion of the ZoneAlarm's interface:

Overview - Quickly review how much traffic ZoneAlarm has blocked, which programs have attempted to go online, and how many e-mail attachments are quarantined.

Click the Product Info tab to obtain version, licensing, and registration information as well as product updates and help.

The Preferences tab contains ZoneAlarm's settings which let you decide how to communicate with Zone Labs and how you'll check for updates.

Firewall - Firewall settings are broken into two categories: Internet Zone Security and Trusted Zone Security.

The Internet Zone Security option includes all computers on the Web.

"Low" turns off your firewall protection.

"Medium" is recommended for limited Internet use. If you select "Medium," other users, including hackers, can "see" your computer but can't share its resources.

"High" is recommended for always-on Internet connections such as cable access and DSL.

Trusted Zone Security lets you share files with other
"trusted" users. "Low" turns off the firewall. "Medium" lets you share files. "High" hides your computer so hackers won't "see" it on the Internet.

Use the Advanced button to fine tune your security settings by blocking specific types of incoming and outgoing traffic.

Click the Zones tab to add computers to your Trusted Zone.

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Program Control - The "Medium" setting is recommended so that each program is required to request permission to access the Internet. You can access the Program Wizard any time if you want to change any of the original options chosen during set-up. Here's how to use the other options under Program Control:

Automatic Lock shuts off Internet access after a period of inactivity. Press the Custom button to specify what amount of time determines "inactivity" or choose to have it activate when the screen saver appears.

You can also determine if you want to block all Internet traffic or grant permission to certain programs. Just go to the Programs tab and select one of the symbols next to a program's name to change its access to "Allow," "Block," or "Ask."

Alerts and Logs - In this section you can determine whether or not you want to receive pop-up "alert" messages for items that are not programs. The Log Viewer lets you review the alerts you've received. I'd recommend permitting the pop-up alerts if you're a new ZoneAlarm user, just to get a sense of what's going on. If the alerts become annoying or intrusive, you can always return to this section and disable them.

E-mail Protection - You can turn this feature on or off, though I'd recommend keeping it on. This feature spots suspicious or questionable e-mail attachments that may contain viruses and puts them in the Quarantine folder. Once a suspected file is placed in Quarantine, no further action is required. A quarantined file cannot hurt your computer. You can periodically delete quarantined files by opening the Quarantine folder. Use Windows Explorer to navigate to the ZoneAlarm folder, then locate the Quarantine folder and manually delete its contents.

Shutting Down ZoneAlarm - If you want to turn off the program for any reason, right-click the "ZA" icon in your system tray and choose "Shutdown ZoneAlarm."

Despite the many benefits of high-speed Internet access, because it's an "always on" connection, it can be vulnerable to computer hackers. Installing a firewall, such as ZoneAlarm, to patrol the perimeter of your computer's connection to the Internet is highly recommended.

Wishing you safe surfing!

Mr. M.

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