back to article ZoneAlarm slammed for scarewarey marketing

ZoneAlarm has run into criticism from its customers for using scary pop-up warnings as a marketing tactic designed to persuade users to purchase the paid-for version of its personal firewall. Users of the free version of the ZoneAlarm firewall are confronted with a "Global Virus Alert" about "ZeuS.Zbot.aoaq" containing a link …

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  1. Matt Newton

    yeah i got this the other day

    I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn't actually infected. Most of us here work in the IT industry; if it can fool us (even for a second), then it will fool at lot of the users out there.

  2. Alan Bourke
    Thumb Up

    Doesn't surprise me ...

    ZoneAlarm jumped the shark a long time ago.

  3. Rogerborg

    They're not going nearly far enough

    ALERT! YOUR CHILD IS IN DANGER! ONLY ZONEALARM PRO CAN PROTECT THEM!

    Come on, that's the target market. Squeeze it. Squeeeeeeze.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Global Title Alert - your PC may be in danger!

    Had a quick read of their forum thread. Such charming moderation too: "Removed for recommending competitor's software".

    Fail, because... well, it's obvious innit?

  5. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Zonealarm is crap

    For years people have been recommending zonealarm to me.

    Last month i installed it on Win7, and not only did it corrupt my entire system with a bad driver, but i had to use a restore point to remove every single trace of it.

    Zonealarm is toxic and is well known to cause a constant BSOD on Win7, yet there is NO useful support at all from them.

    Hit em in the pocket and use another firewall, one which cares enough to listen to their customers

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    O RLY?

    "We asked Check Point to comment on the ethics of its marketing tactics."

    Ethics? Marketing? Oxymoron?

    1. Richard 81

      I demand a test!

      Has the Register done a "best of" on free anti-virus, spam blocking, firewall software etc. What's the best (FREE) alternative to ZonaAlarm?

    2. b 3

      simple solution!

      dont use W7 :P

      1. David Pollard

        "Best of"

        Gizmo has recommendations and words of wisdom.

        http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-firewall.htm

        Can we have a review of the article here, or better alternatives, please?

      2. bluest.one
        Megaphone

        Comodo

        I ditched ZA not long after Checkpoint took them over and things started to change and installed Comodo Firewall. After an initial bit of panic at the increased options/complexity compared to ZA's simpler interface, I got my head around it and have never looked back.

    3. Doug Glass
      Go

      THe Freaks Come Out At Night

      Got to be a Zone troll person who voted your comment down. Morons.

    4. Cameron Colley

      I thought that Win7 had a built in firewall?

      I could have sworn that, when installing an FTP server program on a Win7 machine, I received a ZoneAlarm style "do you wish to let this through the firewall" message from Windows itself?

      I recall that ZoneAlarm didn't play nicely with CPs built-in firewall either but, then, XPs never stopped programs going out, only people trying to get in -- so ZoneAlarm could be worth the hassle.

  7. Andrew 98

    Disappointing

    I used to think highly of the product and have used and recommended Zone Alarm in the past. Alarming non-IT folk is not clever: those of us who are asked and give advice get part of the blame. It makes ZoneLabs look bad too. Shame on you Checkpoint.

  8. Steve 13
    FAIL

    alternative

    So what's the best free alternative (I got the warning a couple of days ago, and I had to do a double take as well).

  9. b 3

    totally agree!

    lame innit?

    what other firewalls are as good as ZAP free?

    wont this just make ppl go elsewhere?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Hmmmm

    Things must be pretty tight when the anti virus people employ the exact same tactics as the malware creators they are supposed to be protecting you against.

    About as poor a showing as you can get.

    1. Scott Broukell

      I'm with you on that one Andy

      Sad isn't it when a good product goes that way.

      That's the way of the world me thinks.

      But, for the moment, I can recommend Comodo free personal internet security package.

      (I have no interest in the product, other than, like yourself, assisting less tech savy peeps).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Free?

      The problem is that all the free security software out there is limitted, mostly because it is in effect a marketing tool for the fully featured product. OK so there are some exceptions to that but not many. So it doesn't matter if you're talking about Zone Alarm, Ad-Aware, Panda Cloud Antivirus or whatever, none of the free versions are *that* good otherwise nobody would buy the commercial version.

      ZA used to be the dogs dangly parts, indeed the problem they had was that it was too good so people weren't bothering with the commercial version. It doesn't seem to have kept pace with the nasty stuff and it ain't foolproof. Cynics may suggest that this is a deliberate ploy to increase sales.

      Essentially what it boils down to is that there is nothing free which is as good as the commercial offerings.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Flame

        Free security software is worth every penny you pay for it!

        > Essentially what it boils down to is that there is nothing free which is as good as the commercial offerings.

        Exactly!

        > it is in effect a marketing tool for the fully featured product.

        Exactly again!

        Those are facts of life we have to live with if we're too cheap to buy decent security software, but it's stooping pretty damn low when a so-called reputable security company resorts to ramming scareware scammers' tactics up the noses of its free version users to push its own paid program.

        See

        http://www.avinashtech.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/scareware.png for more on this AVG-sponsored scareware bullshit.

  11. Doug Glass
    Go

    Not A Surprise

    In the late '90s, I bought several licenses and maintained them for over five years; product quality steadily declined and support was prompt but often worthless. It's easy to imagine the Zone Troopers going to extremes to sell their product. A death spiral always brings out the worst in a company.

  12. Barry O'Connell
    FAIL

    I got this on the in-laws pc at the weekend

    I too had to take a double take. This is the kind of thing that would cause them to call me. I immediately lost a lot of respect for a company I had once been a happy customer of. I agree with Alan Bourke, ZA jumped the shark a long time ago.

  13. DrXym Silver badge

    Most AV software has become scareware

    Buy a new PC from Dell or similar and the first thing you'll notice is the Norton 30 day trial crapware nagging you with scary notices about how your machine won't be protected unless you subscribe.

    Screw that. Microsoft produce a perfectly serviceable AV product called Microsoft Security Essentials. It's free, it does it's job and most of the time it stays the hell out of the way. When combined with Windows Defender I really see no reason to pay Norton or some other vendor for AV or firewall software unless you are stuck on XP.

    Firewall software is even more a waste of time these days. Most people will be behind a cable or ADSL modem firewall anyway and Windows Firewall provides a second line of defence. The chances are the default protection is more than adequate out of the box unless you want anal levels of control.

    1. Steve 13
      Thumb Down

      ignorance

      This just demonstrates a huge level of ignorance regarding the key functionality of a product like ZA.

      The most important thing for me is that outbound connections are monitored.

      Sure, my router and windows firewall may protect me from inbound threats, but what about that banking trojan trying to dial home.

    2. Dave 129

      Re: MSE

      Just to make a minor correction to your comment: Microsoft Security Essentials replaces Windows Defender - you should not run them side-by-side. Installing MSE will disable Defender, though I am not sure about the other way around.

      Re: ZA:

      I got the alert yesterday as I was preparing to re-install a laptop. Fooled me. Stupid ZA peeps, my wife was asking about putting it back on but after that stunt - no chance in hell.

      What I would really like to see is a decent interface to the Windows built-in firewall. Trying to use the admin applet is horrific - even Linux has decent interfaces to the beast that is IPTables, so surely MS could come up with something more user friendly.

      1. Ravenger

        Your wish is granted...

        I use Windows 7 Firewall Control. Adds a decent user interface to the built-in windows firewall. There are both free and paid editions, and the free one has worked fine for me so far.

        http://www.sphinx-soft.com/Vista/index.html

      2. Anonymous Coward
        WTF?

        ZA BS to the max!

        According to Zone Alarm's scareware ad campaign their freebie WON'T stop that banking trojan trying to dial home!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      MSE is good - but several paid security programs are better!

      I'll stick with anal levels of control until something free comes along that's good enough to protect my arse!

  14. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Yeah. And they're not alone

    Bloody AVG also acts like malware, with popup adverts for its products.

    that, along with AVG's insistence on punting the Yahoo toolbar malware means I'm on the verge of removing it and switching to something else.

    I thought these products were supposed to STOP antics like that, not fscking imitate the scum!!!!

  15. sonic

    Totally agree....

    I too work in IT, and getting this message first thing on Friday morning I did a double take, and a full virus check with Avast just to make sure.

    My biggest concern is what my poor old Mum would do when confronted with the message... although my brother and I have trained her well.... so she would probably phone or e-mail to check.

    As it is, I warned her by mail not to panic.

    I too am on the lookout for an alternate free option if one exists.

    Malcolm

  16. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Stop

    Used to use Zone Alarm.

    Then they released a version that without fail kept screwing up the killing of the Firefox process which could only be corrected by rebooting. Took me a while to work out that it was actually ZA that was the problem, as up until then it had been a good product.

    Dumped them now and now use the free "PC Tools" product which has caused no problems whatsoever.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Go

      Suggestions

      I used to use AVG but that became a bit bloated and slow, so I switched to Avira. I use it on all on the machines in my house - no plans to ditch it yet. I use it on conjunction with Comodo personal firewall (in case you need that too).

      I'm sure other have their own opinions too.

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Boffin

      I stopped using AVG some time ago

      when they became bloatware.

      I can now recommend Avast!

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Me too

        At the same time as ZA was spamming me with this garbage, Avast! was reminding me of talk like a pirate day.

        AVG went to hell around version 8. Its previous behaviour on opening a directory full of potential threat vectors (e.g. a directory containing hundreds of assorted installers) was to block access to the files while it scanned them. As of version 8 it seemed to start blocking access to the entire directory, and in some cases caused explorer.exe to stop working while it was scanning the directory contents. Nuts to that.

        Go to hell ZA. Time to look for a new firewall.

  17. Dayjo
    FAIL

    No suprise there

    ZoneAlarm has been crap for years. Used to use it a long time ago, have been more successful just using windows firewall, and don't get popups the whole time whenever something tries to connect.

  18. Graham Marsden
    Flame

    I wasted ten minutes of my life...

    ... checking to ensure that my system hadn't been compromised by a malware product masquerading as a "legitimate" warning before finding out that even though I hadn't been infected it wasn't a legitimate warning at all.

  19. LinkOfHyrule
    FAIL

    This is low

    This is clearly designed to trick people. No two ways about it. Low!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is low

      Exremely low!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    sphinx software

    windows 7 firewall control i believe its called, works like ZA USED to work.

    Very nice, no hassles at all on win7 ult.

  21. paulonline

    type your title here

    I also used to use ZA a long time ago.

    I have now swith to sygate personal firewall and have not had any issues with it yet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sygate

      I thought Symantec has stopped supporting Sygate free version. Not a good idea to use out of date security software.

  22. PerfectBlue

    Seriously?

    In all honestly, that pop up actually looks like a fake one. If I'd seen that on my PC, I'd have presumed that it was not a real Zone Alarm pop up at all, but rather an attempt to copy it.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strange week....

    Last week I scanned my computer ,as usual, with AVG and it stated that an .exe file that I had scanned several times before and came up clean suddenly had a virus as per below;

    Trojan horse BackDoor.Generic13.CLS";"Infected" I was puzzled as to how AVG had cleared the

    file several times before and then all of a sudden found this alleged virus in an exe that I never used anyway.

    THEN the next day I also got the message from Zone Alarm as per your article ,so you can imagine that I was paranoid by then.

    I wonder if AVG are doing a similar trick ???????????????

  25. Harry
    Thumb Down

    What that warning OUGHT to say

    is that your POCKET is in danger from COWBOY software companies that are deliberately trying to MISLEAD the public.

    Zone Alarm should perhaps be asking itself -- is my product really *SO* bad that I have to use intentionally misleading tactics in order to sell it.

    And the answer, presumably, is YES otherwise they wouldn't need to resort to this.

  26. Harry
    Alert

    "AVG's insistence on punting the Yahoo toolbar malware "

    Unfortunately, AVG is not alone at that. Far to many products are surreptitiously installing these nuisances and, worse still, making them the default not just an opt-in.

    As a paying AVG business customer, I will be taking that very serious misdemeanour into consideration when the current licences expire. I've got better things to do than go round uninstalling unmerited rubbish and I've no way of knowing whether the toolbar is communicating anything to Yahoo and perhaps doing so even when the toolbar isn't in use.

    Like another user said, these programs are supposed to be guarding AGAINST inappropriate software, not installing it themselves..

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I got this message

    and for a second it DID look like a genuine virus warning. A family member who also uses ZoneAlarm got the same impression and came to me complaining of being infected. Needless to say I'm not amused.

    Since the firewall has been installed and configured for months I won't be removing it but next time I'm installing a firewall on any Windows box it won't be ZoneAlarm that's for sure. This stunt was scareware plain and simple.

    I'm also starting to get annoyed at people like ZoneAlarm and Comodo insisting that their Firewall products are also Antivirus products. I personally don't see the value of "Security Suites". Just give me a Firewall that works and is easy to configure. Which means NO I don't want to have to authorize every file, registry key or application that my computer tries to run or modify.

    Firewalls are concerned with network connections. Please just worry about the network connections and let me (not) worry about what files my system is accessing in the background (Comodo, Jetico).

  28. blackworx
    FAIL

    ZoneAlarm

    Now there's a blast from the past. Can't remember the last time their crud was of any practical use. Shame on the forum gurus for defending this behaviour.

  29. Framitz
    Alert

    Always toxic

    I have always considered Zone Alarm to be Highly TOXIC since the earliest versions.

    Security that is often worse than no security gives a false sense of safety to the less technical user while increasing there risk.

    There is no substitute for common sense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re : Always toxic

      I have always considered WINDOWS to be Highly TOXIC since the earliest versions

      There - fixed for you

  30. Bunglebear
    Thumb Down

    Hands up

    I have to add my voice that I was duped when it came up as well, just after a fresh OS install. Which made it obvious it was a scam, even Windows doesn't get infected that fast, but I looked twice and I have been in this game for years. A sad state of affairs indeed and beneath a company that has done such sterling work with their firewalls in the past.

  31. Fuh Quit
    FAIL

    This is terrible

    For family, I dumped ZA many years ago and went back to Windows' Firewall.

    Why?

    Because they're not in IT and just click Yes, Yes, Allow, Yes, Whatever. It's like NoScript - works perfectly for me but my wife simply would not like it on her Mac....."I have to elect to allow scripts? WTF, I just want the Internets," she'd tell me.

    What ZA is doing here is wrong. It is an unsolicited message aka spam.

    Another reason to never touch them again. And I used to recommend ZA back in the early Noughties.

    Strangely, we won't be renewing our CheckPoint firewalls at work either....

  32. BanjoPaterson
    Linux

    ZoneAlarm?

    Oh - it's one of those windows things.

  33. Tim Bates

    It's a fake AV now...

    One look at that screenshot and I now categorise ZoneAlarm as a Fake Antivirus.

    I'll bet we get more than one call at work (computer shop) about it too.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    definitely threatware

    Yes - me too. My wife rang down for advice the other day because she got that message, and was worried she had a virus. It certainly made me think for a while, until I realised that it was just threatware masquerading as a virus alert. Very very shoddy indeed - Zone Alarm KNOW it is shoddy and their excuses are hogwash.

  35. Mark York 3 Silver badge
    FAIL

    So Long & Thanks For All The Firewalls

    THO got this the other day - Likewise not impressed.

    I got some free 1 ZA Pro year licences back along (used about two of them), next rebuild(s) MSE & none of this bloody scamming pop up banner alerts.

    Thanks ZA for all your work, up until last weekend.

  36. VulcanV5

    ZA alternatives.

    Shame about ZA. It was good, once. Nowadays, not only isn't it good, it's being flogged like snake-oil by its latest owners.

    Like others here, I used Comodo. But over time I found it obstructive and intrusive.

    I changed to OnlineArmor. It "learns" and retains information more consistently and effectively than Comodo. Works well in my experience (I have the free version, teamed with the latest version of Avast AV.)

    All freeware is pretty much suck-it-and-see, so what suits one user won't necessarily suit another.

    Sucking on a bottle of snake-oil, however, is definitely not to be recommended: no surprise, then, that so many ZA users have realised the nature of the stuff they're running on their computers and have decided to bin it, and quick.

  37. spiny norman
    FAIL

    Stupid

    If they'd just offered the cheap deal on the paid version, which was the point behind the "warning", they'd probably have got some new customers.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who installls a firewall?

    Windows comes with a firewall, and Microsoft Security Essentials is free.

    In my opinion, Microsoft should use their next Malicous Software Removal Tool (MRT.exe) to remove Zone Alarm as this is disgusting.

  39. Damien Thorn

    win32,za (not a virus) hehehehe

    If they want to run scareware adverts then label it scareware.

    There are dozens of paid and free firewall solutions that do not use these type of adverts.

    My opinion, Nod32 paid or avast / comodo free. Just a personal opinion as neither of these tell the users there infected with a global threat - in fact it might be fair to say these alternatives are too busy protecting users to stoop to industry wide recognisable scareware.

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