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Miscellaneous security software (part 2)

This is part 10 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 2 of my reviews of miscellaneous security software. Covers firewalls and Windows updates, and wraps up this segment.[If you just landed here: this is part of a series. Click here for a table of contents]

Firewall reviews
I'll try to keep this one short. I had a real hard time choosing my firewall, and had to try all the available options (I've never used one I had to pay for). The reasons for having a firewall is obvious: the one that comes built-in with Windows isn't competent, and according to a study, someone tries to hack your computer within 7 seconds of online time (I can't remember the sources, but it was possibly a UK security firm that conducted the research). I've used Comodo,
Kerio and ZoneAlarm; I've also used the firewalls that come as part of the security suites every antivirus company has to offer (except NOD32 and BitDefender).

Among the latter category, Kaspersky's firewall is perhaps best, although my conclusion is you do need a third-party firewall. In that case, you don't really need an antivirus security suite, just the antivirus would do. This narrows down my picks to Comodo, Kerio and ZoneAlarm.
Comodo Firewall Pro (v3.0) is, despite the misleading title, free. And it's a pretty good firewall. Comodo is great for advanced users, but should be okay with normal joes too. There's an new intrusion detection system that should detect unknown threats, but unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to test this feature. It's not too heavy on RAM and crashed on one occasion.

ZoneAlarm is a longtime champ, but isn't dominating the firewall market as it used to (with all the new firewalls popping up). ZoneAlarm (v7.0.362) has a new 'game mode' (that makes sure you aren't bothered with alerts when you're busy playing video games on your PC). The interface needs a facelift; I'm tired of seeing the almost-same thing for years. It's also getting RAM intensive day by day. However, ZoneAlarm is still incredibly user-friendly.

Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall (v4.40) is pretty famous these days, mostly due to its configuration options. It's easy on system resources, but gave me nightmares: Kerio crashed far too often and seemed to ask far too many questions. Need I say more?

Symantec has recently acquired Sygate Personal Firewall, so now it's part of Norton Internet Security 2007. I've used Sygate before and found it a strong contender to ZoneAlarm. But Sygate had configuration hassles, now that it's part of the Symantec camp I'm probably never going to use it again. My experience: anything from Norton is a no-no.

Okay, so which firewall do you go for? If you've never used anything else from the one in Windows, I suggest you try out Comodo and ZoneAlarm. Stick to the one that you feel most comfortable with, for firewalls, like registry cleaners, are long-term investments. I personally prefer ZoneAlarm because: 1. it's incredibly simple; 2. I've got used to it; 3. it doesn't bother you with too many prompts.

Your call.

Updating Windows
Let's face it: Windows' update mechanism isn't perfect, and the auto-update feature has often caused annoyances. Frustrated,
for a long time I had (foolishly) decided to not be bothered with the latest Windows updates altogether -- heck, why did I have to be care when I had a rock-steady firewall, antivirus and all other security software necessary installed? I subsequently discovered that I couldn't, for example, access my Wi-Fi network from my laptop without updating Windows. But I still didn't want to turn automatic updates on, and ultimately found salvation in Autopatcher XP.

I now have some bad news. Microsoft has very recently engaged in a tussle with Autopatcher, and the end result is Autopatcher is history. Still, if you haven't updated your XP in a long while, and want a top-notch updating experience (that you can customize too), hunt for the latest version you can find online. It's made lots of folks happy (myself included, Microsoft excluded) and you're just unlucky you reached the bandwagon when it stopped moving.

If you've picked your arsenal from the categories mentioned in this post and have an antivirus installed (see my antivirus reviews), your PC should be a fortress. Software junkies have a very hard time restraining themselves from checking out new software, but when it comes to security, it's best to stick to the options that are working for you. So how does this all contribute to optimizing your broadband|Windows|Firefox experience? Well, if your PC is secure and running smoothly, there's a much better chance that your online experience won't suffer from problems stemming from your home front (i.e. from within your computer). And you have that feeling of digital invincibility. God mode!

Next: soon!

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