On Computers

Rabbit's Rant

Jack 'daWabbit' Imsdahl, jack@oncomputers.info

6 July 2003

Small Things That Need Mentioning

Jack 'daWabbit' Imsdahl

Zone Alarm Vulnerability

I know a lot of you use the freeware version of Zone Alarm. I used it for a long time, myself, but switched to another firewall about a year ago, for reasons I no longer recall. 

This past week, there was disclosure of a vulnerability in the free version of Zone Alarm. This does not affect users of Zone Alarm Pro, or so I'm told. (See this article on Extreme Tech for details; http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,3973,1173478,00.asp and here's the original post on BugTraq http://www.securityfocus.com/archive/1/326371)
Anyway, Zone Labs has said they have no intention of fixing this vulnerability and that users should upgrade to the paid versions if they're worried. Their reasoning is that this particular flaw is an integral part of Windows and simply too hard to exploit to be a real danger; that it is mostly a theoretical one. They state it would take a "master" cracker to actually breach the firewall in this manner.

In addition, Zone Labs states the user would have to cooperate in the breaching by giving the malicious code permission to pass the firewall. Still, though that may be true, I submit that with it now known how to infect a system with malicious code even though Zone Alarm is running, it will not be long before user permission is no longer required.

This is, at the very least, like the proverbial waving a red flag in front of the bull. Now that the existence of this vulnerability is known, every Tom, Dick and Harry who is so inclined will want to exploit it as a matter of pride; a way to show they really do have the skills. The cracker community will no doubt rapidly develop tools to make even the script kiddies able to accomplish this. The effective life of Zone Alarm in the free version is very near it's end, I'm afraid. If I am alarmist in this, I apologize. Still, I believe I am on solid ground, here, and urge you to take steps to protect yourself.

The vulnerability involves the Windows shell32.dll file and so may well affect other firewall products in addition to the Zone Alarm freeware version. (This has been so stated by Zone Labs and at least one security researcher I've read.) As of this writing (3 July, 03) no other product has been cited as being affected that I am aware of.

So, in your own best interests, dump the freeware version of Zone Alarm as fast as is prudent. You can cave in to the blackmail and buy one of Zone Labs paid versions or use the Kerio Personal Firewall2, which is free. I have the Kerio Personal Firewall2 up and running and am pleased enough with it to recommend it. Find it at; http://www.kerio.com/kpf_home.html So far, there is no hint that this vulnerability affects the Kerio product.

There are likely other solutions, too, but I am not able to recommend any due to lack of knowledge. I simply haven't kept up.


Apparently, Leo LaPorte and TechTV got on Zone Labs about this and the company has agreed to fix the freeware version. Watch closely for the repaired version and get it at first opportunity. 

Before we had technical problems on the show, we were getting into the philosophical aspect of what obligation a company has to repair/maintain something they give away for free. Regardless how one feels about that, this particular crisis appears headed to conclusion. It is an interesting question, though, and worth watching the discussion on.

Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0

Anyone who has heard me talk about Adobe software knows that though I buy and use some of it, I'm not particularly happy with it because of it's size and slowness, which I consider clumsy and inconvenient. Well, I've installed Acrobat Reader 6.0 for Windows the other day, and was very pleasantly surprised to see it works better than it's predecessor. It's noticeably faster to open documents and apparently uses a bit less memory. (No, I didn't test this. I simply keep a 'weather eye' on the performance tab in Windows Task Manager.) 

My wife and I do a lot of work involving PDF files and have spent our share of time waiting for Acrobat Reader to open documents. Of course, the delay is a good excuse to go for coffee, but still burdensome, in my opinion. The new version is noticeably faster than the old, apparently perfectly stable and, though the download is a bit big at nearly 16 megabytes, it is well worth the trouble to upgrade from older versions. Find the free download at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readermain.html

Filzip; A Fine Archiving Program

Everyone has their own favorite archiving program. Lord knows, there are enough of them out there from which to choose and several very good ones. My favorite is Filzip, available at; http://www.filzip.com/en/index.html Filzip handles a large variety of archives; as many as any application I have seen. It has run stably and with complete satisfaction on a variety of Windows platforms for us. I highly recommend this one and, as is usual with my recommendations, it is freeware.

AVG Anti Virus

My wife and I have used AVG Anti Virus in the free addition now for some time. With the expiration of other application's licenses, we've now switched completely to AVG. Every Windows machine here runs it. 

On the whole, I do like the program. My one reservation is it's resource-intensive scan after boot, which can bog less powerful machines down badly. However, even with a really large disk capacity, this period doesn't last long and as the folks at Grisoft were kind enough to provide this program for free, it would be ungrateful of me to complain loudly and I will not. 

You can get AVG at http://www.grisoft.com and as I said, it's free and appears to be quality stuff. They do require registration and the provision of a valid e-mail address, however, you can opt out of any mailings if you should choose to and they've not abused the information they hold, to the best of my knowledge. Certainly, they have not done so regarding my wife and I.

That's about it for this week. Here's hoping you've had a happy holiday celebrating our nation's independence.


© 2003 Jack Imsdahl

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