Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Sampling Sygate

Zone Labs have finally scared me away from their free ZoneAlarm firewall. There were a few things that have bugged me about the latest release but the killer was a bug that seems to affect P2P and BitTorrent programs. You’d be using the program fine, and then it would freeze. Then you’d find that no other programs could send or receive information through your connection, and that you couldn’t launch other programs – not even Task Manager. And it would be a number of minutes before the system would become usable again.
So, I’m trying Sygate’s Personal Firewall since it seems to have good reviews. It seems to be working fine so far, although I’m not so keen on the interface as it doesn’t match ZA’s simplicity. It seems to be using less memory than ZA did but it’s using up to 5% of my CPU at the moment (although I am downloading a certain controversial political documentary film via BitTorrent right now). I like being able to view packets before I accept them but I miss ZA’s flashy tray icon that reassures you that your connection actually is doing something. But anyway, I’ll let you know how I live with it.
As for why I’m running a firewall in XP SP2, it’s because, despite the improvements that SP2 brings to the firewall, the likes of ZA and Sygate still offer more features, including, crucially, proper outbound protection. Outbound protection was touted as a new feature in the updated Windows Firewall but Microsoft admits it isn’t actually there. What it does protect against is applications that need to act as servers – you’ll be prompted for those – but a simple application that has already got onto your computer that sends out data won’t be stopped. Which means that if a trojan starts using your computer as an SMTP relay then you’ll know about it, but if a trojan merely captures your credit card details via a keylogger and sends the data to some guy in Russia, then you’ll be none-the-wiser. And that’s why I have a proper firewall installed.


  1. I use Sygate Personal Firewall too and it’s great. Somehow, I found it the best for me because it’s at once unobtrusive and yet doesn’t blindly allow vulnerabilities to slip in (some firewalls have the option to either “allow” or “disallow”, but no “allow for this time only” – I hate those).
    I’ve been using it for more than 2 years I think and it’s been excellent – haven’t gotten any attacks nor virii (except for one time I got the RPC shutdown worm, but that’s because I forgot to install Sygate Personal Firewall before getting SP1!).
    You can specify advanced rules to open your BitTorrent ports – not sure of the consequences of that but I haven’t been attacked yet (or not that I know of, which could be worse). And I’ll never trust the Windows Firewall, even though I have XP SP2 RC2 installed like you do. Considering what went into the original firewall, Microsoft would have to convince me that it’s really secure and near-industrial strength.

  2. I used Sygate for a bit but found it too annoying at times with it’s random CPU spikes on my machine (AMD CPU, however no problems on my Intel box). So I switched to Kerio and actually like it a great deal more than ZoneAlarm and Sygate and on my machine it barely uses any CPU or memory. It gets annoying when setting up VPNs with the newest release, but the popup nightmare goes away once you set the rules in place.
    It’s also got some nifty web protection stuff that works for the first thirty days (runs full featured for that amount of time) but it’s generally not needed if you are dilligent with updating your spyware apps.
    I’m also running XP SP2 (rc2) and the firewall is certainly not at the level it should be with respects to applications like ZoneAlarm, Sygate and Kerio. If Sygate goes sour on you, Kerio is another exceelent free firewall solution to try. 🙂