ZoneAlarm Crosses The Line; Adopts Scareware Tactics

If you've surfed the Internet for any length of time, chances are good that you've seen a browser window pop up with a warning that your computer is in DANGER from a whole slew of evil viruses. Such windows, if clicked on, often perform an utterly fake virus scan during which they invariably "detect" infected/contaminated files. Users are then prompted to purchase a registered copy of Antivirus 2010 in order to protect themselves. Certain versions of the program will intercept and hijack online searches, disable or refuse to install real antimalware software, and may even block users from accessing web portals that are known to contain removal tools.

These are the sorts of blocks AntiVirus 2009 will throw up if you try to visit a site like

Given the pervasive annoyance and real financial harm such programs cause, it's downright surprising to hear that ZoneAlarm, which has fought such scammers and scare tactics for over ten years, has directly copied a page from its enemies' playbook. Over the weekend and through yesterday, hundreds of ZoneAlarm users angrily sounded off about the company's new 'warning' concerning the ZeuS.Zbot.

While ZeuS is a genuine threat, ZoneAlarm chose to warn its customers by sending a message that stated: "Global Virus Alert / Your PC may be in danger!... Threat Name: ZeuS.Zbot.aoaq ... is a new Trojan virus that steals banking passwords and financial account data. Your ZoneAlarm Free Firewall provides basic protection, but this new threat requires additional security." Upon receipt of this charming pop-up, users were presented with two options—get details or get protection. ZoneAlarm didn't perform any sort of ZeuS-detecting scan before hitting customers with claims that they were unprotected, and it didn't check for the presence of any non-ZA antivirus products.

In the wake of customer outrage, ZA has hastily backpedaled, saying: "It was never our intent to lead customers to believe they have a virus on their computer. This was purely an informative message about a legitimate and serious virus that also included information about the differences in protection of various products, and how to get protection against it." We don't buy it. This wasn't a case of a company inadvertently putting its foot in a hornet nest; ZA has spent a decade fighting scammers who use precisely these tactics. Hopefully the  company hasn't forgotten whose side it's supposed to be on.