The best things in life are free
By Seth Ross
Or perhaps I should say: the best computer security software is
usually available, in some form, for free. Free security software
for personal computers is a time-honored tradition. Go to download.com
and do a quick search on "security" to find five hundred freeware,
shareware, and demo programs. How did this tradition start? Why
would individuals and companies give their work away for free?
Consider John McAfee. This "Jonas Salk" of the digital age practically
built the anti-virus software industry single-handedly, starting
out in a Winnebago, traveling around the country in the late 1980s
picking bits of virus code and developing "vaccines". He'd post
his virus-busting code as freeware on online bulletin board systems.
People could pass it around and use it without fear of copyright
"People would send me checks," McAfee once told his college alumni
magazine. "And I would return them."
Before long, his VirusScan software made its way into corporations.
And McAfee Associates began to sell its software with licensing
that provided for future virus protection updates. McAfee affirmed
and validated the concept of freeware; the anti-virus industry was
McAfee Associates was later merged into Network Associates Inc.
(NAI), but the freeware tradition lives on -- in a somewhat diluted
form. You can download a demo version of McAfee VirusScan for Windows
95/98 at http://www.zdnet.com/downloads/stories/info/0,,000H1M,.html
Philip R. Zimmermann followed McAfee's example as he pioneered
the encryption software industry. Zimmermann created Pretty Good
Privacy (PGP) in 1991, released it as freeware, and then endured
a three-year criminal investigation because the software was exported
from the USA without a license.
PGP was a breakthrough product that brought email encryption to
the masses. Or at least to the techno-wizards who could master the
arcane command-line interface. Either way, encryption flipped from
the arcane world of spies and superpowers to desktop computers everywhere.
If McAfee was driven by his advocacy of shareware, Zimmermann was
driven by an ideological commitment to individual rights and privacy.
He expresses pride that many human rights groups around the world
have used his software to protect the confidentiality, integrity,
and authenticity of their communications. He's re-printed some of
their thank-you notes on his personal web site: http://philzimmermann.com/letters.shtml
Like McAfee, Zimmermann found that his freeware could be turned
into hard cash. Once free of the dark cloud of government persecution,
Zimmermann founded PGP Inc., which was acquired by -- who else --
Network Associates in 1997. Last month, he left NAI to work for
Hush Communications, a competing secure email provider, but his
legacy continues. You can find an explanation of his departure from
NAI at http://philzimmermann.com/PRZ_leaves_NAI.txt
You can also download a freeware version of PGP from the International
PGP Home Page:
With the rise of the Internet, the distribution of free software
has become far more practical than ambling through the United States
in an RV. A number of companies have exploited the ease of offering
software for download, including Netscape Communications and Napster.
This newsletter covered ZoneAlarm -- the personal firewall software
-- over a year ago. In the intervening months, nine million people
have downloaded and installed ZoneAlarm on their personal computers.
While others excel at PC-based intrusion detection -- most notably
BlackICE by Network ICE, which I'll cover in a future issue -- ZoneAlarm
is the defining product for its market niche: simple, effective,
firewall software for Windows. Zone Labs Inc. is fast-moving start-up
based in the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco. Given
the company's successful use of a freeware strategy, it's not surprising
that one of Zone Lab's original backers was one John McAfee.
ZoneAlarm is "adaptive" in the sense that it observes what you
do -- the applications you use in particular -- and prompts you
to confirm firewall rules on-the-fly. Launch Netscape Communicator,
for example, and a message will prompt you, "Do you want to allow
Netscape Communicator to access the Internet?" with an option to
"Remember the answer each time I use this program". ZoneAlarm gives
you the opportunity to select simple security settings -- "High,
Medium, Low" security for your local network access and "High, Medium,
Low" security for Internet access. A locking feature can block all
Internet traffic while the screensaver is engaged. In a panic, the
software has a big "STOP" button that blocks all traffic in a hurry.
ZoneAlarm is neat, free, and just a download click away.
If your company has remote users or telecommuters, you'll want
to check out ZoneAlarm Pro, a full-featured version of the program
packaged for corporate deployment. If your home PC is connected
to the Internet and you're not one of the nine million users running
ZoneAlarm, check it out: ttp://www.zonelabs.com/
The flame of freeware burns on here at PC Guardian, where we've
been developing filesystem encryption products since 1994. One of
our key strategies is to deliver truly great free versions of our
commercial encryption software programs. Our motivations have little
to do with advocacy or ideology. The idea is simple: those who give,
also receive. Each month, tens of thousands of folks download a
free feature-limited version of one of our programs, and a significant
number return to buy the full version. While the privacy it provides
makes the world a slightly more secure place, our goals are unabashedly
commercial. Freeware helps us build market share, good will, and
Encryption Plus Folders Freeware 4.5 is our latest giveaway (replacing
an older "Lite" version). It supports transparent encryption and
decryption of the contents of a single folder. The full version
features support for multiple folders and a larger encryption key
size. Many of our users are perfectly happy placing their confidential
files in a single folder; others buy in and enjoy the increased
protection and flexibility of the full version. It's a win-win.
If you aren't already running Encryption Plus Folders, please visit
our site and download it now: http://www.pcguardian.com/folders_download/
So much freeware, so little time. I'll continue to cover interesting
new security freeware. In the meantime, please drop me a line if
you have a favorite you'd like to tell the world about.
See you next issue, which will cover some of the hot trends in
the computer security industry as seen through the lens of the RSA
Conference 2001: http://www.rsaconference.com/
'Til then, keep your guard up!