Securius Newsletter

April 4, 2001
Volume 2, Number 2

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 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 infringement.

"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 born.

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,,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:

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

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://

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 revenue.

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:

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:

'Til then, keep your guard up!

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