Macmillan BlackICE Defender

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BlackICE Defender Version 2.1 - BlackICE comes of age

Jul 3, 2000 (Updated Jul 7, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:easy to use, install and forget, complete protection, ability to trace the punks down

Cons:sensitivity to Microsoft code changes, no printed manual

In a world where any 12 year old with a modem and some free time can wreck a perfectly good surf session, a firewall isn't the worst idea in the world.

Personal firewalls, working along side a decent anti-virus program, not only defend you against the computer miscreant, but allow you a level of control that life rarely affords one in the real world. But with control comes some serious decision making - though there isn't really a right answer as long as you know your options. There isn't a bad firewall package out there - they all offer protection, and range from free to decently priced. So it all comes down to what makes you feel safe and secure while cruising the X-Files news groups.

BlackICE Defender is one such package. Truly an install and forget program, BlackICE offers you complete protection from attacks. For cable and dsl users, firewall protection is a must have.

I've been using BI for over a year now, since it's first inception, so I've seen the ups and downs. To be honest, Network Ice did have some success problems - BlackICE took off like a rocket, overwhelming the company, and some users had issues with tech support. Things have improved however, and with version 2.0, some much needed additions to the program have been made - all to the good.

What BlackICE does is place you in stealth mode, hiding or closing all the ports on the PC from outside interference. There are four user selectable levels (I find Cautious, the default level, to be perfect) as well as logging features that collect evidence against potential hackers. However, this comes at a price - BlackICE is extremely sensitive, and tends to log ALL network activity. While not a bad thing, it did get annoying to have the red warning shield in the task tray go off from say, server pings before an online gaming session. Network Ice has addressed this by customizing the warning levels. You can set it to only warn you of Severe attacks, set it to warn you of every invasion, or even just turn the warnings off and let BID do its job.

On a more individual basis, BlackICE even allows you to ignore an attack from a specific source that occurs repeatedly. Ignoring it doesn't stop the defense, but takes it out of your field of view so your not constantly being bothered by the GUI. You can even just shut down the GUI - BlackICE will still block attacks, but you'll lose the logging function.

It's more then just recognizing an attack, of course. BlackICE also blocks that attacker from doing any harm to your system. I can personally attest to that, as BlackICE has saved me from some pretty malicious attacks during online gaming sessions, and from some nasty websites. In fact, attacks now fill me with joy instead of dread - I giggle at the script kiddies attempts to crack my defenses.

Punks. *Spit*.

Another nice thing about the GUI is that it actually makes sense. It used to be very confusing, and none of the options were documented anywhere, but now the program comes with an extensive help file, and a more logically laid out screen. As an download only package, you don't get a printed manual, but at least it's finally included with the program itself.

A problem with this type of program, no matter who makes it, is that it is very susceptible to changes in Microsoft's network code - BlackICE even more so, because of just how comprehensive it is. Fortunately BlackICE is updated very regularly, and now there is an option to have the program automatically check for updates, so you always have the most current level of protection.

Finally, the ability of BlackICE to respond to system crashes is greatly improved. If it suspects it caused the problem, BI will disable the GUI from launching - no having to go into safe mode to disable the program. Again, the protection still runs, you just lose the interface options.

Well, so we are protected from incoming attacks - but what about outgoing traffic?

Despite some claims to the contrary, BlackICE has your back there too. While the popular (hey, free is free) ZoneAlarm allows you to select and block specific programs from sending potentially heinous code; with BlackICE there is no need. The whole system is protected.

I quote from Network Ice's website:

ZoneAlarm can tell you when a program is attempting to make an outgoing connection to the Internet, but does not monitor the content of that data. This creates a problem similar to the Melissa virus: users must answer this question correctly each and every time, and it takes only a single wrong answer to cause havoc. On the other hand, BlackICE Defender monitors your outgoing traffic looking for signs of hackers activity. If it detects such activity, it blocks all further access to your machine from the hacker.

ZoneAlarm gives you the option to stop outgoing data, but if a user makes the wrong choice, there is no backup function. BlackICE protects you not only from the outside hacker, but in this case from yourself.

ZoneAlarm is fine for what it does, but it is still extremely buggy, complex and potential spyware. With their True Vector technology, ZoneAlarm can send back data from your computer to any of its True Vector licenses. While it is true that currently, the only data really being sent is to help improve the product, the potential is there for some real privacy violations, ala Real Audio, and frankly I don't trust that code as far as I could throw it. ZoneAlarm may be free, but TANSTAAFL: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch! Plus, unlike BlackICE, ZoneAlarm really isn't the right tool for the average user, as it requires a bit more knowledge, and a lot more user input. BlackICE just does the job; you can plain ignore it if you want.

BlackICE Defender will set you back 39.95 for a years license. That gives you free updates to the program, and while on the surface sounds like a bad deal it really isn't. For one thing, everybody comes out with a new version of their software; in fact it's really no different then your anti-virus license scheme. For another, programs like BlackICE require constant updating - those script kiddies are always learning new tricks! For a little over 3 bucks a month, I think the level of protection BlackICE offers is more then worth it.

If, after a year, you find you can't live without BlackICE, each additional year of updates (the program itself is yours to use, regardless) is only 19.95 - better then buying a whole new package every year, year and a half!

And lets face it - BlackICE Defender, as a name, just sounds cooler. Ahem.

You can stop the hackers in their tracks, trace them down back to the source and use the information to turn them over to their ISP's. With BlackICE, not only is your defense in your hands, but the offense as well.

So much better then just being the victim, isn't it?

Recommend this product? Yes

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