Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is your fire wall spying on you?

By Paul Hales in Jerusalem
22 January 2006

IT'S OBVIOUS, REALLY, that the best way of penetrating users' PCs to see what they get up to online would be to become a Firewall maker. Like, when I wanted a Firewall and was too tight to pay for one, I turned to Checkpoint's little freebie Zone Alarm. It sits there between you and the Internet and lets you know when someone's trying to sneak in through your backdoor or when a program you're running tries to connect to the Web for no apparent reason. When you're as techie as me--not very--you just have to trust it.

Of course, Checkpoint's an Israeli company and as a foreign journalist working in Israel you know the hyperactive security services here would like to keep tabs on you. And you know that they do. It has been confirmed to me by a security sources here that mobile phone conversations I have had have been listened to ? and in circumstances which I won't reveal, the contents of a call I have been involved in have actually been relayed back to me.

It's part of the game--like the airport interrogation, or the surreptitious copying of your notepad while you're off having a body search. You know what goes on but you have a job to do and just get on with it--hoping that what you get up to in the legitimate pursuit of your business won't upset anyone to the extent that they'll come break your door down and cart you off somewhere.

Now, the handsomely-named Mr Cringely has revealed that a colleague of his at Infoworld noticed that Zone Alarm 6.0 was sneakily sending off data to four different servers. Cringely says that Zone Labs (acquired by Checkpoint in March of 2004) at first denied the activity for a couple of months before deciding the software had a "bug" even though, as he points out, "the instructions to contact the servers were set out in the program's XML code."

The company says it will fix the "bug" soon. In the meantime you can work around it by adding:
# Block access to ZoneLabs Server zonelabs.com
to your Windows host file.

The "bug" seems to be present in the retail version of Zone Alarm, so there's no telling what the freebie gets up to. We called Checkpoint here in Israel to find out, but were referred to a US spokeszoner. Trouble is they'll all be in bed there on this sunny Sunday morning.



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