Four Online Security Tools

To surf securely on a Windows XP machine I use:

  1. Firefox (http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/personal.html) a browser that allows you to include several useful add-ons.
  2. NoScript (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/722). A Firefox add-on that prevents Firefox from running JavaScript and Flash on a website unless you give it permission to run JavaScript or Flash on that website.
  3. Ad Block Plus (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865). Removes all ads from a website.
  4. Sandboxie (http://www.sandboxie.com/). A sandbox from which you can run Firefox.

Sandboxie creates a virtual area on your computer (in computer terms that's called a sandbox) from which you can run programs. Programs run in the sandbox thinking they are running on your computer. When a program wants to read a file from your computer the sandbox gives them a copy to read. When a program wants to create or modify a file on your computer, the sandbox creates that file in the sandbox. So if a program in the sandox wants to put a virus on your computer it ends up putting it in the sandbox.

Now, this is important to know. A sandbox protects your computer from getting permanently infected by malware, but it doesn't protect your information from being read. So, if a virus gets into your sandbox it will do its viral things, but once you delete that sandbox instance the virus will be completely gone and any changes it tried to do to your computer will be gone. A sandbox is not an anti-virus program. A sandbox runs programs as if they were running from your computer, but without allowing the program to make permanent changes to the computer. To make all or some of the changes permanent, you have to manually allow them by righ-clicking on the files created or modified and selecting "Recover to Same Folder" or "Recover to Any Folder".

By running Firefox from Sandboxie, any changes a website does to your computer or to Firefox stays in the sandbox and doesn't get to your computer. This prevents malware coming from a website to permanently infect your computer or Firefox.

JavaScript is a computer language used in websites that makes a website behave like an application. The problem with JavaScript is that in the wrong hands it can be used to infect your computer. NoScript allows you to control which websites can run JavaScript and which ones can't. For trusted sites you can tell NoScript to always allow JavaScript, like Amazon and Google. For non-trusted websites, e.g. one someone sent you on an email or that you clicked for curiosity, you can just let NoScript disallow JavaScript until you can decide if it should be trusted or not.

Flash is a computer program that can also run from your browser. This is what makes it so powerful and so dangerous in the wrong hands. NoScript can also prevent Flash from running on a website unless you allow it.

There have been several infections caused by advertisement on reputable websites. Ad Block Plus prevents ads from running on a website. You won't see the ads anymore on a website unless you allow the ads to show. It's not as important as NoScript, but it gives you that extra security until the day ad agencies can determine if an ad carries malware or not.

If you have to choose only one of the tools above, choose Sandboxie. It will prevent malware to make permanent changes to your computer. If you want to be safer, use all four tools. Be aware that these tools are a little complicated to use at first, so make sure you read their user manuals. Once you get used to them you will feel naked browsing without them.

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