Best Free Browser Protection Utility

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Introduction

There's a scumware plague at the moment. All it takes is a visit to one malware site or a "loaded" shareware install, and next minute your Internet Browser homepage has been changed, your default search setting altered, unwanted ads pop up on your screen, rogue software are nagging you to pay, your passwords have been stolen, and worse.

Traditional antivirus software and antispyware software are being overwhelmed by the rapidly increasing amount of virus, spyware and other malware. That's why a different approach to combating these threats is necessary. Instead of technologies that are reacting to malware, we need proactive technology to protect our computers. These browser protection utilities can greatly increase your defenses against drive-by downloads and vulnerabilities.

I took a look at several applications that are vital in the fight against unwelcome and harmful intruders.

Discussion

Sandboxie main screenMy first recommendation for safe browsing is a free program called Sandboxie, for Windows 2000 and later. It creates a special contained "sandbox" environment on your PC, as this animation shows. While browsing within the virtual sandbox provided by Sandboxie, you are totally isolated from the vital portions of your PC, namely your operating system environment on your hard drive and memory locations for your current OS session. So any files you download are isolated to the sandbox. Similarly, any programs that are executed only do so within the sandbox, and have no access to your normal files, the Windows operating system or any other part of your PC.

Usage is remarkably simple. To start a sandboxed browsing session, you just click the "Sandboxed Web Browser" icon on your desktop (or the Sandboxie icon from the Quick Launch tray) and this will launch your default browser in the sandbox. You can then use it in the normal way to browse to sites or download files. By default, files that are saved in the Desktop, My Documents or Favorites will have a prompt to ask you whether you want to save the file permanently. I suggest you add your default downloads folder to the Quick Recovery settings so files saved there will be automatically saved to your real hard disk, saving you the trouble of manually recovering files.
 
After you have finished browsing, you can right click the Sandboxie icon and delete all sandboxed files and processes, and your PC will be returned to the same state it was in before the browsing session. You can change configuration settings to automatically delete all the sandboxed contents when you close a sandbox. You can also configure a third-party program, such as Eraser or SDelete, to erase the sandboxed contents for greater privacy.

The advantage is clear: any virus, trojan, worm, spyware or adware threats that "infected" your PC while browsing will be eliminated.

Sandboxie allows for in-depth configuration which increases security. For example, you can set it to block access to your personal files, or only allow certain programs to run or connect to the internet in a sandbox. A recent feature of Sandboxie also allows you to run sandboxed programs in a Limited User Account, similar to DropMyRights, for even greater security. This should also prevent most keyloggers from running.

However, there are some downsides to this approach. Firstly, if you want to update your browser addons/widgets, you'll need to open an un-sandboxed browser and do it from there. This also applies to bookmarks but you can configure Sandboxie to automatically retain those. Secondly, Sandboxie is not designed to detect or disable keyloggers. You can get around this (mostly) by always empty your sandbox before you log in to important sites (such as sites involving financial transactions). Thirdly, some people find the nag screen inconvenient, which appears for five seconds before a sandboxed application opens.

Sandboxie works fine with all browsers and most software applications, including e-mail clients (though this requires special configuration), instant messaging clients, Bittorrent clients and games. However, it won't work with system software (software which installs a system driver).

Returnil Virtual System main screenIf you would like to take your system protection even further, look no further than Returnil System Safe Free. With Returnil you get a cloned version of your system partition to boot from and work in.  If anything does happen to go wrong during your session, it's as easy as rebooting your system, and your whole operating system environment is back to where it was before you turned Returnil protection on. Returnil also includes some useful features, including file protection and an anti-executable function.

Returnil provides a different type of protection compared to Sandboxie or GesWall. It is an excellent solution for those who have limited uses of their computer, for example for users who just browse the web. Also, if you have a separate partition for your data then Returnil is particularly useful because you don't have to worry about losing data which you just saved. Returnil can also be used in conjunction with Sandboxie or GesWall.

Like all security software, you should have a backup of your hard drive and all your files before you install one of these applications.

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Have Your Say

Please visit our freeware forum to share and discuss your views and get advice on free security software, including antivirus software. There's also a poll where you can vote and discuss your browser protection utility. To post in the forum you need to register first but that's quick and immediate.

Quick Selection Guide

Sandboxie
4.5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Excellent security
Virtual environment is inconvenient, keyloggers could potentially steal data before browser is closed, nag screen
http://www.sandboxie.com/
3.76
2.4 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private use only
Windows 2000 - Vista

To learn more visit its forum and its online help.

Returnil System Safe Free
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
System-wide security
Virtual environment is highly inconvenient, keyloggers could potentially steal data before computer is rebooted
3.2.10303
33.87 MB
Free for private use only
Windows XP - Vista

To learn more visit its forum.

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sandbox, browser security, browser protection

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Comments

by Anonymous on 7. December 2008 - 18:31  (11591)

I'm also wondering why the Spyware Blaster question has still been unanswered. Is it recommended or not. It seams like some folks still use it.

by edward on 8. December 2008 - 3:44  (11610)

Spyware Blaster is a recommended application for a lot of users. I have not listed this application solution in this category at this time.

Edward A. Weissbard
Best Free Instant Messaging Client, Best Free Browser Protection Utility & Best Free Virtual Desktop Moderator/Editor

 

by Anonymous on 29. December 2008 - 2:07  (12658)

Sandboxie absolutely rocks! Been using it for 9 months now. Simple enough for a novice...yet configurable to satisfy the desires of a high-octane techie. A solid and stable piece of software that I would never leave home (browsing, that is) without.

by Anonymous on 1. January 2009 - 17:03  (12922)

I know that Green broder was bought by Google. Will they ever release it again?

Shellie834

by Anonymous on 3. January 2009 - 9:44  (13012)

Actually green border is used in google chrome web browser.

by JonathanT on 3. January 2009 - 10:48  (13013)

Are you sure? According to this, it seems that it isn't.

by Anonymous on 3. January 2009 - 16:59  (13038)

(I'm not the guy who sayd is was, but) Wikipedia also says it is. In Google's list of acquisitions, GB is currently associated with Chrome.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Google_acquisitions

IW says more or less the same; "Few people seemed to foresee that Google would ship the technology inside a full-blown browser competitor to Internet Explorer and Firefox. Yet GreenBorder employees are definitely in the thick of Chrome's sandboxing work; the comic book's section on sandboxing names several former GreenBorder staff such as Mark Larson and Carlos Pizano."

http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2008/09/google_chrome_...

This is not undeniable proof however, the sandbox section of the chrome comic is very reasuring...

http://books.google.com/books?id=8UsqHohwwVYC&printsec=frontcover#PPA25,M1

... marketing...

by Anonymous on 5. January 2009 - 20:19  (13178)

Will Returnil conflict with Norton GoBack? Does anyone know? As for me, it
probably won't, because my system files are in partition C, and it seems like
the GoBack partition is located in partion D (where all my data is).
What does clone actually mean? If you only need 25MB to install Returnil, it
seems very similar to GoBack 4.0's virtual space option...which I still have not tried.
But then this is a site about Freeware, and GoBack is not free (and probably hard to get now as a standalone application).
Guess you want to tell me to at least try out GoBack virtual space so I have more to contribute to this topic.

by JonathanT on 6. January 2009 - 0:24  (13194)

Sandboxie 3.34 has been released! Some of the new features include DropMyRights-like feature and colored borders feature.

by Anonymous on 6. January 2009 - 17:55  (13254)

Here is what I do to make the PC somewhat bullet proof.
1)Install Gavotte Ramdisk and in the configuration make 64mb-128mb new virtual harddrive so that it shows up as a seperate harddrive each time the compu starts usually designated as 'R'. Remember to set media type to fixed media in the set up.
http://www.mydigitallife.info/2007/05/27/free-ramdisk-for-windows-vista-...

2)Next install Sandboxie and then in the sandboxie tab click "set container folder". In the sub menu set drive "R" as the container folder.

3)Install comodo firewall.

You are set to go as now you have anything sandboxed; working in a virtual environment. Once you restart everything goes poof. Absolutely no trace of anything you surfed or anything you ran in the sandboxed environment remains in the computer.You can go to the most virulent of sites and come out clean thanks to the above 3 software.

Best of all harddisk access is near zero and hence more mechnical stabilty and much faster speeds. Also do remember that sites do not touch your hardrive even with cookies.
I am an Orthodontist from a village in the State of Kerala in India so forgive my ignorance in some aspects and if I have goofed up please correct me by dropping me a email. I am learning and would love to rectify any glitches I have made. If you feel its helped you please drop me a mail to pullockaran@gmail.com

by edward on 11. January 2009 - 17:40  (13635)

Very nice setup! Does seem a little involved, but if your really worried about security, this sounds like a secure way to go.

Thanks!

Edward A. Weissbard
Best Free Instant Messaging Client, Best Free Browser Protection Utility & Best Free Virtual Desktop Moderator/Editor

 

by Anonymous on 14. January 2009 - 17:46  (13877)

Dear Edward,
Actually integrating the above three software into one is my wish list. I was wondering if someone could cajole the above three software vendors to come up with something similar to what I have mentioned especially since hard disk access is neglible unlike when sandboxie is installed in the default way where the virtual drive is made in a physical part of the hard drive.
If only either of them gave the world something on these lines the internet would be a far safer place. Another benefit is that files do not get fragmented on the hard drive and defragging can be initiated just once a month; if the computer is mainly used for surfing .
If you can influence them to make this software please drop me an email. Please.
Bye and good day to you.

Dr. P.C.Sunil,
Professor and Head of the Department of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics,
Indira Gandhi Dental College,
Kerala,India.

by Anonymous on 14. January 2009 - 18:32  (13879)

How do you use the DropMyRights-like feature ?

by JonathanT on 15. January 2009 - 1:30  (13905)

It's under Sandbox Settings > Restrictions > Drop Rights.

by Anonymous on 15. January 2009 - 16:18  (13937)

Handy ! Let's see Firefox behaviour now... thanks !

by Rizar on 15. January 2009 - 16:35  (13939)

I don't know whether it is a new feature, but I liked how easy it is to have Eraserl wipe a Sandbox. In Sandbox Settings / Delete / Command, it automatically adds a configurable command for Eraserl (Gutmann by default) if it is installed. Eraser installs Eraserl automatically, I believe (at least it did for me). This could be helpful if you have a fast enough connection to constantly delete the contents or if you have a particularly risky surf session in mind.

by Anonymous on 15. January 2009 - 17:08  (13941)

Safe place keeps crashing my system winxp sp3 firefox 3.5. Had to uninstall. Too bad I liked the interface.

by Anonymous on 15. January 2009 - 21:04  (13956)

Try returnil, its better

by Anonymous on 17. January 2009 - 7:00  (14059)

I've used Sandboxie for over a year and consider it my favorite app (thanks to this site) but I'm moving to XP 64-bit in the next week. I know there's an old version (1.5 years old) of Sandboxie that will work as long as the PatchGuard update isn't installed. Are there any other programs, free or pay that will do the same thing under XP x64 with PatchGuard (KPP) and that are up to date? I've only come up with browsing in a Virtual Machine but that would get old really fast.

by Anonymous on 22. January 2009 - 3:02  (14376)

I had been using SafeSpace for about three months, and I absolutely loved it, mainly for the interface and the ability to have programs run sandboxed automatically.

Then, I noticed one day that my firefox windows had stopped running sandboxed, and that no matter what I did I couldn't get any programs to run in SafeSpace. I can't relate the change to a particular cause, as I'm not sure exactly when it stopped, but I think around that time I had transferred some files to a friend using my ipod as a hard drive. I assume that his computer imparted some nasty malware on it, and I infected myself when I plugged it back in. I tried everything (system restore, uninstall and reinstall safespace, on-demand scan with countless software) and could not get it to work again.

My question is two-fold: is it possible that malware got in this way and is this effective in shutting down SafeSpace? (meanwhile, Sanboxie appears to work but i really prefer SafeSpace) and two, has anyone encountered this and found a way to fix it? Nothing comes up on scanners, but the fact that SafeSpace still doesn't work has me on the verge of a windows reinstall.

Sorry for the long post, and any help/advice would be much appreciated!!

by J_L on 30. January 2009 - 4:43  (14941)

Hmmn, might be just a coincidence that it appeared during the time you plugged the ipod back in. Also, it might not be a malware at all, there are many possibilities on what really happened (bugs, registry mishaps, all these other computer problems, and maybe even SafeSpace locking itself because you did something against it's EULA). Anyways, I don't think this is the best place for your problems, how about going to the SafeSpace support forums (although you probably already did that), or one of the sites on this list: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_free_tech_support_sites.htm

by Anonymous on 5. March 2009 - 8:34  (17257)

I think SpywareBlaster should get mentioned, it's less confusing and disabling than Sandboxing for the average user..

by JonathanT on 7. March 2009 - 2:08  (17366)

Returnil Personal 2.0.1.9002 is out! It includes file protection, anti-execute and autorun tools, Disk Cache privacy wipe and more.

by Anonymous on 30. March 2009 - 16:38  (18943)

how about GesWall http://www.gentlesecurity.com/desktop.html;
is this up for mention/review?

by Anonymous on 30. March 2009 - 16:40  (18944)
by JonathanT on 3. April 2009 - 10:56  (19192)

I will probably add GesWall soon.

by Anonymous on 4. April 2009 - 19:11  (19284)

how does geswall compare with sandboxie?

by JonathanT on 5. April 2009 - 3:50  (19306)

They both provide excellent security when used properly.
Sandboxie is easier to configure than GesWall, and on my computer Sandboxie is lighter on resources. Also GesWall doesn't fully track the files you download, so if you extract an archive or move a file to another partition GesWall won't be restricting that file.
But GesWall is less intrusive than Sandboxie, since it works by policy restrictions not virtualisation, so everything is saved onto your real computer.

by Anonymous on 14. April 2009 - 11:24  (19839)

Sandboxie is an interesting tool for any serious Internet user. Although it requires some time to understand the basic functionality of Sandboxie for average user, but the benefits are worth the efforts.
Silki
http://webtoolsandtips.com/pc-security/safe-internet-browsing-with-sandb...

by Anonymous on 17. April 2009 - 0:42  (19997)

Under the Restrictions section of the Sandbox Settings, Sandboxie allows me to restrict which programs have internet access, restrict which programs have start/run access, and drop my administrator rights. Are any of these options worth having? What would be the positives and negatives to having any of these enabled?

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