Best Free Intrusion Prevention and Detection Utility for Home Use (HIPS)

 
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Introduction

Gone are the days when a virus was a virus and everything else was - well – different! Now known collectively as “Malware” these threats are constantly evolving and pose a serious challenge to security software. Signature based scanners give the most reliable detection results but these are limited by the frequency of their database updates. To compliment signature recognition software HIPS programs were developed which look for behavior on your PC which is “characteristic of malware activity”. The user is then presented with an alert to either allow or block the event. Some programs automate this process which can occasionally lead to problems. See my article “HIPS Explained” which deals with this and other issues in more detail.

Evaluating the performance of HIPS programs is far from easy and any so called “test results” should be viewed with a degree of caution. It is straightforward enough to feed malware files to a selection of signature scanners and then count what they find to arrive at a score. AV Comparatives provides an admirable service here and the results are always consistent and reliable. There is no such definition line possible for testing HIPS software and my feeling is that some of the vendors may possibly use this to their own advantage (“hype”).

Review Criteria
My objective in reviewing this software is to help users make an informed choice about the suitability of the products for their own requirements. In addition to information obtained from the various producers, I have used two methods to collect the necessary data and tried to present my analysis in a factual and entertaining manner. Part of my review is based on personal usage of the software concerned and I will be updating information about my component set-up on this page. I have also used third party data collected from sources I know to be reliable such as other forums where I have known some of the posters for several years. In reality no one can ever duplicate the system you use and the software reviewed may react quite differently between one PC and another. Ultimately, the best way to judge the suitability of these programs for yourself is to try them.

Discussion

Malware Defender was formerly a commercial program, but this excellent HIPS changed ownership a while back and a new version was released as freeware. The sequence of events relating to this event is set out quite nicely here if anyone is interested. Just follow the thread through.

Malware Defender main interfaceI'd like to state at the outset that this type of program is not for the faint hearted. To use it effectively, and avoid the possibility damaging your system, you will need a reliable knowledge of Windows processes and services. You will also need to pay close attention to the information displayed in the alerts, and the options associated with each one. Luckily, the program installs by default into learning mode which reduces the number of initial alerts to a minimum. That said, it's essential that you only install Malware Defender into a clean system otherwise you'll just be creating "allow" rules for your malware collection to function normally. Everyone has their favorite apps for system cleaning, but my choice would be these. First scan with your resident antivirus and then with HitmanPro and Malwarebytes. You might also like to look at the VBA32 Antirootkit program which will tell you which sections of its scan came up "clean" and which need some further investigation. It will also check the digital signatures of all your files. Anything identified as suspicious can be uploaded to Virus Total for a final check.

In addition to the usual file, registry and application modules, Malware Defender also provides network protection should you choose to enable it, including a connections monitor. This makes it the ideal companion for anyone using Windows own firewall, but wanting more detailed control. It also scores very highly in the Matousec tests for those inclined to value the results.

It was difficult to know exactly where to place Malware Defender in terms of a review rating. For what it does it's an excellent performer but the complexities of using it make it unsuitable for average users. Mistakes can be rectified by changing rule permissions from the log entries, although if you've already denied a vital system function, your screen might now be empty!

 

WinPatrol Startup WindowWinPatrol has been helping to protect computers for more than ten years. With DSA now only available as part of the Privatefirewall package the options for standalone programs of this type have been reduced still further. Maybe then this is the right time to re-visit an old favorite of many users which is still in development and more than capable of providing this extra layer of security.

WinPatrol has many advocates and has recently been upgraded to achieve greater compatibility for Vista and Windows 7 users. It's main objective is to warn you about alterations to your system which may be malware generated. It does this by taking a snapshot of your system settings and alerting you to any changes. WinPatrol operates using a heuristic approach which makes it more likely to find new malware than traditional signature based scanners which are heavily reliant on updates.

WinPatrol will alert you to new program activations as well and is effective across a whole range of malware including worms, trojans, cookies, adware and spyware. Even stuff designed to replicate itself on your system is with WinPatrol's reach. You can also use WinPatrol to filter unwanted cookies and IE add-ons. An added bonus is that WinPatrol will also deal with the problems it finds so you won't need another program to do this for you.

As of V19.0, WinPatrol becomes a "Cloud Edition". Mostly the extra features will only benefit users of the paid Plus version.  One part of the WinPatrol Cloud though is a poll where the WinPatrol community of users can provide personal feedback on files that are detected. The poll data will be available to both FREE and PLUS users.

The author, Bill Pytlovany, provides support and has an interesting comments and resource blog here:

http://billpstudios.blogspot.com/

 

MJ Registry Watcher MJ Registry Watcher is another application that maybe not too many people are aware of. It is a simple registry, file and directory hooker/poller that safeguards the most important startup files, registry keys, and other more exotic registry locations commonly attacked by Trojans. It has very low resource use, and is set to poll every 30 seconds by default, although you can adjust this if required. A configuration file stores all your settings for future use. MJRW not only polls the system, but it also hooks it, so that most changes to keys, files and directories are reported instantaneously. Key deletions are still caught by the polling loop though, since they cannot be hooked. Exactly which keys and files are protected can be completely configured by the user, although the sets supplied with MJRW will cover most standard PCs. You do need better than average knowledge to get the best from this software but users in this category who prefer to combine small light applications to create a layered security solution should definitely check it out. Installation is not required, simply run the program from whichever directory you un-zip it to.

The program now also includes: Process Launch Monitoring, Folder and File Hooking, EMailing of Alerts and Quarantining of Files and Directories. 

There is an active thread for this software at Wilders forum here: http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=54666 The author, Mark Jacobs, also maintains a range of other free software on his website and will respond to emails for support if requested.

Related Products and Links
Quick Selection Guide

Malware Defender
4
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Comprehensive protection including network monitoring
Complicated to understand for average users - home page in Chinese (see Softpedia links below)
2.8
1.9 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2K/XP/2003/2008/Vista/7
WinPatrol
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Comprehensive protection; deals with the problems it finds; a pioneer of heuristic based detection technology
“Scotty the Windows Watchdog” projects a somewhat dated image
http://www.winpatrol.com/
28.6.2013
900 kb
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
MS Windows all inc. 64 bit
MJ Registry Watcher
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Light resource use; excellent default rules with choice of security levels
Only really suitable for experienced users
1.2.8.1
3.01 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
Windows all

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Comments

by Anonymous on 29. July 2009 - 4:05  (25912)

I'm having two major issues with Dynamic Security Agent. I installed it a few days ago and after a couple days it was using over 200 megs of memory. If I restart it, it goes back down to about 18 or 20 megs, but then starts increasing fast. The other issue is that every time I restart DSA, it turns off my Windows firewall. Any ideas?

by MidnightCowboy on 29. July 2009 - 10:31  (25932)

DSA is now discontinued as a standalone application and no longer supported. An updated version is now included with the Privatefirewall package. This excellent firewall used to be commercial but is now freeware.
http://www.privacyware.com/personal_firewall.html

by Anonymous on 29. July 2009 - 15:47  (25952)

Thanks for the info. I can't find many reviews of Privatefirewall. How do you think it compares to the ones listed on this site (Outpost, Comodo, Online Armor, and PC Tools)?

by Anonymous on 29. July 2009 - 21:45  (25979)

I am surprised not to see ProcessGuard included in the review. It is by far one of the best hips i have ever used if not the best. Can you please consider reviewing ProcessGuard?

by MidnightCowboy on 29. July 2009 - 22:31  (25982)

The products reviewed here all have full featured protection. All of the important functions such as Rootkit protection, hooking, driver installation, registry and memory protection are all missing from the free version of ProcessGuard. It doesn't even block new or changed programs. You can achieve far more protection with other software.

by Anonymous on 30. August 2009 - 22:20  (31919)

DriveSentry put a BSOD on bith my pc and my wife's, both run Comodo and Avira. There is a basic conflict when I removed DriveSentry the PCs reverted to problem free

by MidnightCowboy on 10. September 2009 - 17:21  (32486)

When I was trialing DriveSentry for the review my own machine (XPSP2) was also running Comodo and Avira without any problems. Without knowing a lot more details about your system and how you had your other security components configured it's not possible to second guess what might have gone wrong.
Unfortunately these instances are very system specific and often here and in the forums we see similar posts relating to troublesome combinations which others are running quite happily. The (yawn) long awaited new version of DriveSentry is meant to be more imminent now than it was so maybe you might feel confident in re-visiting this software then?

by belphegor on 15. September 2009 - 10:11  (32626)

Hi all.Dont know wether anyone has tried iobit security 360.I suppose it is a hips,running it now myself,seems to work okay,any chance of giving it a test???? Had trouble with drive sentry and threatfire.thought i mite give this a go....

by Anonymous on 15. September 2009 - 11:03  (32631)

Iobit 360 is an anti-malware product, not a HIPS. It is possible that it will be reviewed here now that the final version has been released, but this decision will be made by the editor of the category concerned.

by Anonymous on 16. September 2009 - 6:49  (32689)

I have been testing it for a few days. It has an 'old' looking interface and is a bit buggy on an XP SP3 machine. It seems to get confused sometimes about what process is doing what and starts blocking the wrong things.

I will be uninstalling it shortly. Not up to par, IMHO.

by MidnightCowboy on 16. September 2009 - 8:47  (32691)

It would be helpful to know which applications and processes you are referring to as the firewall doesn't block anything. It produces an alert to prompt an action, depending on how you have it set up.

by Anonymous on 17. October 2009 - 22:45  (34894)

I hope the latest build is better than the version I used to run. Every time it popped up a warning window it froze the computer. I got rid of it and am leery of ever using it again.

by chris.p on 18. October 2009 - 9:56  (34921)

MC, the latest version of Threatfire does not work on Windows 2000 (won't install). Old versions install OK.

Also, TF does not prevent rootkits creating a new .exe and writing it to the disk. If it doesn't do this, I'm not sure what use it is, since the only other useful facility it might contain would be to stop unknown apps dialling out - but your HIPS firewall does that (and much more effectively, in my ongoing live test, which involves trying to get rid of a damn pesky rootkit).

Threatfire - on W2K at any rate - doesn't stop unknown exe's being written onto the disk, and it hardly ever stops new processes dialling out. All these are caught by Avast and Online Armor, not TF.

chris.p

by chris.p on 18. October 2009 - 10:22  (34922)

I can't install Drive Sentry on W2K because the install throws up an error message right at the beginning:

"Drive Sentry requires the Filter Manager in order to operate. Please install the latest Service Pack for your operating sytem."

The install continues but I assume it is not 100%, so I terminate it.

I have W2K SP4 Rollup1 - which is the latest version of W2K. So it looks like DS doesn't work on W2K?

chris.p

by MidnightCowboy on 18. October 2009 - 10:53  (34926)

Thanks for the feedback on this. According to their website DS is still compatible with W2K but I'll mail their support for confirmation. I've not found them too responsive of late, in fact there doesn't seem to be very much activity at all.

by MidnightCowboy on 18. October 2009 - 11:12  (34931)

Thanks for the heads up about the version install on W2K. I tend to use Softpedia as my reference source for this and they still list it although PC Tools and Cnet (our own link) have removed it.

In truth I've no knowledge of how effective even the older versions of Threatfire might be on W2K because I've never used this system. Many users add Threatfire as an additional layer of security for it's keylogging and buffer overflow prevention capabilities.

The real strengths of Threatfire though lie in it's ability for custom rule creation which unfortunately is beyond the abilities of most average users to configure and inadvisable for same to try. This tutorial though has been well written and includes a section for outbound protection.

http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=253507

To be honest if I was using W2K and felt the need for this type of software I think I'd revert my attentions to the era from when it was written and use Cyberhawk instead, copies of which can still be found.

by sbwhiteman on 18. October 2009 - 13:43  (34940)

Threatfire 4.1 supports Win2K. See footnote 3:

http://www.threatfire.com/updates/

Steve

by MidnightCowboy on 18. October 2009 - 14:08  (34941)

Thanks Steve.

by chris.p on 18. October 2009 - 14:15  (34943)

Thanks for this, SBW.

MC, maybe you could add this info to the TF details :

W2K users need to download the ThreatFire 4.1 version, the download link is at the foot of this page: www.threatfire.com/updates/

Personally though, I've deleted it and won't be reinstalling it. It never picked up one single disk write out of dozens that a rootkit I had was creating (additional .exe's), and that were stopped by Avast. It never picked up any of the added (malware-created) tasks in Task Scheduler, that WinPatrol stopped. It never picked up any dial-outs, which Online Armor stopped.

Therefore as far as I can see it is not much practical use. Perhaps this just applies to W2K. However it uses very little in the way of system resources :)

chris.p

by MidnightCowboy on 19. October 2009 - 12:03  (34981)

Received confirmation from Drive Sentry today that V3.4 Desktop "should" still work on W2K assuming SP4 or above. I've asked for a bit more detail than this as "should" is something I don't understand. Either it does or it doesn't.

by MidnightCowboy on 19. October 2009 - 16:48  (35006)

Drive Sentry have just released V3.4.0.20 of their free desktop version. There are no new features but I'm informed that improvements have been made to existing components in several areas.

Users of the previous version please note that there are no time limited automatic updates as before. From V3.4 the free version requires updating manually.

by dazeydog on 20. October 2009 - 1:51  (35025)

To change the theme a little and go back to WinPatrol, I have a comment or two about that software. It enjoys a very good reputation and has been around for a while but I have noticed a couple of things about winpatrol that I do not like. For a short background, I have always been extremely unhappy (being diplomatic) with IE creating the index.dat files. With the "enhancement" to XP the alterations I had made to ME to drastically reduce these files would no longer work. So I began using another browser and basically buried Internet Explorer (Only needed for sites that believe their existence depends on IE). The results: better security, easily removable items that point to where you have been on the internet and very little, if any, build up of the "index.dat" files. (Again, these files have been one of my pet peeves).
If you use winpatrol, it has a tendency to favor IE and will, all of a sudden, create a build up of index.dat files for just about all your security software. As index.dat is one of the major contributors to my irritation level, I removed winpatrol. Index.dat files are back to virtually nothing.
Reckon I got a little verbose on this one.......sorry about that. Other than that, the program does a good job but needs to be altered to recognize the browser that is actually being used on the system. One would think that the authors would be aware of this issue but perhaps they are not concerned. The other option is that people consider things like index.dat files trivial. So be it but I will not accept having any software creating files I do not want or need and then making it difficult for me to eliminate.
Have a good day (tomorrow).

by MidnightCowboy on 20. October 2009 - 11:17  (35043)

Thanks for your input dazeydog. As I have only just added WinPatrol to my review I am still learning about it's capabilities myself. This plus I tend to use my Ubuntu partition more than Vista which limits my exposure to the software. I've actually approached the author and asked him if he would like to contribute here or at least respond to your comments. Depending on the response I get I'll post the details here and maybe open up a thread in the forum for WinPatrol too.

by Anonymous on 20. October 2009 - 13:46  (35051)

Dazeydog,

I welcome you to send your comments to support@WinPatrol.com. To be honest I'm a little confused about your index.dat file comment. The only index.dat file I know of is related to IE cookies. This file is related to IE cookies. This file should be reduced automatically by Windows depending on your settings for how often your cache is cleaned up. I recommend keeping your default Temporary Internet Folder size to a smaller number than the Windows default.

If you use other browsers you may be happy to hear WinPatrol 2010 now includes support for Firefox 3.x and even Chrome.

Bill

by Taurus on 20. October 2009 - 15:12  (35055)

Are there any known conflicts between Winpatrol Plus and Microsoft Security Essentials?

Thanks

by Anonymous on 20. October 2009 - 15:43  (35061)

Scotty works and plays well with others.
I've been running both successfully under Windows 7 since early beta of both. While there may be some redundancy there are no problems.

There was a comment about WinPatrol still having a more classic user interface look. One of the reasons WinPatrol is so compact and quick is I didn't spend a lot of time on fancy graphics or transitions. The result of a simple interface is great performance and it provides support for many Enabling devices like screen readers.

Thanks,
Bill

by MidnightCowboy on 20. October 2009 - 16:02  (35064)

Thanks by the way Bill for contributing here. Much appreciated.

by Taurus on 20. October 2009 - 16:10  (35066)

Thanks Bill. Now that's what I call support!

by Anonymous on 4. November 2009 - 4:01  (35763)

hi i was wondering what would be the best hips for a 64-bit os?

by MidnightCowboy on 4. November 2009 - 10:12  (35798)

For a lightweight compliment to your existing security software then WinPatrol is stable and able. I've run it extensively now without a single negative issue to report. The best possible solution in my opinion would be CIS (Comodo) but then you probably already have another firewall which you don't wish to change.

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