Best Free Internet Safety Check

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Introduction

In the past, I've relied on parental filters and anti-virus software. Well, now I've been forced to use these safety checks since I've found them to be very useful. I sure like checking on a website before I risk browsing it. Even though it doesn't replace any of my existing security measures - except perhaps the parental filter - this additional layer of security is really useful.

Check out this review of internet safety check which covers two sections: Installed Software and Online Services. I've rated these products by looking at six criteria:

  • Ratings that are reliable with more information close at hand.
  • Scanning that doesn't slow me down too much.
  • Warning about and blocking of risky sites.
  • Searching options including icons that link to the full rating.
  • Compatibility and integration with the web browsers and operating systems.
  • Detecting web pages and sites that have active or reported threats

See also More About Internet Safety Check and Quick Decision Guide at the end of this review.

 

Installed Software

Web of Trust (WOT)  

The best tool that tells you which websites you can trust based on user ratings


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Fast; highly compatible but works best in Firefox; works with the most search engines and even Google image search; multiple categories of user comment; excellent warning and blocking; child safety rating; excellent documentation.
Less functionality in browsers other than Firefox; slow on image search results.
Read full review...

McAfee WebAdvisor  

A solid website advisor but unexceptional


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Limited features)
Works with many search engines; good site report; generally fast; McAfee crawl the web scanning sites.
No blocking; limited user ratings.
Read full review...

LinkExtend  

The best installed meta-rater which has an excellent reputation with users


Our Rating: 
2.5
License: Free
Combines other free rating sources; provides a lot more information; works with Google and Yahoo! search.
Firefox and Chrome only for automated rating, Internet Explorer requires visits to each website; only two search engines; no warning or block screens; no link to detailed information so you will have to go to each rating source.
Read full review...

Online Services

These online safety checks are less convenient but very useful.

VirusTotal  

Checks websites and files against several rating services and blacklists, and scans with multiple anti-virus engines


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Online service works with any browser; high accuracy; rates and scans in one check; 68 scanners; 13 raters; installable versions for Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer.
Slow reporting for scans; browser add-ons do very little.
Read full review...

Trend Micro Site Safety Center  

A simple rating with the category of threat and has equivalent accuracy to the other Trend Micro products


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
Works with any browser; good threat detection; quick response; also categorizes sites.
Limited features.
Read full review...

URLVoid  

An online internet safety rater that has more tools than others


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
Works with any browser; 25 raters; 6 scanners; other tools e.g. IPVoid.com for IP addresses.
Separate checks for rating and scanning.
Read full review...

McAfee Threat Library  

Twice as effective as McAfee WebAdvisor in identifying websites with active threats


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
Effective rater; search database for IP address, DNS server, malware name, vulnerability name, etc.
n/a
Read full review...

Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

General Security Advice

Resident Security Products

On-Demand Antimalware Products

Safe Practices

 

More About Internet Safety Check

Rating and scanning

The two types of safety check for a web address or URL are rating and scanning. Scan the website for threats (right now when I need it) or rate the reputation of the website using other sources of information: what people think of it, whether it has been associated with any dishonest or illegal activity, and what other security databases have on record which can include the results of your past scans.

Safety checks are easy to install and use

These products are easy to install and use because there are few options to configure. Most run in the background while you browse the Web and only pop-up when they identify a problem. The products mainly install as a browser add-on for each supported web browser. Just be warned that browsing can be noticeably slower and will usually crawl on a dial-up connection or if you run several products at the same time. Often there is a single button added to the toolbar (as with WOT) and sometimes an entire new toolbar (as with LinkExtend).

Online safety checks are an alternative

If you don't want to install more software on your computer then you can use an online service. You manually check websites by typing or copying the web address into the online check website. They are less convenient but are an effective option particularly to get a second opinion. I've included the best in this article but the remainder can be found in the full list of products reviewed.

Web browsers have built-in safety checks

Many of you will realize that you are already using an internet safety rating as a feature of your web browser. For example, Microsoft calls it SmartFilter for Internet Explorer, and Firefox has options to block "reported attack sites" and "reported web forgeries".  Apart from Internet Explorer, the main web browsers source their safety data from other vendors: Firefox, Chrome and Safari use data from Google Safe Browsing; and Opera relies on AVG. I tested them in the same way as the other products and services. In terms of detecting bad websites they were in the middle third of the products I reviewed.

Color-coded results

WOT rating symbolsTypically, the products present their results with color-coded symbols as shown in the image from Web of Trust (WOT). The WOT scorecard uses rating symbols that have five levels of color from dark green for trustworthy, yellow for concern, and orange to red for dangerous. Grey is used for unrated sites. Most programs work in a similar way, placing an icon beside web links so that moving the mouse over the icon will display the rating; and clicking on the icon or pop-up displays the full scorecard. Online meta-scanners, which use the results of many different scans, are the main exception. Although many use similar colors their rating is usually the fraction of the tests for problems found e.g. 9 of 15, 9/15.

 

Quick Decision Guide

These three questions will help you to get a shortlist of the products that might best suit you. Note that online services are in italic.

What operating system do you use?

Windows
XP/Vista/7/8/10
Windows
2000
Mac
OS X
Linux Other
See the next question WOT (for Firefox or Internet Explorer);
TrendProtect (for Internet Explorer);
online services

WOT;
McAfee WebAdvisor (for Firefox);
online services

WOT;
online services

WOT or other bookmarklet;
online services

What Windows web browser do you use?

Mozilla Firefox Internet Explorer /Edge Google Chrome Apple Safari Opera

WOT;
McAfee WebAdvisor;
VirusTotal VTZilla;
LinkExtend
online services

WOT;
McAfee WebAdvisor;
TrendProtect;
online services

WOT;
McAfee WebAdvisor;
VirusTotal VTChrominizer;
online services

WOT;
VirusTotal;
online services
WOT;
VirusTotal;
online services

How well do you want to be warned about web sites with active threats?

Best

Above Average

Average

Below Average

Worst

Trend Micro Site Safety;
TrendProtect;
VirusTotal;
WOT;
McAfee Threat Library;
URLVoid

Stopbadware.com

BrightCloud;
GData;
Comodo Site Inspector;
Webutation;
TrafficLight
Scumware;
Sucuri;
McAfee WebAdvisor;
LinkExtend

Malware Blacklist; MalcOde;
Browser Defender;
Norton Safe Web;
MalwareURL;
WebSense;
AVG Threat Labs;
Web Security Guard

Unmask Parasites;
M86 Secure Browsing;
Online Link Scan;
Explabs;
BitDefender Anti-Phishing;
etc.

 

 Mozilla Firefox
Google Chrome

Apple Safari

Opera
Internet Explorer

 

 

Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Glyn Burgess. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

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Please rate this article: 

Your rating: None
4.28
Average: 4.3 (25 votes)

Comments

Perhaps" Dr Web Anti-Virus Link Checker" could be reviewed by Gizmos site and included in this lot ?

It is sometimes difficult not to duplicate too much content around the site and this product is already included in these two articles. MC - Site Manager.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/what-else-have-you-just-download...
http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/safe-computing-under-hour.htm

VTzilla is a great idea but for Google search it sucks because Google nests the linked URL in itself (for tracking). WOT is worse as it only checks Google itself when its a nested link.

Just did a quick check - Yahoo also does nested links that are even worse. Bing doesn't surprisingly. But I don't find Bing as useful a search tool.

(VTzilla also installs a toolbar for pasting links in but this is fiddlier - you have to select the text below the link in Google & Yahoo)

However, if you use StartPage search, this uses Google search without the tracking and thus the links are direct and VTzilla right-click is useful. WOT works fine there too.

The combo seems good - LinkExtend for the overview, WOT for searches and VTzilla for a detailed review of links. (in Win Firefox)

I use an FF add-on (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/google-no-tracking-url/) to fix the Google redirect issue. As well as bypassing Google search tracking it also makes searches noticeably faster.

I've been trying out Linkextend this evening, it seems quite useful but it's returning "Unknown" for a lot of stuff. The transparent results pop-up is a little difficult to use as well.

Thanks for the tip. It looks to be much updated. I would note this does not remove Google search tracking but it does remove click-tracking, a hunk of it. Where StartPage is more anonymous, sometimes you need the more advanced features or search tools of Google so this will help. It does indeed seem to make searches faster too. And no restart required. Thanks!

And of course, this makes VTzilla and WOT right-clicks work easily.

On LinkExtend, I've turned a lot of it off. I mainly use the toolbar Safety check as it looks at multiple services. However, some like Norton are blocking it now. So the "second opinion" advantages are slowly eroding. But I've kept it rather than having multiple site safety services running. And I've added VTzilla as a way to check the degree of hazard of an unfamiliar site or download or one WOT flags.

VTzilla will also check a download link for Viruses, which is a very handy pre-check. I have good AV thats saved me a couple of times but it's better to not start a toxic download in the first place.

I've been using LinkExtend for some time because it offers the reports from multiple sites including WOT and SiteAdvisor - other products I've used in the past. I found SiteAdvisor better before it was bought by Mcafee. I expect they've reserved some benefit for the paid version. Mcafee also has bad habits with not uninstalling cleanly.

However, LinkExtend has not been updated in some time. It stopped working with Google search awhile back. This has lead to my visit here. I usually recommend WOT for newbies because LinkExtend does require more attention.

Thanks for the mention of VTzilla. I also see BitDefenders Traffic Light is now out of beta. Anyone have experience with it?

On TrafficLight, I see Mozilla Add-on reviews are mixed and it doesn't get along with some common security and download plugins.

I think I'll keep LinkExtend for now and add WOT for searches and VTzilla for checking.

Thanks!

I quite like SafePreview (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/safe-preview/) as a Firefox add-on for an overview of URLs from a selection of scanners.

It's not been updated since last Summer and elements of it don't work perfectly but for a quick check I find it quite useful.

The trick with these tools is that if they're not updating and don't show in current browsers properly, they won't help you avoid unexpected problem sites or sites you know that become insecure or infected.

The embedded scripts on some sites are all you need to be infected. Just clicking the link from a search. Browsers themselves can help a bit but I see problem sites in Google results all the time.

VTzilla is useful for a quick check of a suspicious site or another way of reviewing the hazards of something reported in WOT. (a hazard in VT is much worse than some hazards in WOT) But it doesn't help if the site is not obviously troublesome. It sounds like SafePreview is similar. That's why I'd also suggest something like WOT. Some sites work hard to look normal and safe while carrying a payload.

SafePreview just returns results from WoT, DrWeb, Trustwave, Google Advisory, and McAfee. Supposedly Norton too but that's never worked for me. The link preview is quite handy sometimes.

For the embedded scripts worry it has to be Noscript, the default-deny policy is a whole new level of security after you've had WoT etc check links for you. Request Policy is also v good if you have the patience to deal with a lot of page elements being blocked.

Ah sorry - I first thought Safe Preview was one of the ones panned on the Supplement page here. But it's something new. And it is indeed a good viable replacement for LinkExtend. Thank you!

Sorry to waste your time trying LinkExtend.

For myself, I'll use WOT as an up-front search warning with Safe Preview as a supplement or "second opinion" for suspicious sites or for cross-checking WOT opinions.

VTzilla as a third tier for checking sites and downloads for viruses. (before my AV)

Norton isn't working in any of these group tools. They're blocking them with a captcha so you have to use their tools or site to get results. It's not a defect of Safe Preview but Norton being stingy.

And yes, NoScript and Adblock are great. I've tried some other more aggressive tools and they broke too much functionality. It is annoying how much business some sites are doing in tracking and selling user information. It is the essential function of some sites like Facebook. Will check out RequestPolicy.

As I have my own web site, I can appreciate knowing what people click on, what pages they view, and how long they stick around. But some sites seem to have forgotten we didn't all sign up to be Neilsen Ratings subjects and marketing guinea pigs.

An initial look at RequestPolicy suggests it's missing a lot of stuff on it's white list, like the interlinking of Wordpress services. A number of web sites don't even get their styles loaded. It reminds me of the early days of software firewalls when you had to OK everything the first time. But it's easier to work with than some of the other tools I've tried so I'll give it a longer test.

Thanks again for the suggestions.

I didn't think it a waste of time at all trying out LinkExtend. I will in fact keep it for a while and see if it still seems useful after disabling the services that don't appear to work. I guess some of the services have changed urls as they do work with other similar add-ons ... I suppose it's just that LinkExtend hasn't been updated in so long. Aside from this it does seem to have some useful features.

I didn't realise that the Google search add-on I mentioned doesn't prevent tracking, the description on the download page seems to suggest that it does but I'm not knowledgeable enough about the processes involved to judge.

Fair point about Request Policy, it does break a lot of sites initially and it takes some time to get used to it and get a whitelist established.

Lots of bad links in the Supplement to this article.

I will soon be updating this article and correcting them.