Saturday, September 08, 2012

Are You Utilising Your Internet Security Suite To Its Full Potential?

A lot of people have Internet security suites installed on their computers, but many people have no idea how much protection their Internet security suite really can offer. For long it has been the perception that an Internet security suite is basically an anti-virus combined with a spam filter and a firewall. That's true, these are the basic components of an Internet security suite, but as time went by, security software vendors had to develop additional, value added tools, in an attempt to stay ahead of the cyber criminals. Most people only rely on the automatic features that are enabled by default, mostly those running in the background, but some Internet security suites have a wide variety of useful tools, just lying around without ever being used. In this article I will highlight those tools in a couple of popular Internet security suites to make you aware that your Internet security suite can do so much more.

I will start off with my favourite Internet security suite, namely avast! Internet Security.

avast! has a great feature called the Sandbox component. This allows you to run suspicious programs in a virtual environment, sandboxing the program completely and preventing it from making any changes to your computer. This is useful for testing out software from unknown vendors, because a program, that is for instance not digitally signed, is not necessarily a malicious program, but you have the comfort of testing it in a protected environment before allowing it access to your system. The Sandbox component automatically kicks in when avast! identifies a suspicious program, but you can use this feature on any executable file by right-clicking the file and choosing “Run in sandbox” from the context menu.

The SafeZone desktop environment is another underrated feature of avast! Internet Security. It works basically the same as the Sandbox, but in a broader context, it not only protects the browser, but creates a complete virtual desktop environment where you can conduct online transactions safely and privately.

The last feature I would like to mention for avast! Internet Security is the Site Blocking feature. So, what makes this feature worth mentioning? Basically the ability to block sites based on specific keywords. This can be utilised as a small parental control tool, by blocking not only specific inappropriate sites, but sites containing certain keywords in their URL's. This is in no way a replacement for a comprehensive parental control tool, but if you don't have parental control tools on your computer, this tool may come in very handy.

Outpost Security Suite Pro may not have the virtual environments of avast!, but it has a great tool that protects sensitive information from being transferred from your computer, over an insecure connection. It is called the ID Block feature. This is a handy little tool, but you need to use it very carefully. The idea behind this tool is to remove parts of your sensitive information before transmitting it over an insecure connection. This means the ID Block feature will not interfere when you are entering credit card information on a secure page, that uses SSL encryption to transfer your information over the Web. So how does it actually work? You need to add your sensitive information to the ID Block feature so that it can know what to look for. You will not enter your complete credit card number or social security number for instance, only a significant portion of it, so that the ID Block feature can replace that part with asterisks (*), when the information is transferred over an insecure connection like e-mail, unencrypted web pages or an instant messaging program, that doesn't use SSL to encrypt your information. You can also use the ID Block to protect parts of your passwords, so that you never enter them inadvertently on an unencrypted page.

Outpost Security Suite Pro also has a site blocker called the Site and Ads Blocker. Apart from blocking websites as a whole, you can also block unwanted elements on a web page. The site blocker can also be used as a parental control tool, just like the Site Blocking feature of avast!

Perhaps the most underused tool of Outpost Security Suite Pro is the File & Folder Lock. This tool prevents any other program from modifying, deleting, moving or renaming a specific file or folder, so it basically works like a read-only file or folder, the only difference is you can't remove the lock if you don't know the master password of the security suite. This is a very useful feature for files and folders containing important information that is seldom or never changed. This can also be applied to important program and system files to prevent malware from patching them with malicious code.

It has been a while since I reviewed Kaspersky Internet Security, but the latest version seems to have two new features.

The first one is the Safe Money mode, it works basically like avast!'s SafeZone component, but not as a separate virtual environment but it is a special secure mode inside your browser.

The second new feature is the Secure Keyboard, a virtual keyboard you can use on banking and shopping sites when you have to enter credit card, banking or other sensitive information. This prevents key loggers from stealing important information because they monitor the keys being pressed on your physical keyboard and since you are not using it in these cases, you are no longer exposed the dangers posed by these spyware programs.

Kaspersky Labs was one of the first security software vendors to introduce an integrated parental control tool in their Internet security suite. Although it is not the most comprehensive parental control tool, it has enough features to help the parent perform most parental controlling tasks, like exercising control over applications, games and websites used by your children and blocking, limiting or logging your children’s communications, as well as blocking the transfer of private data, such as phone or credit card numbers.

There are many other good Internet security suites that I did not discuss here, but you should be able to identify a certain pattern here. Most Internet security suites have additional features that include some virtual environment where you can conduct online transactions safely, an identity theft protection feature and some form of web filtering feature. The message I'm trying to get across here is to pay attention to the additional features of your Internet security suite, you paid for this stuff, so why not use it? Don't wait until something bad happens, use all the security tools at your disposal, better be safe than sorry.

If you need any help with the features discussed in this article, feel free to leave a comment on the blog, or e-mail me with your questions.

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, analysers of security software and raising awareness about spam and malicious software.

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