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.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

MailWasher PRO, Spam Filter and Spam Reporting Tool

If you are one of those people who often report spam to anti-spam organisations like SpamCop, KnuJon and Cyber Top Cops, I bet you always wished you had a tool that can combat spam and report it to anti-spam organisations at the same time. Well, you can stop wishing because such a tool has been available for quite some time now and it is called MailWasher PRO. In this article I will give step by step instructions on how to use MailWasher and how to configure it so that you can filter and report spam more efficiently.

MailWasher has quite a unique approach to spam filtering, by getting rid of your spam before you download it with your e-mail client. This saves bandwidth and the time of scanning through the multitude of junk in your inbox to find your good e-mails. Most e-mail clients already have a built-in spam filter (like Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Outlook), but MailWasher does not attempt to replace these built-in spam filters, but rather complement them. You should see MailWasher as your first line of defence against spam and your e-mail client's built-in spam filter as a backup for the spam that got past MailWasher.

Where do I get MailWasher? Visit and download the 30 day trial version of MailWasher PRO. There is also a free version available, but you can only use it with one e-mail account, you won't have a recycle bin for your deleted e-mails and the preview pane is very limited. If these limitations do not bother you, I recommend you download the free version.

Now how does MailWasher work? It is really simple, you open MailWasher before opening your e-mail client, let MailWasher check your e-mails, tell MailWasher which ones are spam and which ones are good and finally, click on the Wash Mail button and let MailWasher do the rest. After “washing” your e-mails, open your e-mail client and download your e-mails from your spam-free e-mail account.

So how exactly do you tell MailWasher which e-mails are good and which ones are bad? Well, each e-mail has a thumbs-up and a thumbs-down icon next to it. If you click the thumbs-up icon, MailWasher will identify the e-mail as good mail and if you click the thumbs-down icon, MailWasher will identify the e-mail as spam. Over time, MailWasher will get better at classifying your e-mails correctly, so you won't have to train MailWasher all the time. If you are not following what I am saying, watch the 60 second MailWasher PRO, quick start video.

One way of improving MailWasher without doing any manual training, is by setting up custom filters under the Spam Tool Settings. To do this follow these steps:

  1. Click on Settings.
  2. Click on Spam Tools.
  3. Click on Filters.
  4. Click on Add Filter.
  5. Give your filter a name, for example avast! Spam Filter, you may leave the Description field empty.
  6. Make sure Filter Type, is set to Spam and that the sentence under Rules reads: Apply filter to e-mails that match Any of the following rules.
  7. Click on Add Rule.
  8. Change Entire message to 'Subject'.
  9. Enter the text *** SPAM *** in the text input box.
  10. Click on the Save button at the bottom of the window.

This filter will work great with the anti-spam component of avast! Internet Security. avast! also uses the tag *** PHISHING *** for phishing e-mails, so you can add a second rule by repeating steps 7 – 9 above, and adding the text *** PHISHING *** instead of *** SPAM ***. This should work with any spam filter that modifies the Subject of identified spam e-mails, you just need to change the text, specified in step 8, to the appropriate tag added by your spam filter. For example Kaspersky Internet Security adds the text [!!Spam] to the subject line when it identifies an e-mail as spam, so if you are using Kaspersky Internet Security, replace *** SPAM *** in step 9, with [!!Spam].

This does not necessarily have to correspond to a specific spam tag added by a spam filter, you can also add filters for words found in the subject line, commonly associated with spam, for example: Enlargement, Supplement, Pharmacy, Congratulations, etc. You can even add a couple of other words, that's not appropriate for me to mention in this article, but I think you know what I mean. This will keep vulgar and inappropriate e-mails out of your mailbox and MailWasher will mark them as spam automatically. The possibilities with these custom filters are endless.

The other great thing about MailWasher is its Spam Reporting Tool. That's right you can report spam to SpamCop, KnuJon and Cyber Top Cops all at once. To set up a spam reporting service, follow these steps:

  1. Click on Settings.
  2. Click on Spam Tools.
  3. Click on Spam Reporting.
  4. The SpamCop service will already be created, so double-click it to open its settings.
  5. Replace the text in the Email to field with your own SpamCop reporting e-mail address. It should be in the format Replace SPAMCOPID with your unique SpamCop ID.
  6. Choose the e-mail account through which MailWasher must send the report.
  7. Choose the colour of the report service. This is the colour of the icon that will appear next to the e-mail under the Reporting column.
  8. Choose a letter of the alphabet to identify the spam reporting service easily. The letter 's' will already be assigned to the SpamCop Service.
  9. Click on the Save button at the bottom of the window.
  10. Click on Add Service.
  11. Type Cyber Top Cops next to Service name.
  12. Type next to the Email to field.
  13. Leave Email content blank.
  14. Repeat steps 6 – 9. Choose the letter 'c' in step 8.
  15. Repeat step 10 – 14. Choose the letter 'k' in step 8. Instead of Cyber Top Cops in step 11, type KnuJon and instead of in step 12, type KNUJON@COLDRAIN.NET or your unique KnuJon reporting e-mail address.

Now you are properly equipped for the battle against spam, without breaking a sweat. All you need to do now is to mark the appropriate spam reporting services before clicking on Wash Mail. To do this go back to your Inbox in MailWasher, right-click on the column bar with the different headings and select Reporting from the list. When you mark an e-mail as spam, also click on the reporting service icons under the Reporting column. If you followed my instructions correctly you will have 3 icons next to each spam e-mail, where each icon correspond to the colour and letter your chose in steps 7 and 8 above.

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.