Extra Online Protection: Free, Easy, Effective

By  |  Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

This just in: Somebody out there is trying to trick you into clicking a link in an e-mail. Do it and you’ll be delivered to a Web site ready, willing, and absolutely able to damage your PC, steal your passwords, and use your address books.

Just this week, PandaLabs warned of a massive iTunes phishing campaign. E-mails are sent with a well-designed, authentic-looking receipt for $895. Alarmed — and unsuspecting — victims click to see how it happened and they eventually get tagged with the Zeus Trojan.

But I’m Protected

Okay, yes, you already have a security tool. But I have three smart, free, no-fuss browser tools that’ll give you an extra edge against cyber criminals.

I sense you might be resisting. Go along with me for a minute.

You’re asking, legitimately, why I’m suggesting you need more help when I went on so long recently about Norton Internet Security 2011. Two reasons: One, I’m not taking any chances with my PC, and I don’t think you should either. And two, if Norton somehow skips a beat — or you forget to update yoursecurity program for a week — I want someone else to watch both our backs.

Up in the Clouds

My friend Alex, from Sunbelt Software (Vipre Antivirus Premium) just released ClearCloud, a valuable, free tool that monitors your online activity in three ways: In your browser and e-mail program, or if a program’s trying to send details about you to their servers.

ClearCloud works by making a small, benign change to your PC’s Internet settings. When you head for a Web site — by clicking a link in e-mail, typing a URL in your browser’s address bar, or clicking a link on a Web page — ClearCloud looks over the link. If the site’s dangerous, it blocks access.

ClearCloud: Under the Hood

Technically, ClearCloud changes the DNS server settings so traffic is routed through its servers first. I like how I can turn the ClearCloud service on and off, and it uninstalls without doing any damage. ClearCloud is still in beta, a testing phase. Read the ClearCloud FAQ. If you’re interested in this technology, you can also look at Norton DNS, which is in beta as well.

As with any tool that changes your system’s DNS settings, ClearCloud still blocks sites for a couple of hours after it’s disabled or unloaded. You can manually flush the DNS cache by typing “ipconfig /flushdns” at a command prompt (this feature will be included in the final product).

ClearCloud is similar to SpywareBlaster, also a freebie, a tool I used to recommend. But SpywareBlaster uses a static list that’s on your computer and needs to be updated. ClearCloud has a substantially larger database of hazardous URLs–and the list is Web-based and dynamic, so nasty URLs are constantly being added.

ClearCloud versus OpenDNS

ClearCloud and OpenDNS have lots in common. (Read my take on OpenDNS.) The difference is that OpenDNS focuses more on letting you filter sites you don’t want to see, say porn, politics, parked domains, dating, and so on. In the last few weeks, OpenDNS has upped the ante to block more phishing sites than it has in the recent past.

Me, I’m switching to ClearCloud for a few months to try it out. It’s not likely to happen, but I wish OpenDNS would partner with ClearCloud and integrate its list of dangerous sites.

The Layered Approach

There are other freebies to protect you.

The Web of Trust (WOT) has a version for Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari. Download and install it; it works automatically.

WOT Warning
WOT watches out for you.

To my surprise, Firefox’s built-in phishing and malware protection appears fairly often when I land on a dangerous site. I wasn’t even aware the feature existed. (Make sure to turn it by going to the Tools menu and opening Options, then clicking the Security tab and checking the appropriate boxes.)

Firefox pays attention to where you surf
Firefox’s built-in phishing
and malware Protection

For those of you still using Internet Explorer, turn on the SmartScreen Filter by clicking the Safety button, pointing to SmartScreen Filter, and then clicking Turn On SmartScreen Filter.

Internet Explorer's SmartScreen Filter
Internet Explorer’s SmartScreen Filter

In almost 80 percent of the dangerous sites I’ve visited, Norton Internet Security 2011’s Web protection popped up before the others, warning — and stopping — me from getting to the site. Those Norton missed were spotted by either ClearCloud, WOT, IE’s SmartScreen, or Firefox’s protection.

Norton's Web site protection
Norton’s Web site protection.

Using layers of nonconflicting protection — a security suite, such as Norton, Kaspersky, AVG, Panda, and so on — as well as ClearCloud (or OpenDNS), WOT, and Firefox’s built-in tool, I feel super-protected. I urge you do to the same.

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]

1 Comment


1 Comments For This Post

  1. Microsoft CRM Says:

    Steve well done. You have done a great job.
    When i open few websites, Same error came in front of me. so i think this is the same case.
    You have given a great article to and Awesome information. 😉