If you are serious about securing your system, you are in for a treat today, because I have a free security application that is going to help protect your PC in new, proactive ways. It’s called SiteAdvisor and it’s actually been around since April of 2005 when a group of students from MIT got tired of cleaning all the spyware and spam out of their folks’ PCs on school holidays.
On April 5, 2006, McAfee bought the program and is now offering the SiteAdvisor freely. Well, I guess before you get too excited about that, you might want to know what SiteAdvisor is and what it can do for you.
SiteAdvisor can protect your system like no other security program on the market today. As SiteAdvisor says, “it’s like having a bodyguard to surf the Web.” It informs you of sites before you visit them, letting you know if they contain spyware, adware, unwanted software, spam, phishing, popups, online fraud and identity theft, etc. SiteAdvisor calls these “social engineering” attacks, meaning that the user has to usually be lured to an attacker’s Web site, which is usually done in a number of really sneaky ways.
SiteAdvisor has set Web spiders or Web crawlers all over the Internet that check every Web site that they come across. They then transmit the data back to their huge database. This database has all the information you could want, as about 95 percent of the Internet has been scanned and they are always monitoring, constantly refreshing data with the servers. These Web crawlers actually go through the Web sites signing up for e-mail, filling out registration forms, downloading files (the whole nine yards) to see if the site offers more than you can see.
Here’s some extra detail about what SiteAdvisor tests Web sites for:
- Web sites are tested for excessive popups, phishing and other fraudulent practices. They are also tested for browser exploits. So far, they have tested sites representing more than 95 percent of Web traffic.
- Downloads are analyzed by installing software on test computers and checking for viruses and any bundled adware, spyware or other unwanted programs. They’ve tested more than 475,000 downloads to date.
- Sign-up forms are completed using a one time use e-mail address, so any subsequent e-mail can be tracked. They have tracked the volume and “spamminess” of e-mail from more than 1.3 million places already.
- Feedback from individual users and analysis by SiteAdvisor staff enhances SiteAdvisor’s automated testing.
Now, to fill you in on the details of where the “rubber meets the road,” we are talking about end-user interactions. So, how does all this data specifically help you? SiteAdvisor has a couple of really cool ways in which you can utilize its information and stay safe online. First of all, SiteAdvisor has two plug-ins (add-Ons) that work with either Internet Explorer and they have another plug-in for Firefox. As soon as you get to a Web site using either of these browsers, with the SiteAdvisor plug-in, a small label on your toolbar will indicate (with color) the status of the site you’re visiting.
If you want more information about a site, click on the plug-in and poof, after the smoke clears, you will see that you are back at SiteAdvisor’s Web site. However, you’re not on the homepage, but you’re on the site description page. This is what SiteAdvisor calls a Site Report, which is an information page for the site you wanted more information about. There is all kinds of great information on the site; anything you could really want to know. There is an area for User Comments (by the way, thanks to WorldStart users for the good remarks), and it even has a link diagram that graphically shows the “good” links that are connected to the site.
You can actually do a search from SiteAdvisor’s Web site with no plug-in, using the Site Report search. You can go directly to SiteAdvisor.com and type in the name of the Web site you wish to know more about and select Go. You are then whisked away to a page dedicated to the site in question, with a full detailed report and summary that should satisfy even the most thorough of surfers.
If you install one of the SiteAdvisor plug-ins, you will also notice one of the coolest features, which is a service that labels all of the results of an online search. For example, let’s say you go to Google and do a search for “Computer Tips.” When the first result page comes up, you will see all kinds of little icons next to the Web site links. These icons tell the status of the site, whether it’s a safe site, if caution should be taken or if the site is a threat to your system.
You can go out to SiteAdvisor’s Web site and get a even more information. They have an online tour that you can take to get acquainted with the program. There are tons of support links at the site as well, so you shouldn’t have any problems with functionality or technical issues. The plug-in that SiteAdvisor offers comes available for Firefox or Internet Explorer and you can use both at the same time. SiteAdvisor will complement any security software with its proactive procedure, so you shouldn’t have any conflicts or other issues with existing software.
- Operating System: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Linux and Mac OS X
- Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox 1.0.7 and 1.5 (1.5 recommended)
- Minimum Hardware: 400 Mhz processor, 128 MB RAM, 5 MB free disk space, and an Internet connection
- SiteAdvisor for Firefox is a small extension of only 40K
You can download SiteAdvisor here.
Until next week, stay safe out there.
~ Chad Stelnicki