ForceField brings virtualization to the masses

GCN Lab review: ZoneAlarm ForceField uses virtualization technology to keep your PC safe from the Web

GCN

On the old TV show 'Lost in Space,' the Robinson family, stranded on a strange planet in the far reaches of the universe, had an effective protection system. Every night they would deploy an invisible force field around their spaceship home, the Jupiter 2, protecting it from rock monsters and any aliens that may have been angered by Dr. Smith, the cowardly stowaway.

Sometimes surfing the Internet these days can feel a little like being lost in space, only now the rock monsters are criminals trying to steal your keystrokes and passwords.

[IMGCAP(1)]ForceField, Internet security software developed by CheckPoint Software's consumer division ZoneAlarm, made me feel almost as secure as I used to imagine Will Robinson felt when the family blanketed the ship with the invisible force field bubble.

ZoneAlarm ForceField is based on virtualization technology. It copies all the files on your computer that the Internet can write to, and puts them in a virtual space, a sandbox, on your hard drive.

With ForceField, if I choose to download a file from the Web, it goes to a real file system, same as always. But if something I don't choose to download tries to get into my PC -- say, a drive-by download from a Web site that is hosting malicious software -- ForceField sends those files into the sandbox, where they can do no damage. ForceField also jams keylogger or screengrabber software and renders it useless.

The software also rates sites by factors such as date created and the existence or lack of a security signature. Older sites tend to be more stable and malicious sites won't spend money on a signature, the theory goes.

Taking up about 5M, ForceField took less than a minute to download from the ZoneAlarm Web site at www.zonealarm.com. Once you've downloaded it and entered a license key, it adds a blue banner just below your browser's navigation bar, with three buttons: Protection Activity, Site Status and Private Browser.

A click on the Protection Activity Button shows how many threats ForceField has protected you from and what kind. In the first minute I had it running, ForceField shielded me from five threats. Take that, Web rock monsters!

For each Web site you visit, the Site Status button shows
  • Whether the site is a known phishing or spyware distributor
  • When the site was registered.
  • The country where the site is located.
  • Whether it has a valid Secure Sockets Layer certificate signed by a trusted authority.

Click on the Private Browser feature, and ForceField will keep Web pages you visit from being added to your computer's history; erase information from Autofill, including names and passwords; and block all cookies.

Remember the robot on 'Lost in Space'? 'Danger, warning!' he'd yell and wave his vacuum cleaner hose arms around. ForceField does that in a way, too, popping up a red alert window if you encounter a site that's a spyware distributor, one of the few times ForceField will interrupt what you're doing. ForceField surrounds your browser with a very subtle, glowing white light that you don't notice at first. But once you notice it, it gives you a warm, reassured feeling--the soft glow shows ForceField is protecting your computer like a real force field.

It felt empowering to have so much information about a Web site available at a single click. I was a bit surprised at the location of some Web sites. Some say the American empire is in decline, but from my browsing of Web sites using ForceField, the U.S. is still the mightiest superpower on the Web. Many Web sites I had assumed would be located overseas were in fact right here in the good old U.S. of A.

For example, I checked my favorite British tabloid, the Sun, at www.thesun.co.uk, by clicking on the Site Status button. The newspaper's location is listed as'the United States. Ditto that bastion of Parisian style, Paris Match magazine at www.parismatch.com. But I was gratified to see that the Vatican site at www.vatican.va had its address listed as 'Vatican City State, Europe.' You'll also be glad to know that the Vatican Web site is not a known phishing or spyware distributor.

I noticed a very slight degradation of surfing speed after I installed ForceField, but the company says it's announcing a speedier version in the next few weeks.

ForceField supports Internet Explorer 6 and 7 and Mozilla Firefox 2.0 and 3.0. If you want an extra bubble of security between you and the monsters on the Web, $29.99 is a small price to pay.

ZoneAlarm, 1-877-966-5221, www.zonealarm.com

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