Firewall Guard Dog barks at cookies, viruses and dubious pages

Guard Dog has lots of optional tools to block various Net threats such as cookies,
which are files sent to your computer by many of the Web pages you view.


Cookies speed access to desired information, but they also store data about your PC and
files, track sites you visit, and send this information back to the operator of the Web
site that originated them--or to any other site that requests them.


Guard Dog blocks cookies in an intelligent way. It can either block or accept all
cookies, but it does selective blocking, too.


Once you accept or reject the first cookie from a Web page, Guard Dog sets that as the
default for the page. You can edit the preferences later on a site-by-site basis.


When Guard Dog notifies you of an attempt to send a cookie, it advises you whether to
accept. I found the advice reasonable.


You can set different accept, block and ask-before-blocking defaults for sites you
access directly and those to which other sites direct you.


Secure Web sites seldom warn you that any confidential information you enter there will
remain in your browser until you exit it, even if you log off the secure site. The data in
your browser might be retrieved by other sites you visit during the same session.


Guard Dog's MyInfo Filter blocks personal data or search information from passing from
one Web site to another, which could happen even if no cookie is sent.


As you surf the Web, your browser maintains a trail of where you went and the searches
you conducted. Guard Dog's Clean Up option lets you delete those records when you log off.


Some programs log on to the Internet to update harmless files. Malicious programs can
do the same thing. Such a program could plant itself in your computer without your
knowledge if you store your user name and password in your auto-dialer.


Guard Dog's Internet Access Monitor blocks this activity. The first time a program
tries to open a Web connection, you are notified and asked to approve or deny access. Your
decision becomes the default, but you can edit the permissions later.


The File Guardian stops any unauthorized software from accessing important files on
your computer and later transmitting information such as passwords or financial data.


Guard Dog's System Monitor alerts you when:


Guard Dog scans files and programs for virus infections on a specified schedule. The
schedule can include startup as well as specific times on specific days, or certain
events, such as when a file is opened or the floppy drive is accessed.


A nice touch is a virus encyclopedia listing 2,000 common viruses. This is not
searchable, but the viruses are listed alphabetically, accompanied by a description of
where their code resides, file sizes, how they infect and what damage they do.


An anti-virus program is only as good as its updates. Guard Dog goes online for updates
of virus data, updates of Guard Dog itself and even of your browser software, via the
included Oil Change utility from CyberMedia.


There are many ways to customize operation, but they are well-hidden and have
intelligent defaults. Installing Guard Dog without making any changes will give you a high
level of protection for your files and privacy.


The Security Check feature performs an immediate virus scan and looks for other
problems in Privacy Check and Security Check functions.


Privacy Check looks for files containing data about your Internet activities and helps
you remove them if you haven't selected automatic cleanup each time you exit the Web.


Security Check shows which programs have permission to access the Net and monitors
files you want to protect. It generates an interactive report so you can view details and
make changes immediately.


Security-conscious users already do most of these things, but Guard Dog automates them.
Novice users or those who supervise PCs will find Guard Dog a valuable tool for improving
security.


I did encounter some confusing behavior in Guard Dog, which is not reassuring in a
security program. When I tried to clear cookies in Internet Explorer, Guard Dog first
reported it was erasing them. Then it returned a message that Explorer was keeping the
files, and indeed they weren't deleted.


I switched to MS-DOS, deleted the files and the next day tried again with a new set of
cookies. This time Guard Dog notified me it had erased some cookies and no longer
displayed them in the message box. But when I looked in c:\windows\cookies, they were
still there and not in the Recycle Bin.


It turned out they had been marked for deletion because, after a reboot, the cookies
were gone.


So check your trash bin to confirm deletions--and remember that some files may not be
deleted unless you exit Microsoft Windows 95 properly.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.


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