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Browser Helpers and Browser Safety

05/20/06

Posted by Dave
5 Star Support Security Specialist

Let me say from the start that I am not a very big believer in browser helpers or BHO’s (Browser Helper Object). Many of them have been proven to represent security risks to the user. This is true of most toolbars and deskbars. Most of them contain code that allows them to dial home with Internet usage and surfing habit information when you are on line. The privacy statement from the company that owns the software usually indicates this is done to “help enhance your browsing experience”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that I need my browsing experience “enhanced”. Now that I have said that, there are, however, two browser helpers that I have found and use that actually help increase your security and safety while on the Internet. Good programs of this type are few and far between, but well worth installing when you find a good one.

I never thought I would actually recommend a browser helper or plug-in to anyone, but the usefulness and benefits of the two programs we will discuss here have changed my mind and I actually use both of them. They are both very small programs that also make very light use of system resources, and I have not found that either of them slows down Internet speed at all. Even if they did, the safety enhancements they provide would be worth it and I would still recommend them. Both programs are offered free for the home user, so the price is right too.

Spoof Stick:

With all the phishing scams on the Internet, and many spoofed Web sites as well, it is important to always know what Website you are really connecting to on the Internet. SpoofStick allows you to do just that. The program is very small, very fast, and makes use of almost no system resources. The program works by reading the server of the Web page you requested with your browser and displaying the resulting domain name of the site on your browser’s upper toolbar. This way, you know the true name of the site you are connecting to at all times. The display is user configurable for both display size and color.

This program is available in versions for both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and is made available by Core Street. The Internet explorer version is available here:

http://www.spoofstick.com/

You download the small program and then install it. The current version is v 1.02. You should be logged on with administrator privilege for the actual installation. If you have XP sp2, you should also go to | Tools | Internet Options | Advanced | and check the box to “Enable Third-Party Browser Extensions (requires restart), and then re-boot your computer.

After installation and re-booting your computer, you will most likely have to right-click on your top toolbar and check the SpoofStick toolbar for the plug-in to appear. After it appears, you left click the ‘Options” button and then ‘Configure’ from the drop-down menu. This will allow you to choose the size of the display as well as the color of the font.

Firefox installation is a bit different. You launch the Firefox browser and go to:

http://www.spoofstick.com/firefox.html

Scroll down toward the bottom of the page and you will find the download link.

The current version for Firefox is v 1.06. You should download and install according to the instructions below. You will need to choose a directory to download to, and I personally use a created desktop shortcut to a shared hard drive folder that I name “Downloads” for this purpose. It beats searching all over the hard drive for it later. To install, follow the instructions below carefully, or use the instructions from the Website.

Installation Instructions:
  1. Download spoofstick-firefox.xpi and save it in a local directory.
  2. In Firefox, go to File->Open File and open the spoofstick-firefox.xpi file from where you saved it.
  3. When installation is complete, close all Firefox windows and restart the browser.

Usage Instructions:

  1. SpoofStick just sits there contently displaying the domain name of the site you’re currently on.
  2. Before entering any information into a site, glance up at SpoofStick to confirm that you are where you think you are.
  3. To configure the size and color of the display, right click anywhere on SpoofStick or go to Tools->Options->Extensions, select “spoofstick-firefox.xpi” and click on the “Options” button.
  4. SpoofStick is no longer a toolbar, but a button. To enable SpoofStick, select View->Toolbars->Customize, and drag SpoofStick onto any toolbar. To configure or uninstall SpoofStick, select Tools->Extensions.

If you encounter a problem getting SpoofStick to show up, try right clicking the Firefox toolbar and then left click on “Customize”. Find the SpoofStick icon from the pop-open window, then left click and hold on the icon and drag it to your toolbar to add it. Then you’re all set and ready to customize it to your preferences.

Siteadvisor:

Siteadvisor is the second browser helper or plug-in we will discuss. It is very new, and offered by McAfee. It was put together after a report from McAfee regarding search engine safety and security. The links provided by all major search engines can take the user to a Website that has all kinds of pop-ups, and clicking on certain links and filling in forms can result in receiving unwanted emails and can even subject your computer to drive-by downloads and installs. Siteadvisor is designed to alert you regarding these sites.

If you want the technical details, you can also access the full report here:

http://www.siteadvisor.com/studies/search_safety_may2006.html

If you are an intermediate or advanced user, I recommend you read both – it is a real eye opener regarding your on-line risks when using search engines.

To avoid these risks as much as possible, McAfee has made a program named Siteadvisor available as a free program to the home user. There are versions for both Internet Explorer and Firefox available.

For Internet Explorer users, the program places a small button in the upper right hand corner of the browser toolbar that changes color to alert you if you connect to a suspect site that Siteadvisor has information on. It also places color-coded warnings next to search engine site listings when you use any of the popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo Search, AOL, Ask etc. Left clicking the down arrow of the Siteadvisor box in your browser opens a drop-down menu and allows you to configure the options, and can also provide additional information about the site you are connecting to.

For Firefox users, the program places a small box at the lower right-hand corner of the browser window. Operation is the same as it is for IE users with the exception of location of the Siteadvisor button.

Please note that you should be logged on as an account with administrator privilege to install the program in either browser. For ease in finding your downloaded program file, I recommend creating a desktop folder named “Downloads” to save the files to so you can find them easily after downloading without having to search the hard drive for the files. You can best do this by actually creating the new “Downloads” folder as a shared folder on your hard drive, and then placing a shortcut to it on the desktop. If you do it this way, and use shortcuts on the desktop for both your regular and administrator accounts, the files can be downloaded here as a general user, but they will be easily available from both accounts. It makes the files much easier to find when you log back on as an administrator in order to install files or programs.

Download and installation instructions for the Siteadvisor plug-in, as well as screen shots for Internet Explorer users is located here:

http://www.siteadvisor.com/download/ie.html

If you are a Firefox user, the download, installation instructions and screen shots are available here:

http://www.siteadvisor.com/download/ff.html

In summary, I can honestly say that I use and recommend both of the browser plug-ins we discussed in this paper. I believe both to be very useful and valuable tools to have in your computer. Give both of them a try and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Until next time her on 5 Star Support, happy computing!

Regards,

Dave

 
 

 

 

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