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August 2006

More Tools To Protect You on the Internet

I have written many times about the dark side of the Internet: those sites that bring you scams, unwanted pornography, spyware, and pop-up ads, among other problems. To be sure, the Internet provides some wonderful benefits as well. However, today, I want to provide you and your family with tools to help protect you from the evils of the Internet.

You may have tried security software to block unwanted drug and sex ads or false advertising on fantastic stock picks and low interest loans. Even if you tried security software to block these problems, the software often does not help you identify problem websites. Of course, your best response is always to delete the advertising e-mails without reading them, avoid unfamiliar websites, or ignore the pop-up ads because you never know if the innocent-looking e-mail or its link, website, or ad may end up giving your computer a virus, corrupting your computer data, or even taking over your computer.

Would you like to know in advance if a website contains harmful software, a scam, unwanted pornography or unwanted pop-ups? Walter S. Mossberg, in his “Personal Technology” column in the Wall Street Journal, recently featured two free services that provide such advance notice. His article certainly caught my attention and I decided I should share the information with you.

The two services are “SiteAdvisor” and “Scandoo.” Both work on Windows and Macintosh computers and were created by security firms.

SiteAdvisor works through a software plug-in that you can download and install from www.siteadvisor.com. The plug-in modifies your web browser so that it can identify problem websites. Every time you consider using a new site, it will notify you whether it tested the site and determined that: 1) it’s “safe,” 2) requires “caution” because it contains some potential security issues, or 3) it needs to give you a “warning” because the site has serious issues like it wants to send you lots of spam e-mails or unwanted adware. The software even uses color to code sites by using green for safe, yellow for caution, and red for warning.

Scandoo, available at www.scandoo.com, does not require you to download any software. However, Scandoo requires you to enter a search term at its website rather than at your homepage or through the search box of a search engine such as Google. Scandoo will then transfer you to your favorite search engine and change the “results page” to indicate whether or not the site may cause a problem. However, be aware that the site currently only works with the Google or MSN search engines.

Walter Mossberg performed tests on both sites and notices some differences. He found that SiteAdvisor consistently flagged more websites as being problematic than did Scandoo. He believes this may be caused in part because SiteAdvisor is not only looking for viruses and spyware, but it is also looking for sites that may bring you unwanted spam e-mails or pop-up ads. On the other hand, Scandoo allows you to filter websites by allowing you to specify which kinds of content you want to flag, including hate speech, gambling sites, and sexually oriented matter. I am trying both services and I will report my experiences to you in a later column.

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