Category Archives: Internet Explorer

DoNotTrackPlus Gives The Boot To Nosy Internet Trackers

imageSeveral weeks back, I received an invitation from CNET to join a dating website designed especially for those that are 50 years old – or more. OK, it wasn’t exactly an invitation  – it was, in fact, an ad inserted into one of my subscribed  CNET newsletters.

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So what – no big deal you may be thinking. But from my perspective, it is a big deal – here’s why.

In the years that I’ve been Internet connected – 18 years or more – I’ve never referred to, or listed, my actual age (other than to make the point, from time to time, that I’ve been at the computing game for a very long time). Nor, have I ever referred to my marital status (other than in a humorous way in re-commenting on a reader’s initial comment – perhaps).

As it turns out – I am over 50, and I am a bachelor. So, in reality, CNET targeted me precisely. The question is – how did CNET know to target me so effectively and efficiently?

A partial answer is – CNET spies. The fact that CNET spies on site visitors is hardly news. Nor is it news, that the majority of commercial websites engage in spying on site visitors.

SPYING – such a loaded word. Instead of “spying”, let me use a series of descriptors handily thrown around by those engaged in spying on my privacy.

Predictive analytics, customer profiling, customer segmentation, predictive modeling, lifestyle clustering……. all done for my own benefit, of course (according to the intruders). There, now I feel better about being profiled, segmented, and clustered. Not!

I’m certainly not a Luddite and, I understand the cost/benefit associated with using the Internet. But, the rules (such as they were) have changed dramatically in the last year or two. The Data Miner is now on the scene, and gobbling up personal information at a prodigious rate.

Webopedia definition – The two most common forms of data miners are data mining programs that an organization uses to analyze its own data to look for significant patterns, and spyware programs that are uploaded to a user’s computer to monitor the user’s activity and send the data back to the organization, typically so that the organization can send the user targeted advertising.

In a real sense then, it isn’t so much that CNET is aware that I’m 50 plus, or that I’m single that is at issue – since CNET could not/did not develop the specific information I referred to earlier. Instead, this information was undoubtedly culled by any one, or more, of the data miners that have infected the Internet and, using “predictive modeling” rolled out a “best guess” that I’m in my fifties and single.

And that makes me feel not only “profiled, segmented, and clustered” but, as if I’ve been “diced and sliced”. I have, in essence, become a product. A product, I’m afraid, that’s closing in on its “best before date”.    Smile

A product that LiveIntent, working on behalf of CNET, targeted based on (according to the company’s site), gender, age, geo, browser, and time of day. I should point out, that according to LiveIntent’s promotional material, the foregoing “is just the tip of the iceberg”. Of that, I have no doubt.

The other side of the coin is – and there is another side of the coin – Internet users (by and large), have been trained to accept a tradeoff in order to get access to “free” information and services. In return – they buy into the condition that each commercial site they visit has the right to spy and build a profile on their browsing habits – the type of sites they visit and revisit, time spent on sites, their shopping and spending habits, their political views, their marital status (it appears), and much more. Some tradeoff!

In the long term, the personal information gathered will be sold, bartered and traded (to bypass the disclaimer – “we will not sell your information”), so that it can be used in multiple ways that generate profit. And, that’s the upside. If there’s one thing the Internet has taught us, it’s – if information can be abused – it will be abused.

If you’re like me, and you staunchly oppose the collection of your personal information, then you’re likely aware of any number of Browser tools which claim to shutout nosy data miners. In fact, I’ve reviewed many of these tools here.

One free tool which I haven’t reviewed until now (although, I wish I had earlier) is DoNotTrackPlus – a free Browser add-on from Abine (the online privacy company).

In the several weeks I’ve been running with DoNotTrackPlus, I’ve found that this add-on lives up to it’s reputation for excellence.

The following screen captures emphasize just how pervasive online tracking has become. And, more importantly, how DoNotTrackPlus puts the boots to these invasive parasitic data miners.

A selected result, from earlier today, while reading my local newspaper online.

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Cumulative results since installing this add-on. You’ll note, the rather staggering tracking company total.

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Abine’s Internet privacy view:

There is a huge difference between sharing personal information and having it taken. That’s why we’ve created Internet tools and services for those who want a say in how and when their information is used. And since we think exercising your right to online privacy should be easy, our solutions allow regular people just like you to regain and maintain control over their personal information – while continuing to enjoy all the wonderful things the web has to offer.

If you find yourself agreeing with this concept – and, you want a say in how and when your privileged information is used – take DoNotTrackPlus for a test drive. I suspect that you’ll be reluctant, in future, to surf the Internet without DoNotTrackPlus in place.

Fast facts:

Free tool that puts you back in control of your information.

Stops more than 600 trackers.

When you visit a website DoNotTrackPlus blocks tracking technologies from:

· Seeing and collecting your web activity such as what sites you visit and what you view.

· Putting cookies on your machine that would continue to store information about your Internet browsing.

· Displaying ads with tracking capability, including the annoying ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go.

Compatible with Mac or PC for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

Automatically updates to catch new trackers.

Download at the developer’s site: Abine

Click on the graphic below to view a video of DoNotTrackPlus in action.

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Additional information is available on the company’s FAQ site.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Online Privacy, Safari

MyProtect – A Free Armored Browser Service

imageSince system security (while you surf the Net), starts with the Web Browser – armored, virtualized, sandboxed, security add-ons, privacy, (or the lack of), secure browsing – are all words (and many more besides), that are part of the “safe surfing” Browser Wars lexicon.

Applications that promise to keep you, and your computer system safe, as you wander the raucous and potentially dangerous neighborhood that the Internet has become, (employing one, or more, of the technoligies mentioned above), are emerging like dandelions following a Spring rain.

MyProtect, a free secure Internet browsing service, is one more application/service in the Browser protection scheme marketplace – with a bit of a twist.

From the developer’s site:

MyProtect provides you with a protected browser session from any PC. When you launch MyProtect, a new instance of Internet Explorer with an orange border and toolbar will open on your desktop. Any web sessions within that browser are protected from a variety of security and privacy threats.

Note that you can launch MyProtect from browsers such as Firefox, but the secured browser itself is always IE.

You can keep a MyProtect armored browser open for up to 2 hours; after that, you’ll need to come back to the site and re-launch MyProtect. There’s also a 30 minute idle timeout.

How MyProtect Works:

MyProtect works by downloading a small, temporary agent onto your PC when you launch MyProtect from the site (registration required). This agent then launches a secure “armored browser” session, identified by a distinctive orange border and toolbar.

Information entered by you into the armored browser, or delivered to the armored browser by a web site, is protected from malware – even if you’re using a machine which is already infected with malware, the MyProtect armored browser session is secure from threats such as keyloggers, cache miners, and frame grabbers.

All sensitive session data such as browser cache files, cookies, passwords, and history information is kept private during the session and is completely erased when your MyProtect session ends.

Secure Cleanup – At the end of the session, all encrypted content is deleted and overwritten using a U.S. Department of Defense specification

Developer’s site: MyProtect

System requirements: Windows XP SP2 or later (32-bit), Windows Vista (32-bit or 64-bit), or Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit). Internet Explorer 7 or higher installed (session can be started with any modern browser). JavaScript enabled. ActiveX or Java applets enabled.

Note: MyProtect shares its name with a rogue anti-spyware application.

Bottom line:

I ran with MyProtect for several days, and in the end, determined – this is the type of service that fits into my personal “it’s not worth the trouble category”. Which is not to say, that MyProtect may not have value for other users – perhaps you.

Whether it has value to you or not, will depend on the methods and the applications you currently use to safeguard your Internet sessions.

FYI:

I test many more software applications than ever appear here in a review article. Some applications don’t make the cut because they simple don’t live up to the developer’s hype. Others, are just more trouble than they’re worth.

Occasionally, as in this case, I will post a review on an application or service which doesn’t make the cut.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Browsers, cybercrime, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Firefox, Free Internet Protection, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Explorer, Malware Protection, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Microsoft Using Windows Update To Market IE 9

This morning, Mary-Jo Foley’s – All About Microsoft column reported that Microsoft is pushing out IE 9, via Windows Update, months ahead of schedule.

Mary-Jo went on to say “Some users were none too happy about this, given they had been expecting Microsoft to push the update to them — and their users (if they are administrators for larger networks) — for a couple more months.”

Curious, I opened my Windows Update applet and sure enough, there it was – marked as “Important”.

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My first though was neutral – it’s understandable that Microsoft is being  aggressive in IE 9 product placement. Particularly, when Firefox’s unprecedented and record setting downloads continue to impress. Since I’m not an IE user, I simply removed the update notice.

Later in the morning while cruising on my home page, up popped the following – despite the fact I have pop-ups blocked automatically in Firefox 4, which, all things considered, does less than an adequate job.

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This time my first thought was not neutral – it annoyed me that MSN overrode my Browser settings, and interrupted my session, to market a Microsoft specific product.

I’m well aware that Browsers hand off volumes of information to responding web sites, but I have an aversion to being reminded of that fact in this way.

I have no objection to Microsoft providing a link to IE 9 on my home page, after all – it’s their page.

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But, I do object to this type of direct marketing for a product I have no interest in.

You might think that this is a petty, don’t get your knickers in a knot, complaint, but maybe not. It clearly illustrates the point that Regular reader John B. made in a comment on yesterday’s article – Take Control Of Your Internet Privacy With BetterPrivacy Firefox Add-on.

John was right when he stated “The ad purveyors exploit our laziness by pretending they are our friends and are only wishing to make the internet more user-friendly. In fact they are grooming us for their own ends – sound familiar?”

If you’re a long time Internet user, then you’re familiar with the scourge of pop-ups we had to contend with previously- until Browsers gave us the ability to apply controls to restrict unwanted notices, advertising, etc.

In my view, Microsoft’s use of a pop-up is regressive, and takes me to a place I’d rather not be. But then, as John B. alludes to – users have been conditioned not to complain. Except perhaps, “mouthy” people like me.

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8 Comments

Filed under Browsers, Freeware, Internet Explorer, Microsoft, Point of View

Who’s Still Using IE 6? – Some Outrageous Surprises

image One of the most frequently repeated pieces of advice on this site is – “Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched, and up to date”. Sounds like good, practical advice – and it is. But as those of us involved in computer security know; this is advice that is not always followed.

Up to a point, I can understand why an occasional user might not be as careful when it comes to following this advice, as a more seasoned user. But what I will never understand is – why a company (of any size), or a government agency, would not recognize the critical need to follow this advice.

We’re all familiar with this statement – “Microsoft issues security advisory on IE vulnerability.” I’m not picking on Microsoft, since experience has taught us that every Browser can be compromised by cybercriminals. And current statistics indicate, Internet Explorer 8 may, in fact, be the “safest” Browser – at least for the moment. Some may dispute this, and that’s fair enough, since many of the metrics used to measure Browser safety are highly variable.

What’s beyond dispute though, is the continued use of Internet Explorer 6 delivers an invitation to the cybercriminal world to play havoc on computer systems.

Internet Explorer 6 has been referred to, in addition to many other flavorful descriptions, as “the least secure software on the planet” and “the worst tech product of all time”.

So, I find it difficult to understand why an 8 year old Browser, (it was released in August, 2001, shortly after the completion of Windows XP), with an horrendous reputation for system safety, continues to be used by any reasonably informed user. But it is being used – and you might be surprised to learn, just who it is that continues to use it.

As a serious Blogger, I use a number of tools including StatCounter, which allows me to listen to my readers, and to determine what it is they need – what they want to read, and what’s important to them. One of the information metrics produced by StatCounter is information on the Browser used by the reader, along with the Host name and location.

In the following example, (December 4, 2009), 2 visits are from a business, and one visit is from a bank – both using using IE 6. Host address is not included here for privacy reasons.

IE 6

Just to be clear – the following Browsers (in order of preference), are used to reach this site:

IE 7 and 8

Firefox 3.0 through 3.5

Chrome 3.0 through 4.0

Safari 3.1 through 4.0

*Internet Explorer 6

Opera 10

Various flavors of the Mozilla Browser

What I find surprising in these statistics is, the continued use of Internet Explorer 6. Even more surprising though is, who’s still using this outdated and incredibly insecure Browser – many U.S. Government sites (including some Defense Department sites), and some very well know commercial enterprises. There are of course, some non-commercial users in this IE 6 group – but not many.

To put this in perspective – approximately 25% of the 3,000 (+ or -), daily visits to this site, are from Universities/Colleges, Government agencies (local and national), Business, and Law Enforcement Agencies (local and national), and roughly 15% of these business and government visitors are still using Internet Explorer 6.

I have yet to see an educational institution, or a law enforcement agency, visiting this site, still using IE 6. But 15%+ of business and government visitors are still using this Browse despite the increased security risk doing so creates.

In January of this year, security advisory site Secunia reported 142 vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 6 – 22 of which were unpatched at that time. Many of these vulnerabilities were rated moderately critical in severity.

Even today (December 5, 2009), Secunia’s advisory affecting Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.x, with all vendor patches applied, still rates this application’s security vulnerabilities as “Highly critical”.

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So here’s my question: With the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals, particularly in cybercrimes directed at business and government, (and we know that cybercriminals are currently targeting small and medium sized businesses), why would a business or government agency continue to use Internet Explorer 6?

It would definitely impact my decision as to whether to do business with a particular organization (holding my confidential information), if I was aware that business still employed Internet Explorer 6.

This is not a scientific survey of Internet Explorer 6 usage in business, or government, and I’m aware of the lack of applied methodology. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence is often reasonably representative of reality, and in this case, I believe it is, since I’ve been watching IE 6 usage here for over a year.

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Filed under Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Internet Safety, Microsoft, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Safari, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Ransomware in Your Browser

image Ransomware, a vicious form of malware, is nothing new. It has been around in one form or another, since the late 1980’s.

Once installed on a victim’s computer, the Trojan will generally encrypt the victim’s files, after which the cyber-criminal demands a monetary ransom to decrypt the kidnapped files.

The ever creative cyber criminal community has now gone one better, with the release of Trojan.Ransompage. This piece of malware is designed to kidnap the victim’s Internet browser, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera.

Note: The latest update of Firefox is apparently unaffected. Another good reason to update.

According to Symantec, Trojan.Ransompage “uses scare or nuisance tactics – similar to rogue antivirus programs, in an attempt to demand ransom from its victims. Once infected with Trojan.Ransompage, a victim’s browser will display a persistent inline ad on every page that the victim visits”.

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Roughly translated from Russian, the ransom demand reads in part:

To remove the informer, send SMS message with text [5-digit number] to number [4-digit number].
Enter the code, received in response, MC

Affected Systems: Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, Server 2003

System Impact:

Deletes Files: Deletes Web Browser files.

Modifies Files: Modifies Web Browser files.

Releases Confidential Info: May send confidential information to a remote location.

Degrades Performance: Displayed image may degrade Web Browser performance.

Action you can take if infected:

According to Symantec, “the ransomware is designed to expire in 30 days, so anyone who falls victim to the infection can remove it simply by setting their system clock forward one month”.

Common sense security precautions:

Make regular backups of critical data. If you are infected this may be your only solution

Don’t store critical data on the system partition

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer

Install a personal firewall on the computer

Install anti-virus/anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure your anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

The authorities need to kick some ass here, and determine who owns the contact phone number and close it down. How hard is that?

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Filed under Browsers, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Firefox, Interconnectivity, Internet Explorer, internet scams, Internet Security Alerts, Malware Advisories, Ransomware, Rogue Software, scareware, Symantec, System Security, trojans, Windows Tips and Tools

Optimize Windows Security With Free Cerberus Security Guard

Increase Security/Change System Settings

Every running service on your computer can be an unnecessary security vulnerability. If a service is not required for authorized users and system functionality, it may well be to your advantage to turn it off.

If you’re a Techie, or a highly skilled computer user, it’s very likely that you have the knowledge and skill to make adjustments to virtually all of your operating system manually, using the Services option of Administrative Tools to attain maximum performance.

But a novice, casual, or even an intermediate computer user, will often need a software tool to help determine which services and system components can be safely modified.

Fortunately, there are a number of free tools available that will help any computer user, novice or not, to determine which services or system components can be safely modified.

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Cerberus Security Guard, a free application from Best Security Tips, will allow a user to increase system security by disabling or optimizing selected services and system components from a central console. As well, modifications can be made to the operations of Internet Explorer, FireFox/Mozilla, and Media Player.

Since adjusting service settings incorrectly has the potential to create some rather nasty problems, the program offers both a Backup and a Restore function.

An additional advantage in optimizing services and system components is it can often lead to improvements in system performance and boot time; although it’s fair to say that in the Tech community there is some disagreement as to whether this is an accurate statement.

If you decide to install this small application you can determine for yourself if you’ve had an improvement in system performance.

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There were a number of things on installation that bothered me – I don’t like applications that configure themselves to auto start on boot; this one did. Since I have WinPatrol installed, it was easy to disallow auto start.

I particularly dislike applications that seek screen access; but again, since I run SnoopFree Privacy Shield on my XP Pro test systems, it was easy to reject this request. Finally, this is one more application that offers to install a so called “Security Toolbar” – automatic rejection.

Quick facts:

Manage Windows security and privacy settings

Central console to make adjustments

Modify Internet Explorer, FireFox/Mozilla, and Media Player

Backup and Restore function

System Requirements: Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Microsoft .NET Framework

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Firefox, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Internet Explorer, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, System Tweaks, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Microsoft Releases Internet Explorer 8 Today

internet-explorer-8 I know one shouldn’t run a Beta in a production environment, but despite this old truism, I have been running Windows 7 as my main, at home OS, for several months. I’m not unusual in this; virtually all of my tech associates have been doing the same thing.

Since Internet Explorer 8 (beta), is the onboard Internet browser packaged with Win 7, I have had ample opportunity to run IE 8 and put it through its paces.

Quick verdict:

In my view, this offering from Microsoft will not close the gap with FireFox. It’s still slow, and cumbersome; Microsoft at its best. There’s just not enough here to convince me to change from FireFox 3.

Internet Explorer 7 has had its fair share of problems, so it is advisable that you update to IE 8 if you are an IE 7 user.

IE 8 Personal

Quick facts: (From Microsoft)

  • Accelerators – Accelerators let you map directions, translate words, email your friends, and more in just a few mouse clicks.
  • InPrivate Browsing – Browse the web without saving your history with Internet Explorer 8’s InPrivate Browsing.
  • Web Slices – Keep up with changes to the sites you care about most. Add a Web Slice and you won’t have to go back to the same website again and again for updates on news, stock quotes, online auctions, weather, or even sports scores.
  • Search suggestions – Search smarter with detailed suggestions from your favorite search providers and browsing history. See visual previews and get suggested content topics while you type in the enhanced Instant Search Box.
  • SmartScreen Filter – New security features help to protect you against deceptive and malicious websites which can compromise your data, privacy and identity.
  • Redesigned New Tab page – The New Tab page loads quickly and provided links make it easier to get started on your next browsing activity:
  • Reopen closed tabs – Reopen a tab that you’ve closed in your current browsing session, which can be helpful when a tab is accidentally or prematurely closed.
  • Reopen your last browsing session – Reopen all tabs that were open when Internet Explorer 8 was last closed, which can be useful if you accidentally close the browser.
  • Improved Zoom – Adaptive Page Zoom improves upon traditional zoom-in/zoom-out functionality in the browser by intelligently relaying out the page content and eliminating the need to scroll left and right.
  • A better back button – When using rich applications such as mapping on the Internet, you may be taken to the beginning of the application instead of the previous page when you hit the back button. Now when you hit the back button, more pages will behave the way you expect.

Download at: Microsoft

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Filed under Browsers, Don't Get Hacked, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Explorer, internet explorer 8, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools