Irrespective of the browser you use, irrespective of the security software installed on your system if you are using Windows you are never truly secure. There is always the possibility that a trojan horse or a worm may sneak through. There is always the possibility that someone may exploit a zero-day vulnerability present in your browser.
So, what is the solution? The best solution is to completely separate the browser from your system so that your browsing session doesnï¿½t affect the system. This is called creating a sandbox – a virtual container in which untrusted programs can be safely run (more info is available at Wikipedia). There are two free and easy to use solutions that I recommend.
Sandboxie creates a safe environment – which is separated from your operating system, for applications to operate in. It tracks all requests made by an application and makes sure that actual system files are never modified. Restrictions put in place by Sanboxie also ensures that threats like rootkits and keyloggers aren’t installed in the Sandbox itself as well as the system. Sandboxie is a donationware and almost all the features are available for free (more info). Sandboxie is a very powerful software with plethora of options. It should work with most applications. I tested it with Opera and didnï¿½t run into any problem. It allows you to even create and manage multiple sandboxes. However, the free version of Sandboxie doesn’t automatically sandbox particular applications when they are launched. There is another issue with Sandboxie – files downloaded using a sandboxed application are not normally visible in Windows Explorer. Sandboxie replicates the actual directory structure on your hard disk and places the downloaded files in its own ‘Application Data’ folder.
Download Sandboxie (230KB/320KB)
Requirements : Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista (64 bit edition also available)
Version Reviewed : 2.86 (Freeware)
Licensing : Donationware
Another option is an application from Trustware called Bufferzone. Bufferzone is available for P2P File Sharing Softwares, Web Browsers and Instant Messengers. BufferZone for Web Browsers work with Internet Explorer, Internet Explorer Shells like Maxthon and Avant, Firefox, Opera and Download Accelerator Plus. However, the free version offers protection for only one software. This should be sufficient for most users. Once installed Bufferzone sits quietly in the system tray and jumps into action as soon as you launch your browser (or p2p file sharing software or instant messenger as the case may be). Now anything downloaded by your browser is saved in the Bufferzone. File saved in the Bufferzone are visible in Windows Explorer but Bufferzone files have a red border around their icons. You can add additional files to Bufferzone by right clicking on them and selecting “Move to BufferZone” from the context menu. Similarly to release files from BufferZone select “Move out of BufferZone” option. And what happens if the zone created using BufferZone gets infected? You can simply clean your Bufferzone and it would be as good as new. The working principle behind BufferZone is explained here. You can find a list of threats Bufferzone protects you form here.
So which one is better? Frankly speaking I am not sure. Last year Techsupportalert had tested eight sandboxing software and both BufferZone and Sandboxie performed very well. Bufferzone has a more intuitive interface but itï¿½s free version is limited to only one program. Sandboxie can be slightly annoying to use but it uses less system resources and it more funtional than BufferZone Free.
So am I suggesting that you donï¿½t need an antivirus software or firewall? Not for a moment. Remember that the internet isnï¿½t the only source of infection. These virtualization software should be the first line of defencen and not the only line of defense. In order for these software to be most effective you should also clear your BufferZone/Sandbox regularly. However, if used properly Sandboxie and Bufferzone are able enough to prevent any infection. In fact Trustware is so confident about their software that they are willing to pay $500 to anyone who can prove that itï¿½s possible to get infected while running an application inside the BufferZone. Interested in taking up the challenge?