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Computers connected to the Web enable us to gather an amazing amount of information about products we are considering buying, or about companies that we may wish to patronize or in which we may wish to invest. Alas, the Web can also provide others with a tremendous amount of information about us — our credit card and social security numbers, how we use the Internet, what pages of which Web sites we patronize, and lots of other things we might consider “private”. We have no idea how any of this information may be used, but is it farfetched that a health insurance company might pay to learn who is searching a medical site for information on AIDS or cancer? And what if an otherwise faithful LAN guru in your mega-lawfirm notes that your M&A people are spending a lot of time researching a particular company and decides to place a small wager with some Web-based stock broker? Most of what I do isn’t all that secret, but I find it at least vaguely unsettling that others can look over my virtual shoulder without my knowledge or permission. ANONYMOUS BROWSING For years, I’ve known about so-called anonymous browsers — Web sites that act as proxy servers and hide your identity from the sites that you visit as you browse the Web. Some cost money, some were slow or otherwise didn’t work all that well. Safeweb takes the procedure a little further, and not only protects your surfing from the prying eyes of the Web sites that you access, but the screen you download, to boot. Point your Browser to www.safeweb.com, enter the name of the Web site you’re attempting to access, and hit Enter. SafeWeb sets up a secure connection between your computer and the SafeWeb site, using up to 128 bit SSL technology. As the encryption runs directly between SafeWeb and your computer, no one, including sophisticated sniffing equipment that may be run by your ISP or by your own IT director, will be able to see what sites you are reading or the files you are downloading. Also, the name of the accessed Web site never appears in your Browser list as a previously accessed site. EASY TO USE Afer establishing a secure connection with you, SafeWeb then establishes a normal connection between its server and the Web site you were attempting to access. The accessed Web site never sees your IP address, only SafeWeb’s address. The accessed Web site’s user logs will never see you. Your browser screen looks a little different, with the standard address tool bar changed to one featuring the SafeWeb name. The screen available for Web traffic is a little smaller than before, but the difference is hardly noticeable. NO CAL COOKIES A Web “cookie” is a small file that may contain your name, user id, screen setup, account number or anything else that a Web developer may want to place in it. Any Web site can cause a cookie to be stored on your hard disk, if you permit it. The next time you sign on to that Web site, the developer can retrieve the cookie and use the information. This may be convenient if it avoids the necessity of logging in and remembering your password, but a cookie might also be generated by so-called “SpyWare”, a program unknown to you that can gather information about your computer and computing, and eventually return the information to the originator. The user has the option of barring cookies from being deposited by adjusting his browser. Netscape users go to the “advanced” option from the “preferences” command on the “edit” pull-down menu. Internet Explorer users will find similar options can be found on the “security settings” tab from the “internet options” command on the “tools” pull-down. If the Web site accessed through SafeWeb sends a cookie, the file will be stored on SafeWeb’s site, and sent to you as a “SafeWeb cookie”. SafeWeb has a cookie control scheme that is similar to those available from your browser, but includes the ability to recognize files that may act as SpyWare, to notify you when such files are received, to tell you what company sent the file and, as with the browser controls, to let you accept or reject the cookie. (SafeWeb can also be set to automatically reject the irritating pop-up windows that appear, unbidden, from time to time on impolite Web sites.) SafeWeb has an alternative access method that is a little faster, but a little less secure. Enter www.lawtechreview.safeweb.com and SafeWeb will set up the connection with www.lawtechreview.com in one step. Unlike the two-step method, the name “lawtechreview” will appear on your visited site list, a problem if it would be embarrassing for someone else to discover that you visited that Web site. I notice little difference in speed operating with or without SafeWeb, although the program was continually changing between non-secure and secure modes as the process began. I tested SafeWeb on various sites that I regularly use, and had no difficulty doing so. I’m told the program will not work with some plug-ins, and won’t accept streaming audio or video. The developer may eventually charge a fee for commercial users or turn its technology to the security of users of virtual private networks, LANs, and other likely applications. In the meantime, however, SafeWeb will make its money selling custom advertising banners displayed on half of the SafeWeb address bar. SafeWeb performs a useful service; I hope that the company’s unobtrusive advertising is sufficient to pay for it. PLUG THAT FIREWALL SECURITY HOLE I’ve previously recommended erecting a personal firewall on any “always on” Internet connection including that provided by personal DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or cable-modem. I’ve never dealt with the potential intrusion created by cookies, nor the information that every Web site operator can automatically retrieve about anyone who attempts to access his Web site. And what of the so-called Trojan Horse programs deposited on your computer that lurk about until some event occurs, then runs? Such a program could reformat your hard disk, collect information about you in a cookie, or open communications with a third party who can skulk around to gather information from your computer. Of course, such a program might have the benign purpose of reminding you that Microsoft may have some updates to Windows or IE5 that are available for download. To the extent that these programs “call home” — send a message to the originating Web site — upon the occurance of some event, they could send information that would seriously breach your privacy, and you would never know it. A software or hardware firewall that isolates the computer from the Internet can protect you, but only if it works properly. The firewall should prohibit outsiders from accessing your computer, or any program on your computer from accessing the Internet, until you approve that intrusion or access. Of late, I’ve heard rumors of problems with software firewalls being touted for personal use for DSL or cable-modem connections. Steve Gibson, interpid journalist, privacy advocate and computer programmer extraordinare, reports a difficulty with personal firewall software that works from a default list of approved programs. If a third party intruder installs itself under the names of one of the pre-approved programs, the firewall may pass on the intruder’s messages, without any problem. Gibson has put together a freeware program to test this particular firewall problem. Download TestLeak.exe, from http://grc.com/lt/leaktest.htm, run the program, and it will attempt to breach your firewall. If the firewall succeeds with Testleak, Gibson suggests you rename the program on your hard disk and see if that passes. I tested ZoneLabs’ ZoneAlarm which, as Gibson predicted, worked fine. If you are using a personal fire wall, I suggest that you point your browser to the Gibson Web site, read about the security problems and give TestLeak a try. I’d be interested in the results, particularly if the firewall you are using doesn’t pass the leak test. If you’re not using a firewall and are using DSL or a cable-modem, I suggest that you download ZoneAlarm immediately (free for personal use from www.zonelabs.com) as you look around as to how best to protect your computer from these and other problems. SUMMARY If you don’t want others to know what Web sites you are visiting, advertising-based SafeWeb is an anonymous proxy server that not only hides your address, but also sends and receives encrypted information to and from your computer. Does your personal firewall let disguised SpyWare leak messages to its originator? Try Gibson Research’s TestLeak.exe to find out. DETAILS SafeWeb No charge. Requires Web browser, Internet connection, and is otherwise platform independent. SafeWeb, Inc. 520 3rd Street, Oakland, CA 94607-3501 Phone:(510) 625-0055 Fax: (510) 291-2893 www.safeweb.com TestLeak.exe No Charge. Requires IBMPC or compatible running Microsoft Windows 95 or later. Download from http://grc.com/lt/leaktest.htm Gibson Research Corporation 27071 Cabot Road Laguna Hills, CA 92653 Phone: (800) 736-0637 or (949) 348-7100 Fax: (949) 348-7110 Web: www.grc.com E-mail: [email protected]

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