Security

Use STOPzilla to effectively thwart unwanted Internet popups

Popup ads can be a real menace for anyone who uses the Internet a lot. For business users, this can translate into lost productivity. STOPzilla software can quietly block these popups. See how it works, and learn what its strengths and weaknesses are.


Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on the Web is all too familiar with the menace of popup ads. I've lost count of the number of times that I've tried to go to a Web site, mistyped the URL, and ended up on a Web site that floods my screen with never-ending popups.

I don't get a lot of free time for casual surfing, so I don't have to deal with popups that often; even so, it happens often enough that, about a year ago, I installed a popup blocker on the computer I use most often.

About a week later, I uninstalled the popup blocker. I decided that dealing with the popup blocker was actually worse than dealing with the popups themselves. The problem was that the popup blocker I installed blocks all popup windows. Normally, this wouldn't be too big of a deal except that I do all of my banking online. When I go to my bank's Web site, it launches the home banking session in a separate window. The popup blocker interpreted this as an unwanted popup, and, as a result, I was unable to do my banking. What was even worse about the product was that every time it blocked a popup, it displayed a message saying something to the effect that a popup had been blocked. The ironic part was that this message was displayed in, what else, a popup!

When TechRepublic asked me to review a different popup blocker called STOPzilla to see if it was something IT departments could deploy to their users, I was, to say the least, a bit skeptical about the product's capabilities. However, I am happy to report that, although there were a few things I didn't like about STOPzilla, overall it performed much better than that sad-excuse-for-a-popup-blocker that I tried last year.

Installation
Installing STOPzilla is very simple. If you go to STOPzilla.com and click the link to enter the main site, you will see a big, green link that says "Click Here To Download STOPzilla Now!" I absolutely loved that this link was so big and well placed because, on many other sites, you often have to hunt for download links.

When you click on the link, the download and installation process begins. There are no files to manually download or install. The product installs directly off of the Web. Furthermore, the entire package is only 2.5 MB in size. This means that installation will take about 6 minutes for those using a 56K modem and considerably less time for those using broadband connections.

The installation process is one of the easiest I have seen in a long time, and you don't have to answer many questions. When the installation process completes, you are asked to enter your e-mail address and your registration key. You will have received this information by e-mail if you purchased STOPzilla. If you have not yet made a purchase, the installation screen will give you the chance to either purchase the software or to use it for a trial period.

Configuring STOPzilla
Using STOPzilla is just about as simple as installing it. You can see the STOPzilla configuration screen in Figure A. By default, STOPzilla is configured to be automatically enabled when the computer starts up and to play a sound whenever a popup is detected. By default, each time a popup is detected, the popup is automatically added to a Black List.

Figure A
STOPzilla is very easy to configure.


The Black List, shown in Figure B, is a list of sites you have visited that are known to generate popups. When you revisit such a site, all popups are automatically blocked. I would have loved to have seen the Black List already filled with a database of sites known to produce popups, but such a list wasn't included. The nice part of the Black List, though, is that if you visit a site that uses popup windows for a legitimate purpose, the site will be blacklisted, but you can take the site off of the Black List. From then on, the site will be allowed to use popups, unless you reblacklist it.

Figure B
The Black List is a list of sites you have visited that use popups.


Using STOPzilla
After I installed STOPzilla, the first thing I did was visit my bank's Web site to see if I could still do my online banking. For some reason, STOPzilla allowed my bank to use a popup window. I'm not really sure why the popup was allowed, though. It could be that it was allowed because there was only one popup.

Next, I tried checking out the joke-of-the-day. Every day, I receive a joke-of-the day by e-mail. Although the jokes are often amusing, I had actually stopped opening them because doing so generates so many popups. When I opened today's joke, only one popup displayed, and then the joke-of-the-day Web site was automatically added to the Black List.

Next, I read the jokes from the last two weeks. The popup counter at the bottom of the Black List went crazy, but no popups were ever displayed. I then went back to today's joke to see if it would still allow a popup to get through and it didn't. It seems that the Black List works well.

After finishing with the joke-of-the-day, I went to weather.com, a common generator of popups. The site was instantly blacklisted and all popups were blocked. All-in-all, the software seems to be very good at blocking popups without getting in the way of day-to-day business.

Extra features
By now, I was really happy with STOPzilla, so I wanted to check out its extra features. The STOPzilla Web site says that the software includes features for blocking unwanted adware, spyware, and cookies. It also includes a feature that allows you to clear your browser history through STOPzilla. I was very curious to try out these features. The problem was that I couldn't seem to find them. The screens that you see in Figures A and B are the only screens in the entire product.

I made a phone call to STOPzilla's tech support department and asked them how to access these extra features. The tech support staff told me that you can't access the adware or spyware blocker. They just run behind the scenes. You can, however, clear cookies and the browser history by right-clicking on the STOPzilla icon in the taskbar and selecting the appropriate command from the resulting shortcut menu.

Since the software is only 2.5 MB in size, I was very suspicious over whether or not it actually did anything at all to block spyware or adware. I, therefore, visited a few random adult Web sites, since they are notorious for installing spyware and adware on your machine. I then installed a copy of PestPatrol onto my machine to see if it would catch anything that STOPzilla had missed. As you can see in Figure C, PestPatrol caught 28 pests that STOPzilla had missed.

Figure C
Pest Patrol caught a number of pests that STOPzilla missed.


Pricing
You can purchase STOPzilla from the STOPzilla Web site for $19.95. If you would like a copy of the software on CD, it costs an extra $9.95. Additionally, you can order a lifetime's worth of updates for an extra $19.95.

The verdict
In the end, I really liked STOPzilla. It was easy to use and had very little overhead. From the standpoint of blocking popups, it worked exactly the way that it should. However, while STOPzilla does a great job handling popups, I definitely don't recommend using it as a means of blocking adware and spyware. The product is ineffective in this area.

If your company has employees who spend a lot of time on the Internet, then using STOPzilla to control popups can save time and headaches for these users.

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