A couple of years ago, the Internet was a relatively safe place to surf. Only the hardcore adult sites relied on page jacking, malicious scripts, and other dirty tricks for advertising. However, as competition is becoming more fierce, these types of advertising techniques are becoming much more common. In fact, just last night, I went to tune in to an online radio station that I frequently listen to, only to be bombarded by about eight to 10 browser windows all advertising something that I had absolutely no interest in. This is where Guard-IE by FailSafe Technologies, Inc comes in. In this article, I’ll show you all of the things that Guard-IE does to protect your system.

Key features
Although my introductory paragraph focused on blocking pop-ups, Guard-IE does much more than just block pop-up windows. One of the product’s primary functions is to help increase security. Guard-IE accomplishes this by intercepting potentially hostile scripts. These include things like Java scripts and ActiveX controls. Malicious scripts can infect your computer with a virus, Trojan horse, spy ware, or just about anything else that you can imagine by running as a part of a Web page. Most antivirus programs are designed to block certain types of scripts, but Guard-IE is designed to compliment your antivirus software by offering an additional layer of protection.

Another way that Guard-IE protects you is by looking out for your privacy. Lots of privacy programs erase the temporary Internet files, cookies, and your history, but Guard-IE takes things a step further. Guard-IE is also designed to clear out all form data that has been entered. This includes things like credit card numbers, password resets, and so on. The application is even designed to clear out the newer data storage mechanisms that are starting to be used in place of cookies.

Of course Guard-IE’s primary feature is a pop-up ad killer. Guard-IE boasts that it is able to block all pop-up and pop-under ads. The software is also able to intercept and block script-based ads, including drop-down ads, Macromedia Flash ads, and just about any other type that you can imagine. What makes this product really shine is that it’s constantly being updated, so as new types of ads are created, the software will be made aware of them.

Installing Guard-IE
Downloading Guard-IE will get you a single, self-extracting executable file. Launching the executable opens the Setup Wizard. The options presented by the Setup Wizard are pretty typical. You’re presented with a Welcome screen, followed by the end user license agreement (EULA). The next screen that you’ll see explains that you must close all Internet Explorer windows before proceeding with the Setup process. Keep in mind that you should also close any Windows Explorer windows as well, since Windows Explorer is based on Internet Explorer. The following screens then prompt you as to the folder that the application should be installed into, as well as the name of the Start menu that should contain the links to the application. When the installation completes, Windows will display the Welcome To Guard-IE screen from the product’s Help section. When you clear this screen, the Setup process is complete.

Configuring Guard-IE
To configure Guard-IE, simply select the Guard-IE command from the Start | Programs | Guard-IE menu.When the interface loads, the Welcome tab is selected. The main Welcome screen explains that you can enable or disable the configuration options that you’ve set on an individual window basis by clicking the icon that has been placed in the system tray. One click disables the rules for the active window, and a second click reenables the rules for that window. Beyond the Welcome screen, Guard-IE is divided into four other tabs: Pop-ups, Privacy, Web Rules, and Other. I’ll explain each of these sections below.

The first main tab is the Pop-ups tab, shown in Figure A. This tab allows you to control the behavior of the pop-up windows that are so abundant throughout the Internet. By default, the software is configured to block all pop-ups. However, you also have the option of displaying the pop-ups as a thumbnail image or displaying them for two seconds or having them fade out.

Figure A
The Pop-ups tab allows you to control how pop-up windows are handled.

If you find the idea of missing out on a bunch of pop-up windows disturbing, then you’ll be happy to know that there are options available that allow you to play a sound when a window has been blocked and to open a blocked window by clicking the link a second time. There is even a pop-up white list. The white list works by blocking pop-ups generated by everyone except for people on your list.

The Privacy tab, shown in Figure B, contains all of the features that are designed to help protect your privacy. When you open the Privacy tab, the first thing that you’ll notice is a list of all of the cookies on your machine. Rather than simply deleting all of the cookies, you can pick and choose which cookies to keep and which cookies to delete. For example, I’d probably want to keep the TechRepublic cookie, but the sextracker cookie was placed there while testing a variety of adult sites for pop-up windows and should therefore be deleted.

Figure B
The Privacy tab controls Guard-IE’s privacy options.

The Privacy tab also contains options to automatically delete typed URLs, password history, form history, browser history, and bookmarks. The Scheduler button can be used to control how often each is cleaned.

Web Rules
The Web Rules tab, shown in Figure C, allows you to control the general behavior of Internet Explorer. You can do things like prevent Web pages from storing data in your bookmarks or resetting your home page. Once again, you have the option of playing a sound whenever one of the rules is activated. There’s also a white list for Web Rules so that you can avoid applying the rules to nonmalicious Web sites, such as TechRepublic.com.

Figure C
The Web Rules tab controls Internet Explorer’s general behavior.

The Other tab, shown in Figure D, is dedicated to the detection and elimination of Web bugs. Contrary to the name, a Web bug is not a type of error. Rather it’s a way of bugging your system in an effort to track your movements. You can use the Other tab to detect Web bugs and to play a sound when these bugs are detected. The Other tab also has a few miscellaneous options allowing you to run Guard-IE on startup and to perform an online update.

Figure D
The Other tab helps guard you against Web bugs.

How well does it work, and how do I get it?
To test the software, I went to every porno site, online casino, misspelled URL (a site taking advantage of people who are trying to get to another site but misspell the URL), and anything else sleazy that I could think of. During this battery of tests, the software performed flawlessly.

Guard-IE is offered as shareware. The product offers a 20-day trial use. If you like the product, you can purchase a full license for $34.95. You can download a trial version directly from CNET’s Download.com Web site. The download file is a tiny 847-KB self-extracting file, so any user can download it without bringing down the network.