There’s no denying that the Internet has changed the way that we live our lives. We work, shop, and communicate online on a daily basis. However, as helpful as the Internet is, it has its share of problems. Viruses and information theft are troubling, and constant ad pop-ups are annoying. Browsing the Web can be time consuming as well. Sure, broadband connections greatly improve upon the dial-up experience, but even broadband can be painfully slow at times.

A new product from Winferno Software called SecureIE claims to change all that. In this article, I’ll take a look at SecureIE and its features.

SecureIE features
A key security feature of SecureIE is the ability to use security zones to block things like Java, ActiveX, cookies, and file downloads on all but the most trusted sites. The product blocks flash and pop-ups, so you don’t have to sit through any more pop-up commercials with loud music and blinding animations. It also works with your existing antivirus software to intercept and scan any downloaded files for viruses.

The software also claims to speed up Web browsing by tuning your browser for dial-up or broadband usage. It claims to be able to speed up your Web experience by up to 500 percent by using ten simultaneous sockets instead of the standard two. The software can also preserve bandwidth since it blocks pop-ups and flash animations.

Some of SecureIE’s best features are its bonus features, although their importance is downplayed in comparison to the speed and security features. For example, you can use sticky notes and highlighters to mark up a Web page and then save that page as a document, even if the page was secure. You can also create workspaces that allow you to open and browse dozens of Web pages simultaneously with a single command.

To use SecureIE, your machine must be running Internet Explorer 6. If you’re running a previous version of Internet Explorer, you can acquire IE6 from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web site.

Download the SecureIE installer program from the company’s Web site. The installer is 3.78 MB in size. This download requires you to purchase a license, which costs $29.95 (site licenses are also available). If you’re not quite ready to cough up the cash, there is a 15-day free trial version that you can download from the free trial section of their Web site.

Launch the installation wizard by double-clicking the executable file that you downloaded. Click Next to bypass the Wizard’s Welcome screen, and you’ll see the software’s End-User License Agreement. Click Yes to accept the license agreement, and the installer will prompt you for the program’s installation path.

After choosing an installation path, the next step in the installation process is to select the program group on the Start menu that SecureIE should be included in. At this point, the installation program will prompt you about the type of icons you want for SecureIE and which file associations to use. I recommend accepting the defaults and clicking Next.

The installation wizard will display a summary of the installation options that you’ve chosen. Click the Install button to accept these options and begin the file-copy process. When the installer finishes copying the necessary files, click Finish to complete the process.

The initial setup
After the installation completes, select the SecureIE command from the Start menu. You’ll see a dialog box that asks for some basic information, such as your name, e-mail address, company name, and license number. All of this information must be entered exactly as it is provided to you or your registration will be rejected. Once you’ve entered the necessary information, a rather annoying pop-up appears asking how you heard about SecureIE. The pop-up also contains a check box that you must uncheck to avoid being sent e-mails with special offers and product announcements from the company.

Once you’ve jumped through these hoops, SecureIE will load. You’re finally ready to start using it.

Using SecureIE
After I installed SecureIE, I opened Internet Explorer and didn’t notice anything different. After doing a little poking around, I figured out that SecureIE installs itself as a completely separate browser. Although Internet Explorer is still the default browser, you have the option of making SecureIE the default browser if you so desire.

You can see a sample of the SecureIE screen in Figure A. Much of what’s shown in the figure should look familiar to you because it comes directly from Internet Explorer. The main differences are a few extra icons and the SecureIE Tools menu. You might also notice that the Web browser is now tabbed so that you can switch back and forth between multiple Web pages without having to load multiple browser instances.

Figure A
The SecureIE interface looks much like that found in Internet Explorer.

As the name implies, security is SecureIE’s biggest selling point. What I like about the security features is they are really easy to tailor to your needs. Simply choose the Options command from the SecureIE Tools menu to reveal the SecureIE Options dialog box. The left side of the dialog box is divided into categories. As you click on each category, the right side of the dialog box displays the options associated with each category.

If you select the Browser General category, you’ll find the options for enabling or disabling flash multimedia content and pop-up windows. The various options allow you to enable or disable these features, or you can choose to display a message every time that SecureIE blocks a flash animation or a pop-up.

If you look at the File Downloads category, you’ll find that there’s also an option to automatically scan downloaded files for viruses. The catch to using this feature is that you must configure antivirus support at the command line. Of course, the command differs depending on what antivirus software you’re using.

There’s an understated feature in the File Downloads category that I really like—a check box that allows you to automatically roll back interrupted downloads. This is a great feature because if a download fails, you can resume the download starting at the point where the failure occurred rather than starting completely from scratch. This feature would have been great to have when I recently downloaded Windows XP Service Pack 1, which was over 100 MB in size. The download failed at 80 MB, and I had to start over.

Speed tests
SecureIE claims to be able to boost your Internet speed by blocking pop-ups and flash animations, by using five times the normal number of sockets, and by optimizing your Web browser to take advantage of your true connection speed. Like any good product reviewer, I decided to put these claims to the test. I selected the SecureIE Options command from the SecureIE Tools menu. I then selected the Internet Options (Advanced) category on the resulting dialog box, and tuned SecureIE to use the maximum number of HTTP connections per server. I also told SecureIE that I wanted to optimize my browser to take advantage of my broadband connection. You can see an example of these settings in Figure B.

Figure B
You can use SecureIE to boost your browser speed.

After making the speed-related adjustments, I saw a visible improvement in the speed at which various Web pages loaded. I decided to do some checking to see how fast my connection was actually performing. To do so, I visited Broadband Reports Web site and performed a DSL speed test.

I live in a rural area of South Carolina, and the fastest broadband service available in my area is a mere 384 Kbps. In the past when I’ve run the DSL speed test, I’ve been able to get close to that benchmark value, but I’ve never actually attained an upload or a download speed of greater than about 360 Kbps. I had hoped that installing SecureIE might yield faster transfer speeds. After running the test, though, I measured an upload speed of 175 Kbps and a download speed of about 285 Kbps. You can see the full test results in Figure C. Although I ran the tests at 10:00 A.M. on a Sunday morning, there’s still a chance the disappointing results were skewed by Internet traffic or a busy server.

Figure C
Although SecureIE was performing visibly well, a DSL speed test was disappointing.

Bonus features
As I mentioned earlier, some of my favorite SecureIE features are really downplayed in favor of the product’s security and speed features. For example, the Web page that’s shown in Figure A is an excerpt from my revised Web site. Suppose for a moment, though, that I wanted to show someone the new site. I couldn’t just send them to the site, because it isn’t up yet. Even if the site were up, it’s often difficult for someone to look at a Web page and see exactly what you want them to see. In such cases, you could use the highlighter and the sticky note features to mark up the Web page. You can see an example of this in Figure D.

Figure D
You can use the sticky note and highlighter features to mark up a Web page.

Once you’ve marked up the document, you can use the Save Document As command on the file menu to save the document. The default file format is ZHTM (ZHTML is a zipped HTML file). Unlike a normal ZIP file, you don’t have to manually decompress a ZHTML file. All you have to do is to open it in SecureIE, and the page will be displayed just the way that you left it. The reason for using a ZHTML file format is that by zipping the Web page, things like graphics that appear on the page are saved along with the document. The downside of saving documents in ZHTML format is that only other SecureIE users can open them. If you need to send a Web page to someone who isn’t using SecureIE, you can save the page in HTML, URL, or plain text formats. In case you’re wondering, URL format simply saves a link to the page.

Tab feature completes the picture
One other useful thing that you can do with SecureIE is to create workgroups consisting of multiple Web sites. Earlier, I pointed out the tabs just above the address bar. If you right-click an empty spot on the gray space, you’ll see a shortcut menu appear. When you select the Browser option from this menu, a new tab will be added to the workspace. Each of these tabs represents a separate Web session. At first this may not seem much different than the way that Internet Explorer allows you to open multiple browser windows, but there’s a big difference. SecureIE actually allows you to save the groupings. Simply use the Save Workspace As command from the File menu to save the current tab configuration, including which Web site is loaded within each tab. The next time that you want to work with those specific Web sites, you can use the Open Workspace command rather than manually navigating to all those Web sites.

SecureIE’s easy-to-use security and speed features are its main selling point, but its bonus features, such as the ability to mark up and save Web pages, are also of interest. If you’d like to eliminate annoying pop-ups or take more control of your browsing, SecureIE could be for you.