If you believe in the power of Gecko, then the folks at the Mozilla Foundation have released SeaMonkey 1 Alpha with the next version of Gecko rendering engine. SeaMonkey offers a navigator (browser), mail and news client with junk mail controls, HTML composer (editor) and Chatzilla (IRC client). While look and feel is similar to Mozilla (and Netscape), the rendering engine is even faster than what Firefox offers! So far I’ve used just the browser. But plan to put the rest of suite through its paces shortly. Remember, you read about SeaMonkey here.
Opera 8.50 for Windows, Mac and Linux is out. This version junks the ads and no longer needs registration. This seems to be a good marketing move on Opera Software’s part. Because their servers clocked over 1 million downloads the day of release. There are rumors that Google is funding the development of the browser.
Testing PC-Cillin Internet Security 2006 Beta was’nt much pleasure in hindsight. My computer crashed soon after from (somewhat) unrelated causes. The warning signs had persisted. They included application installs that failed mid-way. Or new applications that refused to initialize. Every registry scan turned up 10-15 new issues. Until the inevitable happened.
And while I managed to recover Windows. The first victim was Internet Security 2006 Beta. It would start up with an active firewall. And even download updates. But every attempt to access it Control Center would cause CPU usage to climb to 100% and slow Windows to a crawl! I then noticed that other software like Opera, Firefox, or OpenOffice.org that used lots of system resources on startup too caused Windows to stopped responding.
I then uninstalled almost everything. Before carefully re-installing each software and testing if Windows would hang. Everything worked fine until I returned to Internet Security 2006 Beta. Uninstalling made the problem vanish. I then tried re-installing Internet Security 2005. Only to have the system stop responding again. So sadly I reconciled myself to no firewall or antivirus software. But still needed some form of protection to while checking mail and surfing the Net.
As a temporary measure I installed ZoneAlarm 6 Basic (free) with AVG Antivirus Free edition. So my family and I could connect browse the Web while I sorted out registry and software compatibility issues. Then I began researching other ways to have my cake and eat it too.
“Windows hardening” revealed some very interesting articles. Did you know it’s possible to develop your own firewall using a system-level IP security (IPSec) policy? But more about this nugget later.
Based on my new learning, I first began identifying open ports on my computer. And began with the free GRC ShieldsUP service that offers very detailed port scans using color indicators to identify open (red), closed (blue) and stealth (green) ports. Green (stealth) is great. But blue (closed) means that all attackers know is there’s a port but its closed to access. Red is very worrying.
I managed to easily close Port 135 using GRC’s free DCOMbobulator utility. DCOM is a seldom used technology built into Windows that allows system and application components to inter-operate across a network. The downside is anyone can use this port to remotely control your computer. A bit more web searching turned up Windows Worm Doors Cleaner 1.4.
This free download closes the RPC Locator (Port 445), NetBIOS (Ports 137, 138, 139), UnPNP (Port 5000) & SSDP [Windows XP and later only], and checks if the NetBIOS/RPC-enabled Windows Messenger is active (mine wasn’t). The Firewall Leak Tester web site has lots of other interesting information. Like a comparative table comparing major firewalls. And guess what? The firewalls included in Windows XP SP1 and SP2 rate zero on outbound application filtering. Norton 2005 isn’t much better with 7 of 24 test points. Nor is Sygate which scores just 9 on 24. The winners are Jetico with 16 of 24, ZoneAlarm with 17 of 24, Outpost with 18 of 24. And the comparatively unknown Look ‘n Stop at 19 of 24 the highest scorer.
I was so intrigued by Look ‘n Stop that I even installed a copy. While this firewall got a perfect stealth mark on GRC’s Port Scan test. Unfortunately the trial version needed me to individually add every application needing access. That meant not just my email client but also the antivirus suite’s mail scanner. And so on. It go so tedious that I finally rolled back (for the moment) to ZoneAlarm as this’ so much easier to use.
As for that intriguing IPSec policy to regulate inbound and outbound traffic, read the Andrew McHugh’s detailed article on Windows 2000 Firewalling. Andrew is a Network Manager at the University of Michigan and even offers an pre-configured IPSec file for testing.
I have since discarded ZoneAlarm for self-defined IP Sec policy. While AVG Antivirus free continues. Meanwhile Trend Micro’s Beta support team is more on the ball this time around. And have sent me a new Internet Security 2006 Beta 2 download link. More about that suite soon.
I can almost visualize my good friend and loyal reader Jitender L. hopping with impatience. I’ve been promising to review a few interesting and free system tools he pointed my way. But just never found the time. Let’s lead off with EasyCleaner, a registry analyzer and invalid link remover. That can also detect and delete backup and temporary files. And manage startup programs, detect and remove invalid shortcuts and manage Windows add/remove software list. EasyCleaner’s interface is very basic. And when you click a feature button, that feature open in a new Window. There was also a noticeable lag between the time I clicked a button and the module opening. Frankly, I much prefer Crap Cleaner (CCLeaner) which offers less but works faster.
The second free tool is called HostsMan used to manage the Windows Hosts file. The software links to site’s maintaining an updated list of ad, spy and malware sites. You can edit your hosts file, merge multiple files into one, acquire remote lists of blocked entries. And even scan and remove duplicates. HostsMan can also lock program access to the Hosts file. However do use it with care. Jitender hasn’t ever had a problem. But two office computers I installed it on suddenly began experiencing TCP/IP stack and network card problems. Yes, blame it on the LAN cards, except these worked fault-free when transferred to other systems where HostsMan was not installed!
And finally Config Inspector that details information about various facets of Windows configuration. This extension of Windows 2000/XP/2003’s Task Manager offers more detail but remains an information-only tool. You can’t modify any settings. Using a tabbed view, it displays lists of working applications, processes, memory status, CPU and network usage and OS, network, HDD, video and sound card details. Download a copy ASAP.
That’s it for this time. Stay safe!