THE MAGAZINE

Worth a Look: Fencing Out Malicious Code

By Peter Piazza

When medical crises hit, patients who might have been exposed to a highly contagious disease are put into quarantine, thus ensuring that they cannot infect the public at large. When the virus is the digital kind, it’s just as important to segregate whatever is infected from the rest of the network until the cause of the infection can be eradicated.

New software from GreenBorder Technologies creates a quarantine that sits on every computer, allowing users total freedom to view or download what they like while protecting the computer itself—and the network it’s on—from harm.

The company’s GreenBorder Desktop DMZ does just what its name says; it puts a green border around any content downloaded from the Internet or contained within an e-mail. For example, the Internet Explorer browser has the border, and so does anything opened on or downloaded from any Web site. If you receive an attachment in an e-mail and click on it, a green-bordered box will open that describes the attachment and the IP address it’s being downloaded from.

If you choose to open the file, it will open in the appropriate program, such as Word for a document; but that document will have a green border around it when it opens, showing that it is still considered unsafe material. If you save it, it will appear with a green border around the icon to show its unsafe status.

The program doesn’t prevent you from opening any kind of file, nor does it prevent problematic applications such as ActiveX from running. Instead, it allows everything to run inside a virtualized environment, meaning that there is no contact with or effect on the host machine. For that reason, no software or spyware can be surreptitiously installed.

Once you log out, all content is flushed away. This includes anything illegitimate (such as worms or spyware) or legitimate (such as a patch). To keep something from being flushed away, users can designate safe zones whose content is trusted. This can be done as simply as right-clicking on an icon and choosing to have the border removed. Otherwise, a document can be saved so it doesn’t get flushed, but it will remain in its quarantine each time it is opened. 

Pros. It’s extremely easy to use, and doesn’t require updating each time a new threat appears.

Cons. Right now it only works with Internet Explorer and the Outlook mail program, a problem for the many Web surfers (myself included) who try to avoid these programs in favor of alternative browsers and mail clients. Where to get it. A limited-time demo can be downloaded from GreenBorder’s Web site. Pricing for the enterprise edition runs about $39 per seat annually.

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