"From Russia with love" perhaps describes the recent products from AMUST Software in St. Petersburg. Since their impressive Registry Cleaner that I reviewed in August, they’ve been nimbler that Microsoft at helping us practice safe Internet. Their latest offering is a free utility, eCondom. (That’s the product name -- really.)
Here’s the deal. Like others, I plead guilty to too often jumping onto the Net using an administrator account rather than a safer user account for any of a number of reasons: time pressure, inadvertence, an unwise decision, or downright laziness. The next release of Windows, Vista, is expected to address such recklessness through a Microsoft Internet Explorer Protected Mode. But until you can run Vista you can get a similar level of protection by using eCondom. (You must be running Windows XP.)
Holding my breath, I launched eCondom and Internet Explorer, then visited some of the most malware-infected sites. During my browsing and afterward, I found no traces of malware gremlins or attempted hijinks. That’s especially impressive for a free product.
When it's running eCondom stays out of your way. To signal that it's operating it puts the word "SAFE" into the browser title bar.
There was a downside. Browsing was considerably slower for some Web sites. And eCondom’s protections disallowed some content on a few sites. But these aren’t major issues. As for speed, most contemporary computers shouldn’t have that much of a delay: I ran tests on a throwaway testbed computer with a 500 MHz processor. And regarding disallowed content, that’s after all the purpose of eCondom. You either can restart IE or press a user-selectable hotkey to load Web sites that you know are safe.
One rough edge is that when eCondom opens one of its SafeBrowse MSIE window you may need to adjust the window’s size. But that’s a small price to pay for the protection that the product offers (and it may be fixed by the time you download the small executable).
To be clear, eCondom is a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, other security products for your computer -- antivirus, antispyware, firewall, keyloggers, rootkit, latest Windows and MSIE updates, and other protections. What eCondom does is limit the potential damage of malware to a user account rather than your entire system.
Summary: eCondom helps you to run Microsoft Internet Explorer in the safer user mode.
J.W. Olsen has been a full-time IT author, columnist, editor, and freelance book project manager with more than 1000 editorial credits since 1990, and has provided computer, Web site, and editorial services to other clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the response form at www.jwolsen.com.