Virus and spyware protection are essential for safe Internet surfing these days. But a glaring danger remains, which malware creators mercilessly exploit. Each packet of Internet information contains header information with your IP address and other critical personal information. Every email message, Web site visit, and so forth contains one or more packets, and malware sniffs for them every time you blink. Almost as unsettling, Web sites often share information about your visit with others to blitz you with targeted ads. These and other unkind tactics often occur without your knowledge.
One solution is to use anonymizing software like GhostSurf 2005, reviewed here. Firefox users should also check out a recent review of Anonymizer , a software solution for their browsers.
Anonymizing offers a valuable layer of protection by routing your communication through a third-party proxy server that substitutes its Internet address for yours before forwarding your packets to the intended destination. GhostSurf has been the best choice for moderately experienced surfers for awhile now. It comes in two flavors.
The Standard edition covers all the basics, the most central of which is hiding your IP address. But it also offers encryption and lets you block the individual pieces of data that your computer sends.
The Platinum edition also includes antispyware features, including email support for spyware-related questions within 48 hours. If you don’t already have antispyware software that satisfies your needs, the additional $20.00 for the Platinum edition may be worth it. Having anonymizing and antispyware protection under one software roof simplifies product updating and avoids finger-pointing between vendors if you have a problem. It also simplifies distracting day-to-day computer housekeeping chores while you want to get work done on your computer. You’re more likely to maximize use of these features if you don’t have to work with two independent utilities.
Basic installation of GhostSurf is easy, so you’re ready to begin use in minutes. But note that anonymizing solutions aren’t entirely an install-and-forget-about-it affair. For example, such tools can require user changes to browser settings to visit some Web sites. Fortunately, GhostSurf’s help file is well written. Also, GhostSurf and other utils on your system, such as firewall and antivirus programs, may need to learn to dance together until you take the time to make them get along without getting in your way.
Anonymizing tools rely on third-party proxy servers around the world, which come, go, and morph themselves in sometimes unexpected ways. So it’s fortunate that GhostSurf lets you turn off anonymizing so you can surf the Net directly when desired. In my case, I turn off anonymizing during email runs and visits to a few Web sites I trust. The main reason is that doing so can be slightly faster if I have a lot of downloads or uploads during an online session.
Price: $19.95 (Standard), $39.95 (Platinum)
Summary:GhostSurf 2005 is a good anonymizing tool for moderately experienced Web users. Its Platinum edition adds anti-spyware features.
J.W. Olsen has been a full-time technology 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.