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PC security: are malware whitelists friend or foe?

The dangers of blocking all unknown applications

PC Advisor investigates the dangers of blocking all unknown applications.

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In the meantime, a number of free security tools already use a whitelist approach to protect PCs. However, in using them you'll typically get many pop-ups that may require a good deal of technical knowledge to interpret – a hassle that makes clear the challenge to the major antivirus companies. But if you're willing to deal with the interruptions, which can include reversing a mistaken decision, these downloads can bring strong protection against malware.

Comodo Firewall Pro Free offers full whitelist-style blocking in addition to its firewall; it works on Windows XP and Vista.

Once installed, the program displays an alert when an unknown program runs, and you'll have to choose to allow or deny the new app.

Comodo already knows about popular applications such as Firefox and won't display alerts for them, and also provides some good information in the pop-ups to help you decide whether to let a program take a particular action.

It also has a learning mode that automatically creates rules allowing everything on your system to run while it's enabled. This mode can help cut down on the pop-ups when you first install the program, but you should enable it only if you're sure your system is clean.

During installation, the free version prompts you to install a browser search toolbar and change your home page. You can opt out of the toolbar installation and browser changes, and can also choose to install only the capable firewall without the whitelisting protection.

Like Comodo Firewall Pro, Online Armor Free provides both a firewall and a whitelist approach to program security for Windows NT, 2000 and XP.

It doesn't show pop-ups for many known good programs, and it scans all your installed programs when it first runs so you can quickly tell it what to do with the applications that it doesn't know about.

When it does alert you to a new, unknown program, Online Armor's pop-ups are informative but generally harder to decipher than those from Comodo. However, Online Armor goes beyond Comodo with a 'Safer' mode that allows apps to run, but with stripped-down privileges.

Safer mode can work well for at-risk applications such as web browsers or email clients, as it pulls administrator rights from such applications and prevents them from making deep system changes.

Online Armor Free has a learning mode, but you'll have to manually check for program updates with the free version.

NEXT PAGE: Dedicated whitelisting services > >

  1. Are whitelists friend or foe? Keeping tabs on malware
  2. Are whitelists friend or foe? Community-based security
  3. Are whitelists friend or foe? Free downloads
  4. Are whitelists friend or foe? Dedicated whitelisting services

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