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Web users offered 'hardened' Firefox for banking

Browser uses encrypted channel to access web

Web users are being offered a 'hardened' version of Mozilla Firefox that can secure access to online bank accounts, says Network Intercept.

Although the security built into the browser is identical in its workings to the US version which has been available for some weeks, the Secure-Me browser does feature some necessary localisation.

The main difference between Secure-Me and a conventional browser is that it accesses the internet after setting up an encrypted channel between itself and Network's Intercept's US-based cloud.

All sites are visited through this layer, which also renders sessions anonymous.

Its makers say this accelerates browsing and blocks domain redirection attacks, and stops malware having access to personal data within a session.

In the background, a semi-independent keystroke interference program (which works with other programs on a PC) blocks both hardware and software keylogging.

The program also incorporates Clam-AV antivirus scanning, integrates file encryption for files on local or attached drives, and allows encrypted file transfer.

The localisation is necessary to allow access to UK-only services such as the BBC's popular iPlayer, which would otherwise be blocked because access is always through the US cloud.

Some aspects of the cloud security design will also work with Internet Explorer.

Setting IE as the default browser will allow it to connect through an encrypted channel to the Network Intercept Cloud. That gives these users an encrypted and anonymous channel.

"With so many businesses nowadays delivering their core services over the Internet, they cannot afford for customers' personal and financial information to be at risk when browsing the web," said Network Intercept's president and founder, Christopher Ciabarra.

Secure-Me comes in three versions, one for desktop and laptop PCs, a portable version on a USB stick (PC and Mac), and a mobile version for use on smartphones. An Apple iPhone version is promised.

After a 15-day trial, the PC version is £39.95 with a £39.95 annual service fee. The portable version is £89.95 for the USB stick with a £39.95 annual service fee.

Use on smartphones such as the iPhone costs £14.95 with a £14.95 annual service fee.

In its design, Secure-Me takes the browser security on offer from Trusteer's free Rapport browser plug-in, announced some days ago, one stage further.

Rapport is aimed more specifically at banking security, and requires integration by the bank to work effectively, whereas Secure-Me comes with its own cloud out of the box.

That also explains why it is not free, and why there is an annual service charge.

For a single user Secure-Me is probably overkill, although it does hugely reduce the threat of browser-based attacks on online banking sessions.

Corporate users will be more attracted to it, however, lured by using it as an intriguing alternative to a VPN. VPN can be slow and tiresome to configure where Secure-Me removes the configuration hassle and claims to be fast.

Other rivals would be IronKey, which is one of a number of companies promoting a rival concept, that of launching an entire secure virtual session from a USB key.

Network Intercept claims the software is already being used by around 10,000 users in the US.

These are early days for whatever will replace browsers, but change is coming all the same. Expect mainstream browsers - and perhaps even antivirus software - to take on some of the features of these products over time.

See also: USB drive offers secure access to bank accounts


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