By Robert Vamosi
If you use Internet Explorer as your browser and want to stop pop-up ads from littering the desktop, Guard-IE is one of three pop-up blocking products we've seen that'll do the trick. Guard-IE features an array of privacy protection tools that some other products don't have. Unfortunately, it's not a complete solution for both Net privacy and ad removal. To remove all ads from a Web page, you'll need ; to block programs that track your surfing habits, try Ad-aware. By Robert Vamosi
If you use Internet Explorer as your browser and want to stop pop-up ads from littering the desktop, Guard-IE is one of three pop-up blocking products we've seen that'll do the trick. Guard-IE features an array of privacy protection tools that some other products don't have. Unfortunately, it's not a complete solution for both Net privacy and ad removal. To remove all ads from a Web page, you'll need ; to block programs that track your surfing habits, try Ad-aware.
Download and go
Guard-IE is available as a shareware download or as a for-pay version for $24.95 from FailSafe Technologies. The download size of the for-pay version 2.2 is a compact 287K. To install, simply close Internet Explorer--that's it. No rebooting, no fuss. One particularly nice feature of Guard-IE is that before the app will work, you must turn Guard-IE's options on. This forces you to be conscious of what features are available, what they do, and what your specific needs might be. See, already, Guard-IE has you thinking about security.
Fits on a toolbar
The Guard-IE interface fits conveniently on the IE toolbar, which may already be crowded with other accessories. Six brightly colored icons enable or disable features as well as provide quick access to logs and removal tools. A bright red X indicates when a given feature is turned off. Guard-IE offers an online testing page that makes sure you've configured the software correctly. All such products should provide a simple test like this.
Once enabled, Guard-IE will stop all windows that pop up or pop under your current browser window. The app has an override option that allows certain pop-ups to appear. For example, CNET uses pop-up windows for links outside of CNET Networks, and the Shift key will allow you see those pop-ups. You can also put sites on Guard-IE's White List so that the app will allow pop-ups from those sites.
Guard-IE is always a part of the IE browser, making it easy to add allowed URLs. However, Guard-IE makes you add each domain by typing it in--a bit of a hassle. To liven things up, sounds play when pop-ups are blocked. Unfortunately, Guard-IE uses the standard Windows WAV sounds, not its own set.
Curious about what you're missing? In Guard-IE, you can preview the pop-ups before they are blocked. For example, a setting allows the pop-ups to be briefly displayed (for two seconds) or to show up as thumbnail images. You can also display a list of suppressed pop-up ad URLs, then pick the ones you want to display later. This may be too much information--since you can double-click a blocked ad to see what it was--but some people might like this feature.
When you exit IE, Guard-IE will wipe your browser's history to prevent others from seeing where you've been. The app also scans Internet Explorer's cookies and allows you to purge the ones you don't want or automatically purge them all when you leave IE. Want more info about a particular cookie? Double-click it to see when it was created and when it will expire; this feature is not found in any other cookie-removal product we reviewed.
Guard-IE also deletes temporary Internet files, URLs you typed in yourself, any Internet forms you may have filled out, passwords you may have typed in, and your recent URL history. This is a good habit to get into, especially after conducting a secure transaction online, such as banking or making a purchase with a credit card.
Better yet, Guard-IE is the only product we've seen that stops script-based ads, particularly those with nefarious intentions such as redirecting your browser's home page--a favorite trick of virus writers. As with pop-up windows, if enabled, Guard-IE will play sounds whenever it stops these malicious scripts.
Most serious pop-up ads include embedded drop-down ads, common on Yahoo and GeoCities sites. These ads appear in an open browser window, often obscuring content on the page you are trying to read. Guard-IE has specific check boxes for Yahoo and GeoCities sites that are known for drop-down ads.
Web bugs, begone
Guard-IE is the only product we reviewed that actively monitors Web bugs, clear GIF images whose presence is used to track user viewing habits. When you access a page with a Web bug, your browser contacts the site hosting the image. That contact allows the site to record your IP address as well as learn about your operating system, browser choice, and machine type. If you wish, Guard-IE can prevent Web bugs from announcing your presence. You can also see how many of these you've set off and perhaps alter your browsing habits accordingly.
The included help file for Guard-IE is fairly complete. The online installation and user's guide features a comprehensive FAQ. There is a form to submit questions directly to the company, but no telephone support. Fortunately, the program is straightforward, and most users will find it easy to deal with.
While we like the privacy controls within Guard-IE, we'd like to see a version for Netscape users. And to be truly complete, Guard-IE should, in addition to blocking Web bugs, also scan and remove ad components that report your surfing habits back to advertisers. For that, you'll need another app: Ad-aware 5.6.