Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Testing Windows Vista SP1 RTM Code

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Although I don’t currently recommend Vista, I will continue to cover new versions of Microsoft’s operating system. I can’t very well recommend against a version of Windows without testing its latest service pack. You never know, perhaps some future version of Vista might win me over.

But not this one. While I need more time with the SP1 code, my first few days with the final version of Vista’s first service pack were, well, underwhelming. The one thing that I can definitively say at this point is that if you secretly installed Vista SP1 on a friend’s PC while he or she was out to lunch, 9 out of 10 friends wouldn’t have a clue when they came back.

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New Versions of Comodo and Online Armor

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

The Scot’s Newsletter Software-Firewall Comparo (you know, the series-review that just won’t die) continues to evolve. That’s largely because the makers of Comodo Firewall and Online Armor — the two products under consideration — are actively updating their products. If these guys would just slow down a bit, I could make a final judgment. But that’s one of the reasons these are the two best products in the race, neither company is resting on its laurels.

I recently security tested Comodo 3.0.15.277 (“Advanced Install”) and a late beta of a new version of Online Armor that I believe will arrive shortly. Both products came through with flying colors — passing every test I threw at them. So I can confirm that newer versions of both products continue to test as well as the somewhat older versions tested by Matousec.com.

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Statement of Independence

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Long-time Scot’s Newsletter readers know this, but the newsletter’s transformation to a blog makes it a bit more public than it was, and I think it’s important to make something clear:

Scot’s Newsletter does not accept any payment from any computer product vendor. I don’t do product consulting of any sort. I do not accept random payments of any sort from any computer software or hardware maker.

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Comodo’s CEO Attacks Scot’s Newsletter Product Decision

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Comodo’s president and CEO, Melih Abdulhayoglu, used his forum today as a podium to blast this Scot’s Newsletter Jan. 20th blog post. In that post, I notified readers here of my decision to stop considering one of the two modes that his company’s software firewall product, Comodo 3, offers during installation.

In the Jan. 20th post, I explained that because Comodo 3’s “Basic Firewall” installation option does not offer full-fledged leak protection, and because my first impressions of Basic Firewall’s user-interface were favorable, I needed to make a statement to my readers that:

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Online Armor Firewall Shows Strong Promise

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Tall Emu, a small but dedicated software company based in Australia, has been quietly developing and refining Online Armor almost as if it were reading Scot’s Newsletter’s specifications for the ideal software firewall for Windows XP and earlier. Some of those specs include (updated 1/22/2008):

  • Very low system overhead with a strong preference for standalone software — no full-blown security suites
  • Full compatibility with popular third-party standalone software from other security application categories
  • Excellent outbound security protection, as pre-screened by Matousec.com
  • Simple, informative, and highly usable user interface
  • Reliability
  • Works quietly, alerts you when there are real problems not for the heck of it
  • Strong, responsive development team behind the product that is actively developing the product in a rational manner
  • A feature that lets users rapidly shutdown all inbound and outbound activity
  • Protects but doesn’t cause intermittent problems with Windows local-area network functionality.

Another specification is that the firewall support Windows XP (at least) and Windows Vista. (At the moment, Online Armor does not support Vista. Tall Emu plans to add that support in a forthcoming though possibly not imminent release.)

This post is a sneak peek into my current testing and research on software firewalls for Windows since I last wrote about this topic six weeks ago. In that article, I admitted Online Armor as a last-minute entry into the comparison to give Comodo 3 one last run for the money.

Over the last month and a half, I have received scores of helpful messages from Scot’s Newsletter readers detailing their experiences with Online Armor 2 and Comodo 3. I have also tested the paid version of Online Armor. My research has not concluded yet. I’m waiting for the next version of Online Armor because of a handful of issues with the product (installation mode doesn’t work that well and the documentation for the paid version is very spotty). Overall, however, people testing Online Armor who’ve written to me about it are very positive about it. Few people are reporting serious problems. The same cannot be said for Comodo 3, whose makers have released three or more iterations of Comodo 3 because of several bugs, crashes, and errors.

When you install Comodo 3 in its Basic Firewall installation mode — which doesn’t install the HIPS (host-intrusion-prevention system) — it’s a much more reliable and usable product. But it’s also potentially less protective than Online Armor’s built-in HIPS protection. I’m also beginning to become disillusioned with Comodo’s approach to software development. The company culture appears to favor hurry and time to market over testing and polish. I realize the product is entirely free. But when you experience a serious problem as some people have with Comodo 3, it becomes your time and frustration.

I have to stress the point that I have not had trouble with Comodo 3. It works pretty well for me (except for a bug related to its Help facility that caused a crash in the first release of Comodo 3). But I have had numerous emails from readers about their problems with Comodo 3. Many of those people have gone back to Comodo 2.4 or switched to some other firewall.

So, at this juncture, I’m leaning toward Online Armor, which has been 100% trouble free for me. I still have to perform security tests on Online Armor. Plus I need more time with it. And I’m waiting for an update to the product to see whether a few areas improve. Online Armor is a relatively young product. Its makers are still adding significant new functionality.

I’m still looking for your input on the latest versions of these two products. If you’re using Comodo 3 or Online Armor 3 (or both), please take a moment to send me your experiences, positive or negative, with the two software firewalls:

Or you can post them right here as a comment to this blog entry.

Stay tuned for a final software firewall recommendation. For more information on Windows software firewalls, check out the entire software firewall evaluation series.

Lexar’s 4GB JumpDrive Lightning USB Drive Excels | Top Product!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

After six weeks of everyday usage, I’m decidedly impressed with Lexar’s JumpDrive Lightning USB drive. Back in October I mentioned that I was in the process of evaluating the JumpDrive Lightning among others. But this one really stands out from the pack. It’s fast and rugged, and its software-encrypted vault is easy to use and accessible from both Mac and Windows. It offers better security than the Corsair’s Flash Padlock product I reviewed earlier, and it was literally more than 11 times faster than the Flash Padlock in my real-world tests. I like the idea of hardware-based security, but the Lightning’s ease of use and incredible speed leave the Flash Padlock in the dust.

Shame on both me and Lexar, though, because I looked at the Lightning’s product pages for multi-platform security support before I tested and selected Corsair’s Flash Padlock. In fact, I looked at all the major USB drive products for the ability to support Windows, Mac, and Linux, and also provide security across all three platforms. Very few offer that flexibility (in fact, the Flash Padlock is the only one I’m aware of that does all three OSes).

Initially, I crossed the Lexar off the list because its JumpDrive Lightning product page lists only Windows XP and Vista support; nowhere does it say it supports the Mac. It wasn’t until I went back to Lexar a second time that I learned that the Lightning does support the Mac (though not Linux). I had to resort to contacting the company’s live chat tech support to get that information. I never did receive a response to my inquiry through Lexar’s public relations. Mind you, I’m not beating myself up too much about this, since Lexar’s support area doesn’t list any downloadable software for the JumpDrive Lightning. The software is apparently available only on the USB stick itself, or behind closed doors somewhere on the Lexar website, once you’ve registered your purchased product. It’s almost like Lexar is intentionally hiding the Mac support.

That is, though, the sum total of my criticism about the Lexar JumpDrive Lightning. The product is ideal for my purpose: casual but effective security for a user-selectable portion of the disk, fast performance, and enough GBs you won’t be pressed all the time for storage space. At about $75 including delivery, this drive costs a bit more than some others, but it makes up for that with its smart design (including built-in keychain loop), the ability to store its cap on the other end when its in use (so you don’t lose the cap), and incredible performance.

The JumpDrive Lightning’s superior performance is noticeable in everyday operation compared with some of its competition. To quantify the difference, I set up a collection of 13,500 files displacing 1GB. I timed the process of copying that set of files from my testbed Windows XP PC to each of four USB drives in turn: the Lexar 4GB JumpDrive Lightning, the Corsair 2GB Flash Padlock, the IronKey 4GB Secure Flash Drive, and the Kingston 4GB Data Traveler Secure. The Lexar and Kingston devices were speedy, while the Corsair and IronKey USB drives were markedly slower:

Product 1GB Data-Transfer Time (mins:secs)
Lexar 4GB JumpDrive Lightning   5:38
Kingston 4GB Data Traveler Secure   6:07
IronKey 4GB Secure Flash Drive 46:08
Corsair 2GB Flash Padlock 58:46

You’ll be hearing more about the IronKey from me in the near future. This product may not be that fast, but it’s an incredibly cool device with serious security. It’s the best USB drive I’ve seen for security-conscious enterprises. So don’t cross that one off your list. Currently, though, it supports only Windows XP and Vista, so it’s not ideal for me.

The Kingston product is interesting because it’s nearly as fast as the Lexar product and has similar security. Like most USB devices, Windows, Mac, and Linux can mount them. But the Kingston device offers encryption security software only for Windows. So you won’t be able to access the encrypted space from Mac or Linux.

With it’s multiplatform security support, it’s fast data-transfer rates, and smart design, the Lexar 4GB JumpDrive Lightning is ideal for my needs. It’s clearly a Scot’s Newsletter Top Product! And it’s knocking the Corsair Flash Padlock off that perch.

Firewalls for Windows Approaching Fruition

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

If you’ve read at least some of my ongoing series on software firewalls for Windows, you should know two things by now:

1. There aren’t many good software firewalls out there right now.

2. My focus has been on outbound protection, since anyone sitting behind a firewall router has very good inbound protection.

Although I’ll be running tests on the final round of firewalls, I’ve been relying on the independent security software site, Matousec.com Firewall Ratings, to help winnow out the less impressive products. In recent testing, Matousec has named two new software firewalls “Excellent,” Agnitum’s Outpost Firewall Pro 2008 version 6.0 (a suite product that doesn’t quite fit the target profile of this ongoing review) and a little-known freeware product called Online Armor Personal Firewall v.2 by Tall Emu.

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Better Late than Never to the iPhone Party

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Back in July, I wrote a piece in the newsletter titled iPhone Lust? Get Over It. Apparently I didn’t, though. I bought an iPhone about a week ago, after learning that I could ditch Lotus Notes and my crummy Crackberry at work and use Apple Mail for work email and the iPhone. That proved to be an absolutely irresistible combination.

My wife, Cyndy, got a nice BlackBerry at her job several months ago, and it quickly became her main phone. Neither of us were using our circa 2005 LG flip phones from Verizon. I’m a jeans-pocket guy for my cell phone, and the LG phone felt like a brick in my pocket. My older model CrackBerry was great for email, but a very poor cell phone. So bad that I found myself carrying both at times, something that’s patently ridiculous. So we dumped our Verizon phones, and I went to the Apple store in a nearby mall.

The most surprising thing for me was the purchase experience. When I bought my Verizon air card (WWAN service) at the nearby Verizon store back in May, I had to sign in, wait 15 minutes for a sales rep, politely listen to the upsell and then indicate that, no, I just wanted what I wanted, and wait while she first brought the wrong card and then the right one from the back room. Then I was ferried over to the cash register queue, where I had to wait another 15 minutes to check out. Then there was something strange in my account that involved 20 minutes of head-scratching and furrowed brows by two Verizon salespeople. Eventually, I was allowed to pay and walk away with my air card.

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Down to One: Windows Software Firewall Evaluation

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

It’s taking forever to kick the door closed on the long-term Windows software firewall evaluation. In the last installment of the series, Windows Software Firewalls Evaluation Rolls On, I wrote about issues with Comodo 2.4 that Scot’s Newsletter readers have reported — and which the Comodo folks graciously owned up to. With a rearchitected version of the firewall on the way, I decided to hold out to see whether the new product would get the job done with fewer issues.

A couple of days ago, Comodo released what some have dubbed Comodo 3.0 Beta 3 (version 3.0.9.229). With this new rendition of the code, for the first time you get the sense of what the company expects the user experience to be. The product relies heavily on user prompts to warn you of possible threatening actions, but you can tell it to remember your answers and make specific programs “trusted applications,” which effectively silences future prompts. The user experience is pretty good, overall, but it’s way too early to determine whether the product will perform without bugginess on some desktops.

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Corsair Flash Padlock Redux, Lexar, and IronKey

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Earlier this month I wrote a review of Corsair’s 2GB Flash Padlock USB stick. The USB drive is unique to my knowledge in that it has push-buttons that create a padlock, so the casual data protection it offers comes with a very fast and convenient way to lock and unlock the drive. In fact, it locks automatically whenever it is removed from your computer.

I still like the thinking behind the Flash Padlock, but there are a couple of issues with it. Thanks to SNB (Scot’s Newsletter Blog) reader Jonathan March for writing with his concerns about it, which prompted me to go back to Corsair for more answers.

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