Archive for the ‘Utilities’ Category

Fixing a Firefox user profile, and Foxmarks

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

SNB reader John Volborth wrote to me with a Firefox problem. My solution worked for him, so I thought I would pass it along:


I haven’t used Firefox in a while because of a problem I’ve been having. It won’t let me gather any apps. This is the error message:

Could not initialize the application’s security component. The most likely cause is problems with files in your application’s profile directory. Please check that this directory has no read/write restrictions and your hard disk is not full or close to full. It is recommended that you exit the application and fix the problem. If you continue to use this session, you might see incorrect application behaviour when accessing security features.

Is there any help you can offer me? Thanks.


I’m not clear on what you mean when you say “it won’t let me gather apps,” but more than likely you have a corrupt Firefox user profile. To solve the problem, you’ll need to delete every file in your Mozilla installation and do a clean install of the latest version of the browser. Some of these files hide in places you might not think to look, so it’s important to follow directions on how to fully remove profile.

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
  • 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.

About Nod32 v.3 and Eset Smart Security

Friday, November 30th, 2007

I have not fully tested the new 3.0 version of Nod32. I looked pretty extensively at Eset Smart Security (ESS) in late beta, and I didn’t think much of the firewall at all. Plus I have no use for Eset’s antispam solution. So I am definitely recommending *against* the new $60 ESS.

However, my preliminary impression of Nod32 3.0, also contained in ESS, was quite positive. That product is available as a standalone upgrade to Nod32 2.7 for $40 (one user, one year).

I have not had a chance to fully test the 3.0 standalone product yet. I’ve been focused on the firewalls. But testing Nod32 3.0 is very high on my list. From my look at the ESS beta, I don’t anticipate any serious criticism of Nod32 3.0. I like the UI a little better. I didn’t see anything I didn’t like. I didn’t have any problems with it. But I still have to test it fully to be sure. I’ll be looking at it on both Vista and XP.

I don’t write final security reviews before I’m sure about a product. So depending on the complexities I encounter when I test Nod32 v.3, it could be four to eight weeks before I give you a definitive answer.

If you’re forced to make a decision before that, I would currently characterize Nod32 3.0 as a good bet. And, again, I would recommend separate firewall and antispam solutions instead of ESS.

If you’re using Nod32 3.0, I would be interested in your experiences with and impressions of it. Please send your thoughts to me. Thanks!

Alternatively, you can also post your experiences as a comment to this post if you prefer.

Leopard Follow-Up: Improved Disk Utility

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Last weekend I posted about issues with performing an Upgrade installation of Leopard on one of my MacBook Pros. That machine is happily running Leopard now with all my data fully intact. But I learned something in the process.

I made a backup of my Tiger installation just prior to performing the upgrade and was able to boot to the backup without difficulty. I also used Disk Utility (the Mac’s onboard disk integrity check and repair tool) to check both of the partitions on the computer’s hard drive. Everything checked out, so I went ahead with the upgrade.

As detailed earlier, I ran into the hanging blue screen after installation on the first restart that many other Leopard upgraders experienced. Many people had reported that the problem cleared up for them when they followed one of two methods for removing a Mac OS X customization utility by Unsanity called Application Performance Enhancement (APE). I didn’t have APE installed on my system, but it had been there and uninstalled with leave-behinds. I used Target disk mode to access the hard drive and remove the offending files. That didn’t solve my problem, so I decided to resort to my backup. So I removed the same offending files there just to be safe, wiped my boot volume, and copied my backup to the boot volume. During the copy process I got the error message that I didn’t have rights to copy three or four unnamed files — a message that made no real sense. And it was at that point that I knew I was in for it.


DiskWarrior Makes ‘The A-List of Mac Software’

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

I continue to test and either reject or approve Mac software for The A-List of Mac Software. The biggest change since the last issue of the newsletter is the advancement of a very hot disk utility to the A-List. DiskWarrior from Alsoft came highly recommended to me by several IT pro readers who manage Macs. They were dead right.

It takes a problem to be won over by a utility product. And that’s exactly what happened. The problem was a disk error that Apple’s Disk Utility was able to identify but unable to repair. There was no apparent problem with my hard drive. No symptoms. SMART checked out fine. It didn’t appear to be a physical problem with the hard drive, but rather a corruption of the data on the disk. I tote my primary machine back and forth from work everyday, and even though I’m extremely conscious of how important that piece of hardware is, and I back it up, well — there are few guarantees in life. And none of them is related to computers.

So, that was the problem. It took me a while to warm up to the $100 DiskWarrior because you have to boot it from the CD, and it takes forever to load. But it’s worth it. Because once up and running, DiskWarrior’s Directory tool made short work of it. Afterward, Disk Utility happily reported no problems.

The next disk problem will be a job for TechTool Pro by Micromat, which is also on the scheduled-for-evaluation list.

Some other notes: I guess I’m becoming more of a Mac guy. I removed Intego’s VirusBarrier X4 from my two most-used Macs. I think it’s a great product, and I’m leaving it on the A-List. But like most Mac users, I just don’t feel the need for this utility right now. I’m not making a formal recommendation with that announcement — just owning up to a reality. There are no viruses on the Mac. It’s possible there will be someday. But I’ll worry about that then.

I’m also adding a program to the evaluation list. It’s called Yank, and it’s another Mac uninstaller tool. I really love AppZapper, but it occasionally misses things that get tucked into out of the way places. When I uninstalled VirusBarrier, AppZapper left behind a context-menu item. Yank doesn’t rely on search to find files left behind when you delete the main program file. It creates a log when you install. What about programs installed before you installed Yank? Matterform offers a file-sharing service for sharing Yank uninstall scripts for specific programs that you can download and run. Not sure that’s going to be a big help, though. The first three programs I searched for weren’t there. Still, I like the idea of a more complete uninstall. Could be I’ll use both AppZapper and Yank. We’ll see.

I’m having some second thoughts about skEdit as a text editor. It’s still my preferred HTML editor on the Mac. But I may go back and check out TextMate again. It’s been very heavily recommended by readers who have written to me with A-List suggestions. Even more so than BBEdit, whose UI I’m not fond of.

Update: Software Firewalls for Windows XP

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

I’ve been getting a lot of requests for an update on my research into software firewalls for XP. The research is ongoing, but I do have plenty to update and pass along.

Back in September of last year, I kicked off comparison research and the first of a series of articles focusing on inexpensive, lightweight software firewalls for use with Windows XP. Please check out that first piece, and check out what I’m looking for in a software firewall: An emphasis on outbound protection, nearly silent operation (after you’ve run most of your apps once), and a rational means of protecting, without breaking, your network. Anything with an endless number of pop-ups isn’t going to cut it with me. I’m not going to become a slave to a software firewall.

I’ve been working on this research off and on ever since. The products I mentioned then — Comodo, Jetico, Look ‘n’ Stop, Outpost Pro, Tiny Personal Firewall, and Kerio — are the products I’ve been keeping tabs on during this period. I’ve also looked at some others that have come along. But I’m only looking at lightweight standalone firewalls; that leaves out several notable names, including Kaspersky, Norton, McAfee, Trend Micro, CA, Check Point, F-Secure, and others. They’re out of my research on purpose: I don’t recommend any of them. Steer clear of security suites.


The Vista Firewall Situation

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Windows Vista is far more secure than Windows XP, but is it completely buttoned up? The answer is no. You still need both anti-malware and firewall protection for Vista. Microsoft’s failure to solve this problem may, in fact, be a mistake that comes back to haunt the company. On the other hand, at least it didn’t put a whole bunch of additional software companies out of business.

I’ve previously recommended Eset’s Nod32 version 2.7 for all current versions of Windows, including Vista. Nod32 is a done deal, a no-brainer, just get it.

But the firewall picture for Vista is nowhere near as obvious. As I’ve written many times before, every computer connected to the Internet should be sitting behind some sort of hardware firewall that adds NAT (network access translation) stealthing and SPI (stateful packet inspection), both of which help protect against inbound threats. Good security is about layers, though, and a good software firewall complements the hardware firewall by adding application controls for outbound transmissions and network protections. The combination of hardware and software is very powerful. The problem is, very few popular software firewalls currently support Vista.


Eset’s Nod32 2.7: Best Antivirus Product of 2007

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

A number of people criticized my selection last year of F-Secure’s Anti-Virus 2006 as the Best Antivirus Product of 2006 for Windows. And now I’m going to have to eat crow, because in 2007, those people are right.

Eset’s Nod32 2.5 came in second last year, despite the fact that I had several criticisms of it. My assessment last year was based on a series of factors. But the most important criterion was that the utility run without bogging down the system and, basically, do no harm to your computer. Of course, catching the bad stuff was very important too.

Even though F-Secure’s 2006 product skirted the primary requirement pretty finely, the user interface and the included anti-spyware module combined, in my mind, to make it a great value. What’s more, F-Secure took me through a real-world test — one that I didn’t plan — with flying colors. (Nod32 got other people through the exact same real-world test, by the way.)

But F-Secure has an Achilles’ heel. It doesn’t play nicely with other security apps. It has a tendency to create a mess if other security products are present — even if they’re not running. It has a tendency to pop up dialogs informing you that it can’t install unless you uninstall this or that specific program. This was something I came across with F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006 only when I purposely installed it while AVG was running. And the process of uninstalling AVG worked so well in my test, that I felt comfortable recommending F-Secure.


Mixed Impressions on Outpost 4 Software Firewall

Monday, November 6th, 2006

According to, Agnitum Outpost 4.0’s leak-test functionality is designed to block a very broad range of leak tests. In its fully aggressive mode, Outpost 4.0 may make your life a living hell with repetitive prompts. It’s nice to know, however, that you can ratchet up the protective power any time, even if you wind up turning down to one of Outpost’s more permissive modes (as I did).

I installed Outpost Pro 4 on a machine running F-Secure Anti-Virus 2006. In other words, I tempted fate, since both products contain anti-spyware and F-Secure is noted for its strong tendency toward incompatibility. I disabled Outpost’s anti-spyware scan during installation, but the anti-spyware module came up running by default post installation. It is possible to fully disable it at that point.

With F-Secure running alongside Outpost 4, I quickly ran into difficulties. It worked fine for a while, but on subsequent reboots I found that Outpost froze or that my Internet connection died. I was also unable to make my VPN connection work, even though I directed Outpost to give it full rein.

Eventually I was forced to remove Outpost in order to get any work done. I’m currently setting up a test machine that will provide a cleaner environment for Outpost to give it a proper test. This first two-hour experiment was a little unfair.

I can draw some conclusions from installing and using Outpost even for that short period of time. Outpost 4 may well be the most powerful and comprehensive personal firewall I’ve examined. This product is loaded with good features. The graphical log file, which also allows you to make settings changes, is absolutely superb. The level of fine control is perfection.

On the other hand, the networking control features are less clear-cut than I’d like. And for my simple tastes, Agnitum has packs way too many extra modules into this package. I don’t want anti-spyware in my firewall. I also don’t want content filtering, ad blocking, Internet-based sharing of my settings, attachment quarantine, or DNS caching. I would be quite interested in “Outpost 4 Lite,” if such a thing existed, consisting of the firewall, application controls, intrusion detection, leak protection, and network monitoring.

So, bottom line, I will continue to test Outpost 4 to give it a fair shake. And if you’re looking for a top-notch firewall with a lot of bells and whistles, this is almost certainly it.

But I’m crossing it off the list of lightweight firewalls that are under consideration for my ongoing series: “Looking for the Right Software Firewall” because it it’s so much more than the simple firewall I’m looking for.

Kicking Off a Software Firewall Comparo

Friday, September 8th, 2006

Over the last month I’ve received a ton of email from readers asking me to help them pick firewall software to go along with F-Secure. I had intended to kick off a software firewall comparison review anyway, so I just got started a little earlier. My very preliminary research has *not* resulted in any sort of formal firewall pick by me as yet.

My considered advice on this subject is to start by choosing a hardware firewall of some sort, and then layer in a software firewall on every machine. This combination maximizes your protection and also provides you the most flexibility and convenience.

Firewall routers for home use are not expensive. Most are available in 1, 4, or 8-port switch combinations, with the 4-port models selling for as little as $25 with rebates. The average price is in the $50 range.