May 13, 2008
OK, the name isn't as catchy as "firewall." But Check Point Technologies says "browser virtualization" could be the next hot security technology for the consumer market.
Check Point, which helped popularize the firewall a decade ago, yesterday introduced ZoneAlarm Forcefield, a browser tool and service that creates a mirror environment -- sometimes called a "sandbox" -- where users can surf safely without fear that their systems will be permanently damaged by hackers or malware.
ForceField is Check Point's implementation of the browser virtualization concept, in which all of the operating system elements that interface with the browser -- including the registry -- are duplicated during a Web session. If malware or some other infection is introduced, they interact only with the duplicate, leaving the core operating system unharmed.
"It's sort of like a stunt double that you see in the movies," says Laura Yecies, vice president and general manager of Check Point's ZoneAlarm consumer division. "The duplicate takes all the risks, and your most valuable assets stay safe."
While users are in the "sandbox," ForceField also protects them with a range of security tools, including anti-phishing tools, spyware site blocking, site ratings, download scanning, keylogger jamming, temporary file encryption, and a "private browser" mode that prevents others from viewing a user's online activities.
The idea is to provide security without changing the user's browsing experience any more than necessary," Yecies says. "We're transparent wherever we can be, except when the user is about to do something dangerous. Then the red lights go off."
The idea of browser virtualization has been around for years, most notably in the technology developed by GreenBorders, a startup acquired by Google last year. ForceField picks up the flag left by GreenBorders, which so far has not had the broad impact that was expected by observers following the Google buyout.
Analysts generally regard browser virtualization as a positive step toward endpoint security, but they acknowledge that it needs work. "The problem with Web browsers is that they are designed to run anything, from anywhere," says Rich Mogull, principal and founder of Securosis Inc., a security consultancy. "Browser virtualization is a start at creating some better security boundaries, but generic tools will always struggle with the basic model of the Web."
"What's more interesting is session virtualization, where your bank, online shopping site, or other Web application can wall itself off in the browser to protect against [cross-site request forgery] and other attacks," Mogull adds.
ZoneAlarm ForceField is available now for $29.95 for a single user. A family pack (three users) is $49.95; users can also purchase ForceField bundled with other Check Point security products for $69.95.
Check Point plans to offer the product to consumers for some time before rolling out an enterprise version. "That's the way we usually roll out our products," Yecies says.
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