Product Reviews

Fab 5

An intrepid systems engineer divulges his most-loved Windows utilities. (A guy could get sentimental about this stuff.) Should these programs be in your toolbox?

We all know that a broadband Internet connection is where it’s at right now. But there’s a problem: That broadband connection means you’re exposed to the Internet 24 hours a day. Hackers, spammers, and other unscrupulous Internet denizens are just waiting in line to kick your “online butt” and then brag about it to their friends. Enter BlackICE Defender, a personal firewall and intrusion-detection system.

There are several free personal firewall products available, so why do I like BlackICE, which runs $39.95? Frankly, it’s worth it, and even non-security professionals can easily use it. When properly configured, BlackICE offers powerful, non-obtrusive protection. Simply set it for your required level of protection (Paranoid, Nervous, Cautious, Trusting) and you’re ready to go. True, you can find more configurable personal firewalls out there, but if you improperly configure them, why bother?

While some personal firewalls take hours to master and “harass” you each time they detect unknown traffic, BlackICE silently monitors your workstation and records all probes, denial-of-service attacks, and entry attempts. A flashing icon in your task tray lets you know someone has taken an improper interest in you. Depending on the security level you’ve configured, BlackICE automatically protects your workstation from unwanted visitors. My recommendation is that you start with the Paranoid setting and go from there.

Want to have fun? Install BlackICE and let it run for a few days. You’ll be shocked how many people are interested in your telnet, SMB file sharing, and assorted UDP Trojan ports. BlackICE can even do a quick query against an attacker, giving you some idea of who’s probing you. Try taking this information and putting it into Sam Spade to see an attacker’s origin. Entering an IP address and then getting an IP Block query can be revealing.

Figure 4. BlackICE Defender wraps your Windows 9x/NT/2000 system with a personal firewall and intrusion detection system. Here we see the configuration dialog—nice and easy. (Click image to view larger version.)

BlackICE does a good job of interpreting attacks and, if you’re so inclined, you can record raw packet information for more thorough investigations. On the downside, BlackICE doesn’t perform egress filtering (watching data that leaves your system). But most of your current applications should run flawlessly with BlackICE, and you won’t be hassled every time you use a new application or email client.

About the Author

Chip Andrews, MCSE+I, MCDBA is a software security architect at (Clarus Corp.). Chip maintains the ( Web site and speaks at security conferences on SQL Server security issues.


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