Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Browzar; Browsers and the End of Humanity?

This was not the post I was wanting to do today.

I had a few other things to contribute to the Web, this didn't seem to be such a high priority on my posting calendar.

Until all this came tramping across my screen over the past couple of days...slowly marching forward like the King of Lizards, Godzilla himself, slowing trampling down Japan until now he roars enraged, tangled in high-tension power lines while jets and tanks pepper The Great Green One mercilessly.

Geesh.

The great Browzar debate trundles on....

Court is now in session....All Rise! (Let's keep this casual, you may be seated).

Current deer caught in the Web's headlights: Browzar (beta).

Charges according to much of the web: Pure Evil.

What does the Defendant publicly plead?: "With Browzar you can search and surf the web without leaving any visible trace on the computer you are using." Source.

Furthermore, "We don't believe in Adware. Browzar is guaranteed to be100% free of Adware/Spyware and this has been independently verified by third parties. We have provided a search engine on our start page for your convenience but you are under no obligation to use it, Browzar customers are free to use the search engine of your choice by simply typing in the search engine web address in the address box. Like all other search engines, the search results in our search engine contain sponsored links, these sponsored links are clearly marked so that our users can clearly distinguish between paid links and search results." Source.

The Prosecution Claims:

BBC: 'Adware' attack on privacy tool' Software that claimed to provide increased privacy whilst surfing the web has been criticized by computer experts and the blogging community."

TechCrunch: "Is Browzar Just An Adware Machine?"

Web3.0log: "New secure browser Browzar is fake and full of adware"

AMCP Tech Blog: "Browzar Might be More than a Privacy Browser"

Slashdot: "Privacy Web Browser 'Browzar' Branded Adware"

ComputerZen: "A New Private Browser - I mean Browzar - does not work as advertised"

And so on....

Now, all of these fine and deeply respected folk have done their homework well and have raised some serious concerns about just how "secure" this program is. Specifically, that it may have problems with leaving cookies, files, and other browsing session remnants behind.

In addition, using the embedded search bar directs users to ad-sponsored search results via Yahoo's Overture, and the start-page cannot be changed by the user. Let me be clear, I am in no-way calling into question their conclusions. They all seem pretty valid, but I'm feeling an undercurrent across the web which has been stirred up--like nuclear testing re-awakening Godzilla--that seems to feel betrayed, hurt, damaged, and offended by this browser. That it contains adware, spyware, Pure Evil encoded. That they were offered a free cheeseburger in the mall and were aggrieved to find it was not "real" cheese, but cheese substitute. People were lied to, and heads should roll. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit, but I hope you get my point....

The Defendant struggles to speak:

From the BBC web article: "Mr Ajaz Ahmed, founder of internet service provider Freeserve and the man behind Browzar, told the BBC News website that he thought people were misusing the term."

"This is not adware at all," he said. "Like every search engine, Browzar has sponsored advertising."

I did a Google news search (sorted by date) looking to get a sense of how and when this thing burst onto the Web. From what I can tell, there were a series of public-relations news releases by the company posted to the Web on August 30th, 2006. This news release got picked up and repackaged by various tech-news sites across the globe, spinning the "security" angle of the product. Not until Sept. 1st-2nd did the tide begin to turn and the blog-0-sphere begin to take a deeper look at the hype and call to question the "security" and "ad-ware free" claims made by the company. The Web darling was about to get dissed by the same folks that brought her to the ball. Bummer. The Web can be a fickle friend.

Granted, a reading of one of Browzar's initial public news-releases set a high standard to live up to: Quoting extensively from their own words...

"The launch of Browzar (www.browzar.com) comes after AOL employees published personal search histories of 685,000 of its US customers and recent research found one in five second hand computers are resold with personal data left on them by previous owners...."

"Browzar does not require any installation or registration and doesn't save information from any websites visited while using it. Cache, history, cookies and auto-complete forms are all automatically deleted, protecting people's privacy while online."

" Ajaz Ahmed, founder of Browzar, said: "Browzar will do for surfing and searching the web with privacy what eBay did for auctions and My Space did for social networking. It is the first in a range of products that we'll be rolling out this year."

"We divulge masses of information about our habits, hobbies and financial dealings while online, often unknowingly, and there are times when all of us would rather this was kept private. Using Browzar, anyone worldwide can surf the Web privately in the knowledge that no-one will stumble across the sites they have visited when using the same computer."

"You can use Browzar through your existing internet window to run it directly from the Web, so you don't even need to download it to the computer you use. If using a shared computer, it gives you peace of mind that you are not leaving personal details behind after you have finished surfing the Web." We divulge personal and financial information online creating a risk to our privacy and security as standard internet browsers store this information on their computer and can display it to other people who may use the same machine. Ahmed said: "Although it's possible to delete history folders and empty cache with existing internet browsers, the majority of internet users worldwide don't have the time or expertise to do this."

"There is no free, method that offers the freedom to surf the Web privately that is as simple and easy to use as Browzar. It doesn't keep copies of pages that have been visited or retain details that have been entered into online forms."

"Both Freeserve and Browzar translate complicated technology into simple, people-friendly internet tools with mass appeal, given away to people completely free. Ahmed's inspired 'free' business model pioneered by Freeserve and employed by Browzar has become a standard across the internet industry as a whole. ISPs, telephone, broadband and social networking companies have all adopted the 'free' model. Ajaz Ahmed added: "Browzar is free, quick and simple to use so it has global appeal and is something that everyone who accesses the internet will have a use for."

(I bet even Al Gore (who invented the Internet, after all) is shaking his head at some of these statements.)

A few lone voices of Reason:

Paperghost (Vitalsecurity.org): "I am Browzar, you are Tokyo"

Quoting, "In conclusion - Godzilla would smack Browzar all over the place. But the current fever-pitch levels over Browzar are getting somewhat out of hand. Looks like a fairly run-of-the-mill, nowhere-near-as-good-as-it-claims IE shell that made the unfortunate mistake of getting on the security bandwagon while forgetting that security-conscious people do not like sponsored adverts."

Claus's Verdict on the case before the bench:

1) It's clearly offered as beta, gentle readers--maybe the developers are working on "bugs" and 100% cleaning mark of detritus of evil surfing and the "release" version will be perfect.

2) Yes, if you use the search-toolbar, you get sponsored ads in your results.

3) Yes, you can just type the name of whatever search engine you like in the bar and you're good to go.

4) No you can't (for now?) change the homepage...but you can close the program and open up IE or Firefox or whatever and use that for a homepage.

5) Umm.....you do realize that if you are trying to sneaky-surf the web (especially at work) that your employer (and likely ISP) is still keeping wonderful logs of your browser's IP requests and the like? Right? Just 'cause it ain't on your local hard-drive, don't mean the sysadmins and "Bid Brudder" don't know what you've been doin'!

6) Who stirred up this software to begin with? Well, Browzar's pain seems to have been brought upon itself. It appears that it's release was timed and re-packaged to surf high on the wake of AOL's security breach. (What's interesting in that statement is that the breach occurred due to individuals and researchers within and without the search-providers own internal company, based on data collected by AOL's own internal logging systems, and has ABSOULUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT THE POOR AOL USERS DELETED THEIR PERSONAL SYSTEM'S BROWSING HISTORIES!!! Please re-read that. Also, Browzar was designed in mind of helping poor users who sell their pc's without deleting the data off their hard-drives? Really? So Browzar solves this delimia for bend-over backward consumers how? Well, by their own press-release, by deleting user's Web-activity from the local hard-drive.

That has got to be some of the most stupid statements I have heard for a long time! As stated before, the logs remain with the corporate sysadmins, and they (and their partners) are responsible for the AOL "security breach", not the users' who put their trust in AOL. Browzar is powerless to help secure these consumers.

7) Also, since it appears that Browzar does not perform a secure data wipe in deleting all these user's Web-browsing tracks from the user's hard-drive, the data quite conceivably could be easily recovered by most computer forensic experts and many system administrators. So much for that claim by Browzar (as it currently stands).

This, to me at least, is where the real story focus should be in the Browzar debacle and not the "adware" betrayal currently making it's way across the web.

Browzar Convicted:

Of stupid weak security claims, of pandering to consumer's computer security fears, of releasing a beta version that seems to not (in some cases) deliver on it's basic claims, and despite the self-aggrandized hype, of being just another "browser-wrapper".

Browzar Acquitted:

Of delivering a sneaky, lying good-for-nothing "ADWARE" tainted product foisted upon the masses of Web lemmings, since a careful and detailed reading of their website reveals they do disclose the product utilizes ad-based sponsorship search results. (Did they add these statements to their site pages after the uproar? I'm too tired to check the Web for cached versions to compare....maybe, maybe not.)

So what is a poor consumer supposed to do?

"Sneaky" Alternatives:

TorPark - (freeware) Gives you tunneled and rotating (international) IP addresses, no page caching, and other security goodies.

Ghostzilla - (freeware) Allows you to hide your browsing window blended into almost any application. So the boss thinks your reading your email, not surfing the web. Not secure, but sneaky.

NoTrax - Heidi software's (not free) secure browsing alternative. Not a "browser-wrapper" but a stand-alone Web browser. Coded with secure and trackless browsing in mind. Uses truly-secure data erasure removal of browsing history and a blowfish encrypted cache. This is the almost the "real-deal" that Browzar aspires to be, but from a trusted security software vendor without the adware baggage.

GreenBorderPro - (kinda free?) Sandboxes IE browsing.

Bufferzone - (free) Sandboxes IE browsing.

GeSWall (Personal Edition) - (free) Sandboxes IE browsing.

The Rest of the Story--"Browsers" versus "Browser Wrappers"

Browzar isn't really a "standalone" web-browser. They don't even claim to be, although many of the initial news-stories seemed to package it erroneously as such.

What Browzar is, is actually a "browser-wrapper" (or more technically correct: an Internet Explorer shell). These applications utilize the Microsoft Internet Explorer "Trident" rendering engine software and "wrap" it in their own various degrees of eye-candy and functionality; usually providing customized features not natively present in a pure Internet Explorer web browser. It is pretty clever stuff, actually, but calling these programs "web-browsers" in-of-themselves is not entirely accurate, as they cannot operate on their own without IE being present on the system.

See also:

Trident (Internet Explorer's layout engine) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Comparison of layout engines - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Internet Explorer Shell "browsers" Alternatives

For your entertainment and education I submit the following additional Internet Explorer shell browsers similar to the now infamous "Browzar". I'm not a fan of them at all, but I know quite a few users highly enamored with them. I haven't used them, nor can I vouch for any of their claims, or if any of them are "adware/malware-tainted", or what they might do to your system if you use them. They might be great products, or might not. I do believe that almost all of them are freeware. Take your pick and be your own judge. (Descriptions from the developers- not mine.)

GreenBrowser - Green Multi Window Web Browser For You

Maxthon Browser - Tabbed Internet browser software

Foxie - Complete Privacy, Security and Productivity Suite

Crazy Browser - Enhance your Web browsing experience with this tabbed web browser!

AM Browser - Enhance your Web browsing experience with this tabbed web browser!

Avant Browser - a tabbed browser with Flash Filter, Popup Blocker, Cleaner and Web Search

AcooBrowser - tabbed web browser, Internet Browser, Ad Filter, popup blocker, privacy cleaner, mouse gestures

Slim Browser - Tabbed web browser with popup killer

Sleipnir - ...a browser used every day (Japanese software product)

E2 - an easy-to-use, tightly integrated Internet Browser with a built-in Collection Tool that lets you browse the web, view and collect any thing that interests you

Nemesis2 - Internet Explorer wrapper

NetCaptor - NetCaptor is the original tabbed browser. We did it first, and we still do it best.

NetWorker - NetWorker is a free multiple window web browser. It uses Internet Explorer or Netscape (Mozilla) as render engine and extends their functionalities

Alternative Web-browsing Products:

I have used most all of these products and am generally impressed on what they deliver. If you are looking for something different from Internet Explorer, and want a product that truly is an alternative Web-browser engine from Internet Explorer, check these applications out. You might be surprised on how full-featured (and light) they are. Most can be run off a USB stick.

The Off By One Web Browser - A Free Web Browser - now supporting "tabbed browsing" and SSL socket connections.



Portable K-Meleon - project of Douglas McFadzean - Gecko-based portable web browser




Firefox Portable PortableApps.com - Firefox's current release version made portable by John Haller




Firefox Portable 2.0 Beta 2 PortableApps.com - Firefox's latest Beta release version made portable by John Haller




OperaUSB == download - extract - use ==




Opera Portable - Opera in USB, CD, LAN, Wherever!

Thank you for your patience. Court dismissed....until further notice.

--Claus

4 comments:

Mike, Nicki, and Josh said...

Claus,

I love the courtroom format of this post. Over the long weekend, I didn't get a chance to check out some of your previous posts.

Sad news about our friend the Croc Hunter. Definitely untimely and who would have guessed that he would have been taken like that? I figured that a croc might get him one day, but this was just a freak accident!

Also, if you're interested in other strange Sudoku puzzles (diagonals, irregular shaped puzzles, etc.), then here's a link worth viewing:

www.menneske.no/sudoku/eng/

-Mike

Claus said...

Thanks Mike (and gang!)

Looks like you've had you hands full as well! (Loved the tastefully written posts on your spa visits! Quite a few of the anime/manga series we read often involve hi-jinks at the "hot-springs" so getting a "man on the street" account was, ummm, revealing?!!!

It's a real challenge sometimes to strike a balance between the tech-world I swim in (and enjoy), and keep a light and human touch to things.

I was telling my brother over our Labor Day weekend that it's rejuvenating to mix it up a little bit on the blog, when I've been doing a lot of dry, technical/procedural writing during the week at work.

I just wanted to add some perspective on this whole story and remind folks that there are some really great (and trustworthy) alternatives to what this application was offering, but failing to deliver.

Thanks for the Su Doku link! It looks great. I've got it bookmarked and am going to print some off tomorrow (stayed up too late last night wrapping up this post and need to make up with Lavie!).

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I like the courtroom style myself. Thank You for the most interesting info on Browzar. I'm the local guru around where I live.So I'd heard of this thing but really hadn't looked it over yet. Now I'm just going to referr them to your page.They can then make up their own minds on it all.

Claus said...

You are very welcome!

Thanks for stopping in!

--Claus