Free Internet Security Tools, Lightweight PDF Reader

Criminals have gotten pretty good at making fake Web sites (for PayPal, eBay, Facebook, etc.) look like the real thing. But what they can't fake quite as easily is the location of the Web server that's hosting their fradulent site. You might be looking at a perfect replica of, say, Bank of America, but if the site is hosted in Uzbekistan, it's a good bet you shouldn't input your password. Read "Seven HInts to Stay Safe Online" for details on this sort of scam, and some ways to protect yourself.

Flagfox for Firefox makes the necessary detective work simple: it determines the Web server's physical location and pastes the corresponding country's flag at the end of the address bar. Clever!

If you're wondering how it works, Flagfox bases its flag choice on the actual location of the server you're connected to, rather than just the nationality of the domain name--which may be different.

After installing the plug-in and restarting Firefox, just head to any site and you'll see the flag at the right end of the address bar. If you click the flag, you'll get a new tab containing detailed geographic information about the site.

If you right-click the flag, Flagfox pops up a list of other handy tools, including Whois, SiteAdvisor, Web of Trust, and URL-shortener bit.ly. Head to the settings (via Tools, Add-ons) for the plug-in and you'll find a dozen or so other options you can add to the list.

This is a great little addition to Firefox, one that combines convenience with added security. What's not to like?

Keep Your PC Insulated from Internet Threats with Free BufferZone Pro

Most security tools leap into action only after they've detected a threat--and sometimes that's too late (especially if the threat is one that's new and unknown).

The only way to really stay safe while you're online is to work inside a virtual environment--a kind of protected bubble (aka "sandbox") that operates on your PC but isn't directly tied to it. Trustware's BufferZone Pro creates exactly that kind of protected bubble, thus offering a unique (and theoretically impenetrable) level of protection.

BufferZone Pro originally sold for $40, but Trustware has decided to offer the software free to home users.

The software's virtual environment isolates security threats and prevents them from ever touching your PC. With it you can safely download, install, and run any application without worrying about Trojan horses, worms, keyloggers, spyware, Adware, phishing attempts, or other computer-clogging malware.

This newly free Pro version includes support for USB devices (flash drives, etc.), P2P file sharing, all instant-messaging programs, and personal files (which get stored in a confidential folder). And unlike many security tools, BufferZone Pro isn't subscription-based, meaning you won't get hit with a $40 bill a year from now. It's free, period.

The software is available in 32-bit editions for Windows XP, Vista, and 7; a 64-bit version is in the works and due to be released by the end of this month. It's not the most novice-friendly tool I've ever used, but if you've had malware problems in the past or you're concerned about the effectiveness of your security software, I highly recommend taking this freebie for a test-drive.

Replace Slow, Bloated Adobe Reader with Tiny, Speedy Sumatra PDF

Every computer user needs a good PDF reader, but many users make the mistake of thinking Adobe Reader is the best and/or only option. It's not. In fact, I'd say it's overkill for most folks, offering features you don't need, plodding performance, and enough resource-hogging bloat that it can actually make your system run slower.

Not to worry: just uninstall Reader and replace it with a smaller, faster, less-intrusive PDF viewer. There are plenty of programs that fit this description, but if you're looking for the smallest, fastest, and least intrusive, check out Sumatra PDF.

I'd call Sumatra a bare-bones, quick-and-dirty PDF viewer. It loads in an instant, consumes only a few megabytes of space on your hard drive, and uses just 6MB of system RAM when running (not including whatever documents you load into it). Adobe Reader uses closer to 30MB of system RAM (when you factor in its startup utility, which is always running).

By design, Sumatra has very few features. It lets you view pages in whatever configuration you want (single-page, facing pages, fullscreen, etc.), rotate pages, e-mail pages, and so on. If a PDF has a hyperlink, you can click it to open your browser. Interestingly, it also includes an Open in Adobe Reader option, just in case you encounter a PDF that does require a Reader-specific feature (and assuming you haven't uninstalled Reader).

If you're a fan of running programs from a flash drive, make sure to grab the portable version of Sumatra PDF; it can run directly from an executable, meaning there's nothing to install.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com . You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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