McAfee is releasing tools for both problems: protection against uninvited surfers, and the equivalent of a digital babysitter.
McAfee's Internet Guard Dog 3.0, priced at $39, ships this week; it restricts Web access based on your configuration. Also, McAfee's Personal Firewall, priced at $39.95 yearly, will monitor your Internet and network communications.
Personal Firewall supports Windows 95 and 98, and it's scheduled to be available shortly for Windows NT and 2000 (operating systems not typically used in homes). A late beta of the program is available now on McAfee.com, and a final version is expected this week.
Shipping on Wednesday, McAfee's $39 Internet Guard Dog 3.0 supports Microsoft Windows 95 and 98; it will support Windows 2000 in early April and Windows Millennium (the successor to Windows 98) when it arrives.
Training the Guard Dog
Guard Dog's Configuration Assistant leads you through the set-up process with a series of questions. You designate one user, who is the only one permitted to make changes to settings, as the Administrator.
You tell Guard Dog what hours everyone can be online, what sites they can and can't visit, and whether they can access and receive e-mail and attachments as well as Newsgroups. Guard Dog filters chats on instant messaging clients (AIM, ICQ, IRC, and MSN) and in chat rooms. And it logs any attempts to violate these settings.
Guard Dog also lets you encrypt personal information with Pretty Good Privacy, a strong e-mail encryption product. The e-mail recipient must be running PGP to decrypt your mail. And it ships with McAfee's VirusScan product, which will scan and detect all sorts of pesky viruses.
Firewall When Ready
If you have an always-on cable modem or Digital Subscriber Line connection, you face other quite serious threats to your PC's safety--because it may be a sitting duck for hackers.
Enter a firewall, which blocks certain network traffic, depending on the rules you set.
To get started, I loaded the software and rebooted. A McAfee dialog box greeted me when AOL Instant Messenger tried to auto-launch. I clicked "Allow AIM.EXE to communicate." It did the same thing when I launched ICQ and Internet Explorer; only authorized applications can connect. You only have to authorize an application once.
You can leave the default settings and have adequate protection, says Phil Attfield, McAfee's technical marketing director. In fact, the system settings section in particular has a dizzying number of configuration options.
You can block specific ports (which identify a specific kind of communication such as HTTP transfers) based on the type of protocols you use. But you'll have to probe a bit to find out what settings work for you.
While Attfield says Personal Firewall is aimed at home users, I found a lot of the options a bit daunting. McAfee offers a dictionary of common terms for configuring your firewall. But his advice is: If you don't know what something does, leave it alone. One false move and you might wonder if hackers could make things much worse.