A computer security sandbox is a virtual computer environment which resides on the disk of another computer. By virtual, I mean a totally operable “computer” that is created and controlled by software and looks and feels to other software packages, browsers, and yes…malware; just like a computer—but it’s not. And…here’s the best part…the sandbox is completely controlled and sealed off from the rest of the host computer. So, if you were browsing the Internet using a sandbox and a virus
got by your firewall and anti-virus protection and infected your virtual “computer” sandbox; the virus would be contained within the sandbox and at the end of your browsing session would be deleted without causing any harm to your real computer.
By the way, before you start thinking a sandbox is the answer to all your anti-malware needs, using a sandbox is just one “layer” in good computer security protection. We call this a layered security approach: where we use several security protection components or layers to keep the malware and the bad guys out. These components are usually: the physical access to your computer; a firewall; and anti-virus and other malware protection. This is a simplified list and description in order to get this point across.
Another way to visualize layered security is to imagine that your house is your computer, your bedroom is your operating system and software applications running on your computer. A burglar is malware in the form of a virus. The burglar first has to break the lock on your front gate (the physical security layer such as who you let use your computer); next he needs to break the lock on your front door (the firewall layer which tries to filter entry into your system); next the burglar has to get past your dog who is trained to bark and attempt to subdue viruses, er…burglars that he recognizes as such (this layer is your anti-virus/malware protection). Once this burglar has gotten past the gate, door and dog, he’s got free access to your bedroom (operating system and applications) and other parts of the house as he pleases. At this point you might be thinking that a burglar (virus) will never get past all three of those layers. Sorry, but as effective as those layers are…they can still be penetrated under the right circumstances. So…let’s add another layer for good measure—a sandbox.
Let’s continue our burglar scenario and say the sandbox is a room built as a vault with no chance of escape once someone enters it. The vault room (sandbox) is located inside the house, in the foyer with the dog, and between the door and the bedroom. Mr. burglar goes in there, thinks he’s free to do his nasty deeds and hangs out there. However, when the family goes to sleep and turns the lights out (shutting down your computer), the vault room, with Mr. burglar, disappears as if they were never there. The next day when the family wakes up; a new, empty vault room is created just in case another burglar drops by.
Computer security sandboxes are available for free and purchase and have become easy for less-technical folks to use. Google “best sandbox software” to begin your search. One such sandbox is Sandboxie, the one I use, and I’m quite happy with it. I have no relationship with Sandboxie and only know them as a customer. However, as you check around the Internet and look at the sandbox software reviews and evaluations you’ll be able to make an informed decision on which one you’d like to try. If you’re not comfortable with doing so, ask a computer support professional to help—it’s that important.
Remember, be careful…it’s dangerous out there.
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Remember, home computing is a blast…keep it safe, productive and enjoyable.