Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Safe Web Surfing

My parents were in town this weekend, and my mother asked what the safest way to access the Internet was. She uses Internet Explorer, so a switch to Firefox should make a good deal of difference. However, the safest way to surf the web is to do so within a virtual machine.

For those of you who aren't up on virtualization, it works like this. Your computer, the one you use right now, is called the host machine. It is the core system. You can install virtual computers or virtual machines (VMs) that use the resources of your computer, but act as if they were completely separate computers. This is different than dual-booting where a computer can run different operating systems, but only one at a time. With virtualization you can run two or more operating systems at the same time. Mac users often run Windows VMs on the Macs so that they can use software only available for Windows. Windows runs like another application window on their desktop.

You can download VMWare player for free and then install another operating system on your current computer within a virtual machine that VMWare player will create for you. It sounds complicated, but it's actually super easy. For example, if you wanted to run an Ubuntu Linux VM, then this is what you'd do:
1) Download and install VMWare Player.
2) Download Ubuntu linux. The file you download will end in .iso. Remember where you saved it.
3) Launch VMWare Player.
4) Click Create New Virtual Machine.
5) Choose "installer disc image file" and browse to the iso you just downloaded.
6) VMWare recognizes that you are installing Ubuntu. You run through a wizard that asks you all the relevant questions and in 10-15 minutes you have an Ubuntu VM running.

Now, you might ask, what does this do for me? Well, that Ubuntu computer is far less susceptible to viruses and malware. And the best part is even if it does get compromised, your regular computer won't be infected. You just delete the VM and create a new one. Specially designed web browsing VMs are even available that take up few resources and just let you access email and web browsers and maybe a chat program.

It can be a pain to activate the VM every time you want to browse the Internet. Also, it can be annoying to transfer files you download in the VM to your host computer. But it is much safer. If you find yourself getting infected a lot, like my father does, then you might want to try it out.

1 comment:

Alpheus said...

And the best part is even if it does get compromised, your regular computer won't be infected.

That is indeed very cool. Thanks for this post.

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