Product review: SOS Pro offers data protection, Internet filtering

It is often said in football that the best offence is a good defence. The same is true for IS managers trying to support end users in the enterprise; but here, the best defence usually involves protecting users from themselves. Save Our System Pro (SOS Pro), Version 1.5, from Sterling Strategic Solutions, helps managers do this by offering data protection and Internet filtering in one package.

Although PC-protection and Internet-filtering products are not new on the software scene, SOS Pro is one of the first I have encountered that combines both in a reasonably priced package. And beyond a few quirks, it's a generally useful utility.

To achieve its security capabilities, SOS Pro consists of two separate but integrated programs, SOS-Pro and Web Commander. SOS-Pro lets you protect the appearance and configuration of the Windows desktop, and lets you lock down network, hardware, and software settings. Web Commander is essentially a Web browser that can be installed and used to control access to the Web and filter out offensive Web traffic. Web Commander is fully configurable through SOS Pro.

Once installed, this combination of programs is configured through an administrative program with a tabbed interface. You can set up either different users or a single default user on a machine-by-machine basis. Setting up multiple users will require them to provide a user name and password during log-in. If you are setting up multiple machines at once, SOS-Pro lets you configure all workstations on a network from one machine, making it possible to set security standards once and distribute the settings across the enterprise.

SOS Pro blocks offensive Web traffic by scanning all text on a Web page before it is displayed and then comparing it to a default word and phrase list. If an objectionable word or phrase is found, the page is replaced with a message box indicating that the site is not available for viewing. By default, SOS Pro attempts to restrict pornographic material from being downloaded.

Because SOS Pro does not rely on a growing internal database of prohibited sites like other filtering software, it offers administrators some advantages, especially concerning flexibility. But your enthusiasm might be tempered by SOS Pro's performance issues. Although offensive sites were blocked successfully, the overhead of SOS Pro's "read-ahead" technique often resulted in sluggish download times, sometimes even making it appear as if the browser was frozen.

If using the customised Web Commander isn't your cup of tea, SOS Pro will enforce blocking for Netscape Navigator, Versions 3.0, and Version 4.0, as well as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Version 4.0. SOS FilterGuard, a component that provides filtering in other browsers, is loaded at startup and can only be disabled via password. But bypassing Web Commander in favor of a more standard browser will prevent you from taking advantage of all of SOS-Pro's Internet features, including time limits and Web logging.

Outside of blocking content, SOS Pro can also be used to disable Java applets, ActiveX controls, and plug-ins; to prevent site bookmarking; and to prevent file downloads.

On the PC protection side, SOS Pro allows you to protect more than 60 local settings. You can eliminate wallpaper, resolution, and screen-saver changes, and you can freeze desktop settings. You can also restrict access to selected disk drives based on the time of day, including floppy and CD-ROM drives. Control panel and printer changes can also be controlled, as can date and time modifications and access to the MS-DOS prompt.

To help you make sense out of the myriad choices, SOS Pro offers access to a number of pre-configured restriction levels via its One-Touch Settings box. Three settings for home, office, and education users each offer a high, medium, and low security setting. This is a quick, easy way to assume a blanket security level and tailor it to your specific site needs.

Unfortunately, SOS-Pro's intuitive interface and enterprise capabilities are somewhat belied by its lacklustre documentation, which lacks flow and clarity. Nonetheless, for sites looking to tone down obvious problem areas of PC support and control Internet access, SOS-Pro is worth consideration.

Todd Coopee (tcoopee@sci-canada.com) is a senior consultant at Specialized Communications, in Ottawa, Ontario.

The bottom line: good

Save Our System Pro, Version 1.5

This combination Internet filter/PC protection tool allows you to lock down PC settings and control Web access.

Pros: PC protection options; tabbed interface.

Cons: Read-ahead scheme affects performance.

Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98.

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