How Can I Surf The Web And Keep My Computer Safe With Sandboxie?

If you surf the internet for any length of time you are likely to come across many programs that you may like to download. Many of them are free and this can be for a number of reasons. It could be that you have found a trial version of a program that is free to use in the hope that you will pay for a more fully featured product or one that doesn’t expire after a month. Or it could be a new developer genuinely giving something away in order to enhance their reputation. Or, ever increasingly, you may find a download is free because the writer of the software has included some nasty extras such as malware or adware. Worse yet, you could receive such an infected download without even asking for it or clicking anything as some web sites will install their payloads just as soon as you visit them.

So wouldn’t it be nice to be able to surf the web safely and download programs without the fear of them messing your computer up?

With Sandboxie you can.

download Sandboxie

Sandboxie creates a specially controlled ‘sandbox’ environment for you PC. A sandbox is an area of your computer that is walled off from everything else and anything you put in it cannot escape and therefore cannot spread or damage your system.

Sandboxie is very easy to download and use. Head over to www.sandboxie.com and click on the Download link as seen in the image above.

download

As always, it is worth reading the End-User License Agreement before continuing. When reading click on the md5/sha1 link as highlighted above.

Next you can choose which version you want to install – 32 bit or 64 bit. If you are unsure which one to go for then choose the top option, All.

select version

When you first install Sandboxie it will have a quick scan of your system in order to find out what other programs you are running. It is especially interested in any security software you may have. A dialogue box will appear, as seen below, which will offer to apply configuration settings to some or all of the programs it finds in order to improve compatibility. Click on OK.

sandboxie security configuration

Once you have done this you will be presented with the splash screen seen below. As a new user it may well be worth your time clicking on the Getting Started with Sandboxie button. Otherwise click on Close to continue.

Sandboxie welcome

Now that you have installed Sandboxie you will have a new icon on your desktop called Sandboxed Web Browser. This handy shortcut will open your default web browser as normal, Chrome in my case, but you will immediately be in sandbox mode. Double click on this icon when you are ready to go online.

Sandboxed web browser

Whilst using the new sandboxed web browser head over to a web site from where you wish to download a program. I picked something at random to use an an example – Audacity – but you can choose to download any program from any source.

When you have found a program to download proceed as you normally would and click on the link or whatever is required in order to start the download process. Sandboxie will be monitoring what you are doing and will now ask whether you want to Recover the program. If you are sure you trust this download then click on the Recover button. This will bypass the sandbox and install the program as normal. That of course is not the point of this article so click on Close instead in order to continue in sandboxed mode.

in sandbox

Once the program you are downloading has finished go to wherever such files normally reside on your computer – Start/Documents/Downloads in my case – and double click on the installation file just as you normally would.

The program will go through its setup routine and you would imagine that it has installed in the same way programs have in the past. But it hasn’t. If you look at the screenshot above you will see that I have navigated to C:/Program Files/ and Audacity is not there.

It is, however, showing in Sandboxie as you can see on the right of the image above and also in the image below. If no problems are detected then you can recover the program.

To get to the screen shown below you need switch over to the Sandboxie window which should still be open. Open the View menu and you will see Quick Recovery Folders and All Files and Folders listed. Click on the [+] button next to All Files and Folders in order to open up the file tree. Do the same again with User Files then Personal followed by Downloads until you are presented with something similar to what I have below.

At this point you will see the downloaded file that you want to recover. Right click on it and choose the Recover to Same Folder option.

recover from sandbox

Now when you go to where programs are normally installed (C:/Program Files/ in my case) you will see that the new program is now there rather than in the sandbox. You can see my example of Audacity now being in place in the image below:

unsandboxed

The last thing to do now is to empty the sandbox. You can do this after recovering any downloads that you want to keep or without recovering anything you want to discard, such as programs that are not functioning correctly or that are exhibiting strange behaviour which may indicate some form of adware or malware being in tow.

Emptying the sandbox is easy. Just go back to the main screen and click on the Sandbox link at the top. From the drop down menu choose DefaultBox followed by Delete Contents. You can see how this is done in the image below:

delete contents

A new screen will appear which will summarise what you are emptying from your sandbox. Click on the Delete Contents button to confirm that you wish to continue. And thats it. You now have an empty sandbox and anything that was in it is now either recovered if you chose to do so or gone if you felt it posed a compatibility problem or security risk. All the while you were testing the download it was kept away from your important files and documents and so, even if it was infected or corrupt in some way, your system will have been safe from harm during the entire process.

empty sandbox

Sandboxie is a great little program (the download is only about one megabyte) which offers you the opportunity to test downloads out without any risk to your computer through potential compatibility or infection problems. It also allows you to surf the web with the Sandboxed web browser so you will not need to worry about clicking any potentially dangerous links whilst it is in operation.

Sandboxie is free to use, though it does start bugging you with an annoying nag box after 30 days if you don’t choose to upgrade to the paid version. There are also some known conflicts with a small number of programs, including some security software, so be sure to check that out before proceeding. Overall though, it is a very useful piece of software and well worth checking out: Sandboxie.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

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