If you never used the internet there would be no need for security software. Life without the web is unthinkable, though, and while it can be extremely useful for a wide range of activities from social networking with friends to collaborating on work projects with colleagues, it can also be a source of malware.

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Viruses, Trojans, spyware and similar programs can find their way onto your computer through a variety of mechanisms. They can be automatically downloaded simply by visiting a website or you can be tricked into running them. How can your PC be protected on the internet?

The first means of defence is an anti-virus and spyware program, but they are not infallible. A great way to improve on the security they offer is to add a sandbox. Like a safe area for a child to play, a computer sandbox is a safe place in which to browse the web and run software.

Suppose you download a program from the web, you don't know whether it is safe or contains malware. A sandbox utility creates a sort of virtual computer and runs the program within it. The program cannot change Windows settings, files on the disk, the web browser, or anything else.

Everything it does is contained within the virtual environment, so if it is malware, it cannot harm your PC because it cannot access anything. If it tries to install something, like a virus, Trojan or spyware, it is installed in the virtual PC and not on your real PC.

A sandbox is a brilliant idea that makes using the web much safer, including web chats and internet banking. After testing a download in a sandbox you can erase it if it is malware or if it simply isn't what you want. If it turns out to be the real deal, you can install it properly or save it to your hard disk. You can also safely open email attachments without fear.

There are several sandbox utilities, such as BufferZone Pro and Sandboxie. In this tutorial we will use BufferZone Pro. This free utility enables you to download and run software in a virtual safe zone, open email attachments, browse the web, chat, erase the virtual zone, lock files and more.

It even enables you to use USB devices, like a USB flash memory drive, in a secure virtual zone. With BufferZone Pro installed on your PC using the internet will be much safer and a lot less worrying. It is especially useful if you have children or less knowledgeable people that use your computer.

How to use sandbox software to safely download programs

1. Go to www.trustware.com and download BufferZone Pro using the home page button. Open the Downloads folder and double-click BufferZoneProFree.msi and install it. Click through the security messages that are displayed and restart Windows.

BufferZone install

2. BufferZone Pro starts when Windows boots us. Enter your name and email to activate it. Websites can be securely protected, so click 'None (click to add)' in the Protect your privacy section. Click the + button and enter online shopping and banking sites.

BufferZone configure

3. Folders can be hidden when using the internet, as well as simply to increase security. Two are hidden by default, My Documents and Outlook Mailbox. Click the link to add more. Click the + button and enter the path to a folder or file.

BufferZone configure

4. Click Finish and BufferZone will open a web browser. Now you can browse the web and download software. We chose notepad-plus-plus.org, but any will do. Open the Downloads folder and notice that it has a .virtual filename extension.

BufferZone download

5. Double click the program you downloaded and install it. It looks like it is installing to the hard disk drive, but notice the BufferZone messages in the bottom right corner. BufferZone is protecting the computer during the installation.

BufferZone install program

6. Although the program appears to be installed and running, it is locked inside BufferZone and can’t access the PC. Return to Downloads and right click the file to move it or open it outside of BufferZone and really install it on the PC.

BufferZone move outside

7. If you decide not to keep the program you installed, right click the BufferZone icon and select Open. Click Empty BufferZone at the bottom and tick all the options. This clears every file and every change the program has made.


8. That’s basically it. You know how to test software inside BufferZone and move it outside to really install it. Click the arrow at the left side of the window and click Policy. The sliders enable the security to be increased or decreased.

BufferZone settings

9. Select Configuration and on the Settings tab you can password protect BufferZone, perhaps to prevent a child from changing anything. On the Misc tab, you can schedule automatic clearing of downloaded files and installed software.

BufferZone empty