Preventon Secure Internet Desktop or PSID for short, is an amalgam of all of the company's products in a multi-function suite. The software is available in two versions - an ISP edition that relies upon the subscription service for ISPs in order to maintain, update and interact with the client software on the user's desktop, and a desktop version that functions on a standalone basis. The ISP version of the Personal Firewall PRO is already available to subscribers of Planet Internet in the Netherlands, at a subscription price of just over a pound a month (€1.95) and other ISPs are expected to sign up to the service in due course.
The desktop version reviewed here operates along more conventional lines, downloading updates, and interacting with Preventon's servers on a general level. Installing the software is a relatively simple affair. Piracy is cleverly blocked as the package must interface with Preventon's servers on a regular basis, to register and authorize its operation, as well as to download updates and allow ongoing usage.
The downloadable version of PSID comes in at a shade over 20Mb, in return for which you get a content management, firewall and anti-virus application, as well as other IT security functions, all as one. The software is relatively unique in the marketplace in taking a multi-disciplinary approach to IT security - AV facilities are thanks to the Sophos AV engine Preventon has licensed, while the content management feature comes from a licensing deal with First for Internet. F4i's Image Content Analysis (ICA) software allows administrators to rest assured that their employees are not busy downloading inappropriate material from the internet. The personal firewall technology seen in PSID was developed in-house and rounds out the trio of modules, all of which interface seamlessly.
So how does the software work? We installed and threw most things we could at the package, only to see it perform admirably. F4i's ICA technology, as expected, stopped us from looking at smutty pictures on the web, as well as viewing attachments with a similar theme sent via email. As an experiment, we tried to look at some digital holiday beach snaps on the Jessops.com digital picture service - we thought PSID might block such pictures, but it did not, proving that the heuristics behind the ICA software were working without being too draconian.
When you set PSID up, you also get the option of whether to interface it directly with Outlook or Outlook Express systems, although you can also interface with other email clients. There are actually four levels at which you set the software to block inappropriate images, the highest of which works on a context basis, allowing 'borderline suspicious' files to be let through, but only if the context of the email or web site is appropriate, as was the case with our family beach snaps.
The desktop version of PSID should be available in a multi-lingual version by the time you read this review. Languages supported by the suite include German, Dutch, Spanish, French and, of course, English. Overlaying the three main functions of the software (AV, content analysis and personal firewall) is an application enabler/disabler, which is controlled by a dashboard that is pulled up whenever the admin function is invoked. This procedure allows the administrators to tweak the various functions of the software, most notably adding or removing the various applications from the permitted or blocked executables list.
These lists are initially auto-compiling, recognizing the basic applications that keep Windows XP on the road, although, for some reason, we found taskbar.exe had been automatically blocked. This, we surmised, was because of the customized version of Internet Explorer 6.0 we were running under Windows XP.
Can some of PSID's security functions be bypassed? The answer is yes, but the person doing the bypassing would have to be highly technical in nature - it's not that easy to bypass the software's features. After several tests, we concluded that personal firewall and AV side of PSID could not be bypassed, while the application blocking/permitting feature could only be side-stepped with someone coding new applications up and making them appear to be legitimate. It is possible to bypass the content analysis features of the software, but only with a high degree of PC knowledge - most company users, as well as kids, would be unlikely to possess that knowledge.
Overall, we were impressed with PSID. Its functionality could only be matched by bundling several existing applications together at a much higher cost - probably around three times the £40 price tag that Preventon is aiming for when it releases the box version.
Major corporates will already have packages from the likes of F-Secure and SurfControl in place that fulfill many of the functions of PSID, but this software is really aimed at smaller business users, as well as worried parents wanting to control their kids' internet activities. For this target market, it's difficult to fault the software, except perhaps by a slight delay before web pages appear on the screen, as well as the requirement for PSID to 'call home' from time to time.By Steve Gold