McAfee SiteAdvisor, whenever you’re in doubt.

McAfee SiteAdvisor is an excellent web-based service provided by the same folks who made desktop antivirus software that didn’t paralyze my 300Mhz PC way back in 1993. I had heard of it a couple of times before, but never actually went to try it out until today and therefore didn’t fully understand it’s potential until now.

These days, my view of desktop-based software has changed quite dramatically. I seem to have gone from: “complaining about how long it would take bloated applications to load”, to something along the lines of me going out of my way to: “avoid using them at every opportunity”.

Working as much as possible with web-based software has been my goal for the last 2 years now, and i can tell you that doing so has saved me many a headache. Gone are the days of wiping out my Windowz machine because of some virus i picked up, then having to remember every software configuration, find serial numbers i hopefully kept, go through software activation processes, updates, blah blah blah. You get the picture, right? The last time my PC got slow and crappy, i simply formatted the harddrive, reinstalled the OS, fired up a new version of Firefox and logged into all of my favorite web-based services. Gmail for email. Flickr for photos. for bookmarks.. the list goes on. But everything is how i left it (not to mention they are always available from any computer with an internet connection).

I used to use a great web-based antivirus service offered by TrendMicro called Housecall. Unfortunately, they went and messed with what i thought was a perfectly good thing. Housecall used to be a fast, simple way for people who don’t want to keep desktop-based antivirus software installed on their computers to scan their local machines, it even offered to remove any viruses that it may have found. This was the best service of its kind that i had seen and i recommended it to dozens of people. But a couple of month ago they made the whole thing Java, nothing worked right for me, it was slow, complicated, basically the complete opposite of what i once like about and so i stopped both using and recommending it.

I looked for other, comparable services. Norton has a service, i think they call it “Security Center” but they don’t offer to go that extra mile and delete the infected files that were found making the process of actually cleaning out your machine unnecessarily tedious and extremely manual. Not to mention, too difficult and therefore out of reach for the average PC user.

On the other hand, i could see a service like McAfee’s SiteAdvisor as being quite useful to the everyday web surfer. What they do in a nutshell (i’m not going to get into it all here) is “Patrol the Web” for you, testing for viruses, phishing scams, annoying pop-ups and more. So essentially, all the user has to do is enter a URL of a questionable site they are considering visiting (before actually going there with their web browser) and they can get a nice, clean report about any potential hazards they may encounter along the way. The site in question gets a “safety rating” of either a green checkmark, grey questionmark (no data), or a big, fat, red “X”. The entire process is balanced out with a large number of voluntary user reviews, comments, and summaries.

let us see what they have got to say about us..

Aside from entering each URL (one at a time) into the form on their front page to get a report, the user can also download a convenient Firefox extension that automatically shows you SiteAdvisor results by just browsing the given site. But i have to say that this second method, while being way more practical (you just go to the site), seems to defeat the point of getting a report in the first place. I mean, isn’t it too late to find out whether a site is sketchy once you’re already there? Granted the extension does add safety ratings to your google search results, which is pretty cool. Still, this just seems to me to be more of a research tool than a browser accessory.

image peeled from the McAfee SiteAdvisor website

While i can see many uses for this service, what i actually found most interesting about SiteAdvisor was how “other” services have begun to leverage / integrate SiteAdvisor reports and safety ratings into their own web-based services. A perfect example of this (i already mentioned the google integration) would be a service called StumbleUpon. They offer a type of advertising service for content publishers that promises to send targeted visitors to your site. I was thinking of testing out their ad services for a site i am working on, and wanted to learn more before actually giving it a try. On the StumbleUpon FAQ page there’s a section that reads: “make certain that the content you are submitting isn’t flagged by McAfee SiteAdvisor” or your content may not be shown at all. I thought, hey, this would probably be a good time to make sure none of my sites are flagged. Big, fat, red X’s are bad, and fortunately for me, all of my sites were either green checkmarks or grey questionmarks (for newer or smaller sites). So, all of a sudden, McAfee’s SiteAdvisor mattered to me. Hmm, very interesting. But all in all, i think SiteAdvisor is a great services and i will continue to use it whenever i am in doubt.

green checkmark means everything is groovy!