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Vendor takes aim at toolbar taboo

Security experts discourage the use of toolbars because they're often bundled with adware and spyware. Yet one security firm is hoping to remove toolbar from security's list of dirty words.

End-users are often discouraged from downloading desktop toolbars because they're bundled with dangerous programs, including adware, spyware and Trojans.

But the toolbar taboo isn't keeping a Boynton Beach, Fla.-based security vendor from offering a toolbar to fight phishing. In fact, iS3 Inc., a member of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, is aggressively shopping ZILLAbar 2.0 around to banks and credit unions, which have become increasingly victimized by data security breaches.

"We had the concern briefly about the bad reputation of toolbars," said Jess Kalish, director of technical and corporate communications for iS3, which also produces the STOPzilla spyware-fighting software. "But we have a good reputation as a security provider and we think our reputation will help people not to overlook this because it's a toolbar."

The free ZILLAbar tool can be re-branded in the name and colors of companies that are offering it to their customers, as Waltham, Mass.-based search company Lycos Inc. is doing. The toolbar can also be customized so that bank customers can use it to gain quicker access to their banking Web sites and other services.

The idea is for companies to offer customers the toolbar by email or other means. If customers choose to download it, the toolbar becomes part of their Internet Explorer window.

According to Kalish, ZILLAbar features include:

  • Real-time phishing alerts: End-users receive prominent on-screen alerts whenever they encounter sites determined to be known or potential phishing sites;

  • Secure search: Includes a "clear search" feature to erase the client's search history for privacy and security;

  • Regular updates: ZILLAbar is updated with the latest known phishing definitions every day, as often as every five minutes; and

  • Spyware protection: The user gets a free trial subscription of STOPzilla.

    "The hope is that people like the free toolbar and are enticed to buy our security offerings, like STOPzilla," Kalish said. "But we will not harass them and they can keep the toolbar for as long as they like."

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    The vendor is even offering companies a cut of the revenue. If a bank's customers download ZILLAbar and decide to purchase STOPzilla at the end of the free trial subscription period, the bank receives a percentage of gross revenues that's determined by the company's size and the specific deal it arranges with iS3. If the bank's customers buy iS3's ID Theft Protection package, the bank receives $10 per purchase.

    Despite the potential money to be made, Kalish admits banks and credit unions aren't jumping at the chance to participate.

    Is it because of the overall reputation of toolbars these days? Kalish isn't sure, though she said some banks and credit unions simply admit they want others to try it first.

    "It hasn't been a big seller, and I don't know why," she said. "I am surprised, given the scope of the phishing threat. I can't say for sure if the lack of response is because of the overall toolbar weariness. We've had some of these companies test the toolbar and give it the thumbs-up, but then say no thanks."

    The vendor is hoping that financial services firms eventually catch on as the phishing threat continues to escalate.

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