LinkScanner stands alone once more

Swallowed up in early 2008, AVG has burped out a newly independent version of the popular LinkScanner. The browser plug-in checks search results for safety on the fly.

LinkScanner is once again available as an independent plug-in for Windows-based Firefox and Internet Explorer, following more than a year spent as a feature of AVG Technologies' AVG security suite. Still available as part of AVG, users can now once again download LinkScanner independently of AVG's antivirus software, and for free.

AVG's LinkScanner evaluates link safety on the fly, as well as making click-throughs for dangerous sites harder.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The new LinkScanner works much the same as the original one did. Once you've installed the EXE, AVG's "Search Shield" returns search results from both Google and Yahoo with flags next to them. Green flags on Google indicate a result is safe to click through to, while Yahoo safe results display no flags. Links that are unsafe on both search engines will return red flags.

Hovering over a flag will pop open a window that provides further details about the link. Green flags will show you the IP address, the amount of time the scan took, and the date and time of the most recent scan. Red flags highlight the same information, as well as the risk category and the site name. Attempting to click through to a red-flagged page will take you to a warning screen that repeats most of the red-flag information--AVG calls this the "Active Surf-Shield".

A small link at the bottom of the red-blocked screen will let you click through, although it cautions users that it will continue to block potentially harmful content. When I tried to click through to warez.com, for example, LinkScanner would only show me the CSS code for the page.

LinkScanner doesn't have references for all links, as evidenced by the third one in this Google search for ringtones.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

In addition to the clear messages behind the green and red flags, LinkScanner also offers two "slow down" warnings. The first is yellow with one exclamation point in it, while the second is orange and has two exclamation points. I found it nearly impossible to locate search results with a yellow or orange flag, but the meaning is clear: we can't tell what this is, but it looks sketchy so be careful.

It's worth noting, too, that both green flag and red flag boxes (and, presumably, the yellow and orange warning boxes) include a link at the bottom to an AVG product comparison page.

Before Grisoft, now AVG Technologies, bought LinkScanner, many users appreciated that both the free version and the paid LinkScanner upgrade provided smooth integration with your daily Web browsing habits. There are some similar services, such as McAfee's SiteAdvisor, that have interfered with performance for some users--an instant turn-off. After trying LinkScanner out for half the day, though, I was pleased to see that the once-again independently available add-on continues to function as well as it did in the past.

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