No matter what you want to do, Windows probably has software to make it easier. The only problem is that you cannot trust every download from the free software download sites or from an unknown developer. The reason for this is simple: the software you download may be unstable, bundled with adware, or might even be infected with a virus or malware. To deal with this you can sandbox the application and try it. If it is good enough you can install it normally.
A sandbox is a virtual environment where you can install and run new or untrusted apps without letting them harm your system. Here are some of the best sandbox applications for Windows out of the many that are available.
1. BitBox (Browser in the Box)
Short for “Browser in the Box“, this tool is specifically designed for web browsing in a sandbox environment. It comes in both Chrome and Firefox flavors, and is pretty much a Virtualbox instance of Linux designed specifically for browsing, which means that it’s a little more memory-demanding than other options on this list.
BitBox has the capability of downloading files to your actual PC, so it’s important that you decide whether you want this to happen and set it up appropriately. It takes crucial precautions like disabling your microphone and monitoring all host-BitBox interactions, making it a solid and secure choice.
BufferZone is an endpoint sandbox tool, which means that if you’re heading to parts of the Internet that may be a bit dangerous to your computer security, or someone hands you a USB stick that you don’t quite trust (that happens to everyone, right?), it may be a good idea to run those through BufferZone. It’s easy to add different programs to run through BufferZone, and every major web browser works well within it.
One advantage of this over other sandbox software is that you don’t need to do much tinkering to get it up and running. Keeping your chosen activities in a secure Virtual Zone, BufferZone makes it impossible for web-based malicious software to get onto your PC because everything you run through it becomes ‘read-only’, so no nasties can write themselves onto your hard drive.
Sandboxie is one of the most popular and most used applications to sandbox and isolate programs from the underlying Windows operating system. The good thing about Sandboxie is that it is very lightweight and free. You can install and run almost any Windows software through Sandboxie. Besides installing software inside Sandboxie, you can run any already installed program, like your web browser, via Sandboxie. All you have to do is select “Sandbox -> Default Box -> Run Sandboxed -> Run Web browser.” If you want to run any other application, select “Run Any Program.”
When you run a program in Sandbox mode, you will see a thick yellow border around the window to let you know that you are in a sandboxed environment. Sandboxie comes in both free and paid versions, where the free version lacks some important features like forced programs, the ability to run multiple sandboxes, etc. However, for a general home user, the free version should suffice.
4. SHADE Sandbox
Shade Sandbox is yet another popular and free sandboxing application. Compared to Sandboxie, the user interface of Shade is much simpler, straightforward, and beginner-friendly.
To sandbox an application, all you have to do is drag and drop it into the Shade Sandbox window. The next time you launch the application, it will be automatically sandboxed.
When using Shade Sandbox, all your browsing history, temporary files, cookies, Windows registry, system files, etc., are well isolated from the operating system. Any files downloaded when using Shade will be stored in the Virtual Downloads folder which can be accessed from within the Shade interface. If you are looking for a sandbox application with a simpler user interface, than Shade Sandbox is for you.
5. Toolwiz Time Freeze
Toolwiz Time Freeze works very differently from the above two sandbox applications. When you install Toolwiz Time Freeze, it creates a virtual copy of your entire system settings and files and saves the state. After using the application you want to test, just reboot the system, and it will be automatically restored. This type of application is pretty useful when you want to thoroughly test a program with no limitations but don’t want the program to make any changes to the host operating system.
6. Shadow Defender
Shadow Defender is just like Toolwiz Time Freeze. When you install and initialize the software, you will be prompted to virtualize your system drive and any other drives of your choice. Once the system has been virtualized, any changes made to it are discarded when you reboot the system the next time.
Of course, you can always specify files and folders to exclude from Shadow Mode. This lets you pick and chose which changes to keep and which changes to discard. When in Shadow Mode, if you want to save a downloaded file or commit to a system change, all you have to do is click on the “Commit Now” button in the main window.
7. Create a Virtual Machine
What all the above apps do is generally known as Light Virtualization. That is, the apps you are testing are still running on the host operating system, albeit in a limited way. If you want full virtualization, there is no better way than to create a virtual machine of the operating system of your choice in either Virtual Box or VMware. The good thing is the programs installed on virtual machines are completely isolated from the host operating system, and there are no limitations that come with generic sandbox software.
Do comment below sharing your thoughts and experiences about using the above software to sandbox and test your applications.
This article was updated on July 2018.