Sandboxie is a great tool to have in your computer’s security arsenal. For those unaware, it creates an isolated space (sandbox) on your hard drive that you may execute files in that cannot interact with the underlying system.
The activity of the sandbox don’t affect Windows or your other programs/files in any way; what happens in Sandboxie stays in Sandboxie.
Sandboxie has changed hands twice I think, from the original developer to Invincea, who were in turn acquired by Sophos (and there are rumors that Sophos is up for sale as well). Recently Sophos announced that Sandboxie is now freeware, and are planning to make it open source.
We are not going to discuss that here, rather we’re going to look at the basic usage of the program. In other words, you will learn how to use Sandboxie for browsing securely, downloading files and recovering them, and installing/running programs inside the sandbox.
You don’t even need to familiarize yourself with the interface to use the program. In fact, I would recommend beginners skip the UI and use the tray icon.
You can run any program that you have installed in Windows inside Sandboxie; this also works with portable apps and regular files (that open in other programs). Some programs may not work with Sandboxie if you try to install them directly inside the sandbox.
If you have installed Sandboxie, you will see the icon on the desktop, start menu and system tray. You can use any of these to run Sandboxed versions of your programs. The most commonly sandboxed program is the web browser. Right click on the system tray icon and select Default box > Run Web Browser. Your default browser, regardless of whether it is Firefox, Chrome, Edge or another will open like it always does.
You will notice that it has a yellow border around the edges of the window (when you mouse over to the edge). You can also see that the program’s window title is enclosed in two [#] [#] like this [#] Mozilla Firefox [#]. This indicates that the program is running inside Sandboxie. If you don’t see either the border or the hashes, it is not running in sandboxed mode.
You can use the sandboxed browser like you would normally. You can send emails, check social websites, visit tech sites like ours, and do pretty much anything that you would do in the unsandboxed version.
One of the main differences is that in case a malware infects the browser, it will be restricted within the sandbox. Say you visited a website with a malicious ad and it tried to infect your PC. While it will run, it cannot spread to the underlying system because of the sandbox. The sandbox limits the reach of tracking cookies and other unwanted things as well.
You can use the “Default box > Delete contents” option to delete the entire sandbox and start afresh. It is recommended to clean the sandbox once in a while to start with a fresh one.
Note: This is not the same as browsing anonymously, if you need that you should go with a VPN or use Tor.
You can even open links from any application (email, chat, etc) through a sandboxed browser, though you will need to tinker with the program’s settings to achieve this.
Downloading files and recovering them
Now let’s say you want to download an executable file or any other file in Sandboxie. It won’t be visible in your Downloads folder in Windows Explorer if you do so because the download is isolated in the sandbox.
You need to recover the download, and to do so click on Default box > Quick Recovery. Use the recover to same folder option and the file should appear in your downloads folder (and ready to use in an un-sandboxed environment). You can run the file inside the sandbox however if you prefer that without the need to recover it first.
In case you don’t see anything to recover, you can also use the “Explore contents” option (which opens File Explorer) to manually browse your sandbox and recover the content. The latter is common if you use a custom download folder instead of Windows’ default one.
For e.g. I usually save my downloads to my external drive, so these won’t show up in Sandboxie’s Quick Recover. The contents will be available inside the C:SandboxAshwinDefaultBoxdrive folder in that case.
Installing and Running programs in Sandboxie
Why would you want to run a program inside Sandboxie? The main benefit is that you can run questionable programs and files inside the sandbox to avoid any damage or issues. It is even possible to run malicious programs inside the sandbox but it is usually better to use a virtual environment for that instead.
For portable applications, just extract them to a folder inside the DefaultBox’s drive folder and run them. To install a program inside Sandboxie’s protected environment, open File Explorer and right click any program’s installer.
Select the run sandboxed option and you should see the installer has a yellow border and hashes just like the browser. This indicates you’re installing the program inside Sandboxie. You will need to run the installed program manually from the Defaultbox folder.
Note: You can optionally grant the installer UAC rights if it is required.
I used Sandboxie for a long time until I switched to Kaspersky. Then I came to know they had some compatibility issues, so I ditched Sandboxie until recently when I bid adieu to Kaspersky. Since you now have literally nothing to lose with Sandboxie, I figured I might as well go over the basics for users who haven’t tried it out yet.
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