Free software to protect your computer

May 21, 2009 3:33:04 PM PDT
A few weeks ago the computer world held its breath as the Conficker virus sat poised to cause all kinds of harm. While the virus proved not to be big trouble, that does not mean you can ignore protecting your computer. How likely is it that you could fall victim to a cybercrime? Well, in the last two years, Consumer Reports National Research Center says one in five people were victimized. Either their computers were infected by spyware or viruses, they got caught by phishing scams, or they had their identity stolen.

Lawrence Robreno knows the misery of having his identity stolen.

"They pretended they were me, calling up, making phone calls with my name, using my credit card, my information," he said.

Like more than a million others in the last year, he had his identity stolen while shopping online. "They started out small in $15, $25 increments and they slowly increased," Robreno described. "I tallied it up to somewhere close to $25,000."

Consumer Reports Dean Gallea cautions only shop at sites you trust. And it's essential to protect your computer from spyware, viruses and spam by installing security software.

The organization tested security suites costing between $50 and $90. However Dean found free security software that's on par with the best.

To fight viruses:
Antivr from free-av.com.

To prevent spyware:
Windows Defender from microsoft.com.

And to stop spam:
Spam fighter Standard from spamfighter.com.

You also want to protect against phishing. These emails look like they come from banks and other companies, but are actually lures to gain access to your accounts.

"Never click on links in emails that go to banks or other sites that have your personal information," Dean Gallea said with Consumer Watch.

Instead, type your company's web address into your browser. For more protection, Consumer Reports recommended downloading free anti-phishing software such as the McAfee Site Advisor which warns when you go to a dangerous site.

Consumer Reports says Apple Computers are much less likely to be attacked by viruses and spyware. Since Macs can transmit infected files to Microsoft Windows PCs (even within a home network), Consumer Reports recommends installing an antivirus program, such as Norton Antivirus 11 for Mac. It costs $50.

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