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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Security Software

Too many "bad guys" are working overtime cooking up creative new ways to attack your computer, grab your data, capture your identity, and steal your money. Fortunately, you can defend yourself. There's no substitute for using your brains, but the right security software will definitely help.

There are two ways to buy security software. You can buy multiple packages, trying to find the best software to do each job. Or you can buy a "security suite" that bundles multiple functions together in one package. You might not get the absolutely "best" of everything, but most of the leading suites are pretty solid, and it's a whole lot easier. (Usually cheaper, too!)

Some suites worth considering are: Norton 360; Norton Internet Security; McAfee Total Protection; and Microsoft's own Microsoft Security Essentials. Whether you buy a suite or individual products, though, here's what you need at an absolute minimum...

Anti-virus software. Scans your computer searching for malicious software – and also scans incoming email messages to find and destroy any dangerous file attachments. If the software discovers malicious software in an incoming message, it quarantines or deletes that software. If it finds that you've already installed malicious software, it attempts to remove that software, or at least keep it from running.

Anti-spyware software. Warns you when you're about to inadvertently install software that'll monitor your behavior and pass it along to outside parties – whether for criminal purposes, or just to show you targeted advertising.

Anti-spam software. Intercepts most of the junk email messages that would otherwise flood your email account.

Firewall. Hides your computer from attackers, and inspects all the data flowing into it, stopping any data it finds suspicious. Should also inspect data flowing out of your computer: that's important, because you might have voluntarily downloaded malicious software that now wants to communicate with its "masters." (Recent versions of Windows come with their own firewall, but you need to make sure it's turned on. If you have a home network, you might have a hardware-based firewall, too.)

Some security suites have additional optional features – for example, built-in backup tools to automatically make copies of your data; parental control tools for limiting where your kids can go on the Internet; and anti-phishing tools that tell you when you've visited a fake web site that's only there to steal your identity and credit card information.

Two things you must know about security software: First, you need to keep your (paid) subscriptions up to date, or else your computer won't get information about the newest threats. That's crucial, and plenty of folks forget. Second, when you install your software, you should spend a few minutes making sure everything's turned on and working the way you want it to. Then, every once in awhile, check to make sure everything's still set up right. It's not hard, takes just a minute, and it's very good for your peace of mind.

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