Worried about PC intrusion? Here's how to protect yourself

With the Code Red worm making headlines, PC security has become a hot-button issue. If you have an always-on cable modem or DSL Internet connection, you're at great risk. Janice shows you the best security measures you can buy--and you won't have to break the bank to get them.

With everyone talking about the billions of dollars' worth of damage caused by the Code Red worms, I got to thinking about security for my little old PC at home. I've been meaning to install a personal firewall ever since I got that always-on cable connection, but haven't gotten around to it yet. After all, who really wants to access my paltry financial data, anyway?

Still, with so many inexpensive (even free) and easy-to-install options available--and with so many twisted minds out there trying to wreak havoc--I figure there's no real excuse not to take a little precaution, even if it's overkill.

I SHOPPED AROUND to find out how much it would cost to get my PC locked up tight. First on my list was the popular Black Ice Defender. This package won a Best Buy award in our roundup of personal firewalls in the June issue of Computer Shopper. This user-friendly program lets you set levels of security according to your paranoia level (Trusting, Cautious, Nervous, or Paranoid). If the thought of wading through a ton of confusing rules is more than you want to deal with, this is a great package for you. But don't let the friendly face fool you into thinking that it's a lightweight program. In addition to blocking traffic when it detects an attack, Black Ice Defender's intrusion-detection system also performs a back-trace to seek out the source. If successful, the program will identify the hacker's IP address, node, group, NetBIOS, DNS, and MAC address.

I found Black Ice Defender selling for just US$34.75 (US$29.25 plus US$5.50 ground shipping) at Buypcsoft.com. This merchant offers refunds or exchanges on any unopened software within 15 days of purchase. After that, you may return the product, but the vendor may charge a restocking fee at its own discretion. Buypcsoft.com displays the Bizrate.com Customer Certified, Trust-E site privacy, and Gomez Certified seals.

ANOTHER GOOD OPTION is Symantec's Norton Personal Firewall 2001. Version 3.0 of the software offers some significant new features, making it more powerful than its predecessors while maintaining an easy-to-use interface. In fact, in our tests, we found Norton Personal Firewall to be a close runner-up to Black Ice Defender (although the lower price of that package put it over the top for the Best Buy award). Like Black Ice Defender, Norton can detect when your system is being port-scanned, and it dynamically blocks all access to the intruder. In addition, Norton allows you to protect specific information, such as your credit-card numbers, Social Security number, and e-mail address (unless you give specific permission).

The lowest price I could find online for Norton Personal Firewall was also at Buypcsoft.com: US$46.45 (US$40.95 plus US$5.50 ground shipping).

Even if you're unwilling to spend a dime to keep your PC protected, there are tons of free downloads available online. Two personal firewall programs that are easy to use and free are Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm and Tiny Software's Tiny Personal Firewall. ZoneAlarm provides automatic protection, with no confusing settings to worry about. If you want more sophisticated control, Tiny Personal Firewall lets you construct filter rules manually or by using a wizard.

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