ATLANTA - There he sits, a wild-eyed hacker itching to break into your computer. After all, he's heard it stores your
Aunt Vera's recipe for spaghetti sauce.
While it's possible a hacker will single out your computer as a target - and might even get more than recipes out of it
- that's not your biggest security worry.
I'd worry more about a skilled hacker who breaks into a business database and takes credit-card numbers by the
thousands. And don't forget the ancient cons where a crook uses a line of blarney, not technological skills, to part
you from your money.
Today, let's talk about ways to protect yourself from real threats.
First, protect your home computer with a firewall, a good password and common sense.
You also need to install and use security programs that look for adware, spyware and viruses. That will help stop a
malevolent program that arrives either as an e-mail attachment you open or as an ugly little bit of malware that
transfers to your computer from a website.
That's where a good security program - one that watches out for viruses, spyware and adware and trojan programs - comes
into play. At home, I use Norton 360, a commercial suite of programs that helps find, block and eliminate those
threats. It does a good job.
Other programs also work well. Here are a couple of websites that review them: http://tinyurl.com/2ecjfao; and
Whatever you use, make sure it is updated often to keep up with changing threats. Most programs can be set to take care
of these updates with no action by you.
Now let's talk about the most difficult kind of security to implement - using common sense.
Some of the biggest malware risks come from websites that cater to those looking for pornography, hacker sites and
sites that promise downloads of free programs and games. While there are legitimate freebies out there, you're likely
to get in a jam unless you do some research before trying them.
If you see a site that offers something free, check it out with Google. Don't stop with the first two or three hits.
Spend several minutes reading. In most cases, if a free program or site is bogus, you'll see word of that within the
first couple of pages of search results.
Keep in mind that legitimate programs and sites are sometimes falsely accused. But the search results will be
overwhelming when it comes to the really bad guys.
Also beware of sites that prey on our desire for a bargain. Crooks set them up, offering merchandise for way less than
you can find anywhere else. But here's the hitch: When you use your credit card to place the order, the crooks get the
money, but all you get is a headache and a ripped-off card.
All this boils down to a cliché: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So worry a little about a hacker breaking into your computer. And worry more about crooks who use old-fashioned cons
transplanted into the new world of high tech. The best computer security software is your brain.
Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.