15 great, free privacy downloads

These free products can save you from malicious software and eavesdroppers. Don't leave your PC exposed and vulnerable.

One of the worst privacy invaders the world has ever seen is the Internet. When you surf, Web sites can find out where you've been and can gather other information about you. Trojan horses and spyware can snoop on you. Key loggers can capture your keystrokes as you type. Eavesdroppers can steal your passwords.

It doesn't have to be that way. The 15 downloads presented here can protect you. You'll find firewalls, password protectors, rootkit killers, trace cleaners, anonymity securers, and more. So check them out, and help yourself to a safer online experience. (Note that the 15 downloads we look at here don't include any antivirus and antispyware programs. We figured that we've covered those packages well enough elsewhere. So instead, we focus on tools you might not have heard about.)

Firewalls

A firewall is one of the most basic pieces of software you can get for protecting your privacy. Any decent firewall shields you from inbound snoopers, and the better ones also prevent sneaky software from sitting invisibly on your PC and making outbound connections to tell others about your activities.

Comodo Firewall Pro

If you have Windows XP or Windows Vista, you have a firewall on your PC courtesy of Microsoft, so you may figure that you're perfectly safe. Wrong — the firewalls built into both of those operating systems have problems. The Windows XP firewall, for example, lacks outbound protection. And the Windows Vista firewall is exceedingly difficult to customize.

A great bet for a truly flameproof firewall is the free Comodo Firewall. It offers great protection against both inbound and outbound threats, along with some very nice extras. Its Defense+ feature, for example, locks down particularly vulnerable files and folders so that nothing can alter them.

If you use this firewall, you will have to spend a bit of time training it. Whenever an application tries to access the Internet from your PC, you'll get a pop-up that asks you whether you want to allow the application to proceed. If you'd like to cut down on the training time and the number of interruptions, use the program's Clean PC mode. In this mode, Comodo scans your PC for applications and registers them as safe. Afterward, you won't see as many alerts.

Among Comodo's other nice extras is an install mode that shuts off the firewall for 15 minutes, so you can install a new application without getting inundated with alerts.

Download Comodo Firewall Pro | Price: Free

Vista Firewall Control

Windows Vista's firewall is better than the one built into Windows XP because it includes outbound protection as well as inbound protection. Outbound protection is vital, because Trojan horses and spyware often use silent outbound connections to do their damage. In addition, some surreptitious software uses invisible outbound connection from your PC to send out spam or malware without your knowing it.

The Windows Vista firewall has one big problem, though: The outbound firewall is almost impossible to configure. The free Vista Firewall Control utility gives you the control that Vista should have. With it, whenever a program attempts to make an outbound connection, an alert appears, identifying the application's path and file name, the publisher's name, and the application's name. Based on what you see, you can then choose to enable or disable the connection permanently or one time only.

Download Vista Firewall Control | Price: Free

Password Protection

Password theft is one of the greatest privacy dangers that an Internet user faces online. With the following downloads, you'll be able to keep your passwords private and yet still keep track of them.

KeePass Password Safe

Most people have dozens of passwords that they use for Web sites, Web-based mail, ATMs, and more. They have become a fact of automated life. But it doesn't matter how much antivirus software and antimalware you use; if your password is stolen, you're in trouble.

KeePass Password Safe offers a simple way to keep track of all your passwords while keeping them safe. It lets you store all of your passwords in a lightweight, simple-to-use database, and it encrypts the database so that only you have access to it. You can lock it with a master password or with a file key.

The program stores all of your passwords in groups, so you can quickly find the one you want. And the program lets you easily drag and drop your passwords, copy them to the clipboard, and paste them into a Web page or an application using a hot-key. You can also search for passwords, and print and export them in various formats, including CSV, HTML, TXT, and XML files. You can import them, too.

The application can generate hard-to-crack passwords for you, as well — a nice extra for people who want to make their passwords extra secure.

Download KeePass Password Safe | Price: Free

KeyScrambler Personal

One of the biggest dangers you face online is theft of your user name and passwords for logging into commercial Web sites (such as banking and financial sites) and Web-based e-mail accounts. A criminal who steals that information could empty your bank account and use your e-mail address to pose as you.

This add-in to Internet Explorer and Firefox promises a simple way to keep you safe. As you type your password, KeyScrambler Personal scrambles it so that the information sent out over the Internet doesn't match what you type. That way, a lurking crook won't be able to steal your private information.

A small icon sits at the bottom of your screen, telling you that KeyScramber Personal is going about its work. As you type, you'll also see the scrambled text that the program is sending.

Download KeyScrambler Personal | Price: Free

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Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)

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