15 great, free privacy downloads

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

Cleaning Your Traces

As you surf, your web browser leaves traces of your travels on your PC. Web sites can look into some of those traces. And if other people use your PC, they can easily look at those traces as well. Luckily, there are tools that can get rid of the tracks you leave behind.

Another privacy problem relates to Microsoft Office documents containing private information (unbeknownst to the sender) that get sent out via e-mail. A download helps here, too, removing information that you don't want made public from the Office documents where it appears.

Free Internet Window Washer

Worried that Web sites may snoop on your Internet activities, or that someone else who uses your PC can see where you've been and what you've done? If so, you need an Internet washer — a tool that will delete your Internet Explorer browsing history, recently typed URLs, browsing history, and so on.

That's what Free Internet Window Washer does — for free. Click Wash Settings, then click Browsers, and then select what you want the program to clean. Back on the main screen, click Wash Now and the program will remove everything you've asked it to. If you prefer, click Test Now to see a preview of what the program will do.

Besides cleaning Internet Explorer, Free Internet Window Washer also cleans traces from instant messengers, including AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Skype, and Yahoo Messenger. It also cleans traces from a wide array of other programs, including Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat.

Free Internet Window Washer | Price: Free

CCleaner

Here's another great tool — and a longtime favorite of ours — for cleaning up all traces of your Internet activities. CCleaner cleans Internet Explorer and Firefox, of course, but also Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Flash Player, Google Toolbar, and Windows Media Player. It even picks up after major applications such as Microsoft Office, and it includes a Registry cleaner and an uninstaller.

Download CCleaner | Price: Free

SendShield

A lesser-known privacy problem may be among the most dangerous: hidden information in Microsoft Office documents that becomes exposed after the documents are made public.

This problem has struck some of the best-know enterprises in the world. In 2006, for example, Google publicly posted a PowerPoint presentation that contained notes disclosing highly sensitive financial projections to the world. Even worse, in 2003, Alistair Campbell, top communications aide to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK, released a Word document whose hidden information revealed that the British government had used plagiarized documents to justify its involvement in the Iraq war.

Google and Blair found out the hard way that Office documents contain lots of private information that the sender might prefer that the world not see, such as hidden text, names of author documents, revision history, markup, hidden cells, and hidden spreadsheets. When such information hitchhikes along with the visible text of a document, people can find it without much effort.

What to do? Get SendShield, an excellent, well-designed freebie. Whenever you send a Microsoft Office document via Outlook, SendShield looks inside the document for private information — and shows you what it finds. You can then delete all of the information if you wish. The deletion affects only the copy of the document you send; the original file remains intact on your PC.

Download SendShied | Price: Free

Rootkit and Malware Killers

Even the best antivirus and antispyware tools can't keep you completely safe. Rootkits often escape detection, and once they lodge on your PC, they give an outsider the power to take control of your system and help themselves to whatever private information they want. These two rootkit and malware killers, though, tip the odds in your favor.

F-Secure Blacklight Rootkit Eliminator

One dangerous type of malware that might infect your system is a rootkit. It hides deep in your system, using tricky techniques to shield itself from many antispyware, antimalware, and antivirus programs. With a rootkit in place, a malicious person can take complete control of your PC without your knowledge. Rootkits spread online in various ways, such as by riding along on another download.

Some antivirus tools, such as Avast, claim to detect and kill rootkits. Many do not. But even if you use an antivirus tool that claims to detect them, you'd do well to download, install, and use F-Secure's Blacklight Rootkit Eliminator, too. This freebie is designed exclusively to detect and kill rootkits.

The program inspects your PC's folders, files, and hidden processes for signs that you've been infected with a rootkit. It then tells you whether your system is rootkit-free or may be infected, listing every sign of infection that it found. Double-click on each listed entry, and you'll see more information, such as a description of the item, the company that made it, and its file location. You can then use Blacklight Rootkit Eliminator to quash the threat, which the program accomplishes by renaming the file and giving it a .ren extension so that it can't do any further damage. Before taking that step, though, it's a good idea to search for the file name on Google and make sure that the file is a rootkit and not some legitimate file. If your PC continues to function well after you've renamed the file, you can eventually delete the renamed files.

If you aren't an experienced PC user, you might want to stay away from this program. Renaming and deleting files can wreak havoc on a PC; so if you don't feel comfortable renaming, restoring, and deleting files — and troubleshooting PCs — you may be courting danger with this utility.

Download F-Secure Blacklight Rootkit Eliminator | Price: Free

HijackThis

If spyware or a Trojan horse slips past your defenses despite your best efforts, your best bet is to download HijackThis. It can help detect problems that other malware detectors can't find, and then will advise you about what to do.

Unlike most other antimalware software, HijackThis doesn't automatically detect dangerous software. Instead, it looks deeply into your system's Registry and into other nooks and crannies that are likely to be infected, and then saves its results to a log file. You then post the log file to the HijackThis Web site for experts to examine; they take a look, let you know if your system is infected, and then tell you how to fix the problem. There are plenty of similar discussion areas where experts congregate on the Internet; to find them, run a Google search.

Download HijackThis | Price: Free

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Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)

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