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Every once in a while, I get a reader-submitted or friend/family-submitted question that’s worth talking about on this page. Sure, I get asked for lots of advice, and most of the time it’s not really anything I’d bother passing along, but a friend’s recent inquiry about PC security software seemed worthy.

“My current security software subscription is almost up, and I’m thinking of trying something different. A circular has Trend Micro Sytems, McAfee, and Kaspersky all free after rebates. I’m not sure which is best. I’m looking for all-around security, antivirus – the works. I do a lot of online trading and banking, so I want to be safe.”

It can be a dangerous web out there, to be sure. In the old days, it was relatively difficult to get hold of an honest-to-god computer virus. Sure, you always heard your neighbor or crazy uncle talking about contracting viruses, but in my experience people with viruses rarely had any actual malicious software and had, in fact, wreaked some other sort of systemic destruction on their computers themselves.

Today, though, it’s pretty easy for those with bad intentions to squeeze something evil through your browser and onto your system if you’re not careful. For the most part, being wary of what you click and install is the first and largest defense you can wield, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an extra layer.

The general rule is that most of the security suites out there offer similar things: some sort of detection for bad software (malware, spyware, viruses, Trojans, etc.) and a firewall that only allows authorized connections to activate on your computer. Usually these defenses will be tripped when you click a bad link or a site tries to load something in the background. As far as banking and trading are concerned, the most important thing is to keep spyware away from the computer. Those types of connections are encrypted, so the only way anyone could see any account or transaction information would be if they had a window into your PC. As long as the security suite you have scans/protects against spyware and viruses, and uses a built-in firewall (keeps unauthorized connections from activating if you do have something nasty floating around), you should be good to go.

I’ve personally had experience with Norton and McAfee products, and both seem to do a passable job.

A quick Google search turns up several security suite roundups, including a very helpful one from PC Magazine titled “The Best 2012 Security Suites.” If you’re looking for something immediate, I would recommend Microsoft Security Essentials (windows.microsoft.com/mse). It’s a completely free set of security tools straight from the horse’s mouth. Microsoft used to get a bad rep for security, but since the release of Windows Vista and Windows 7 (and the upcoming Windows 8), they’ve taken security and malware protection very seriously.

Like I said earlier – at the end of the day, being cautious about what you’re clicking, downloading, or installing is the absolute first line of defense between you and the seedy, malicious underbelly of the Internet. If something looks shady, or sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Apply the same kind of caution you would to the real world. Well-lit, friendly store in the mall? Go for it. Shady guy slinging bootlegs in an alley out back from the trunk of his Civic? Probably not OK.

Still, it’s nice to have an extra layer of protection, so if you can get a good deal on some security software, I say go for it.

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