Another change in the computer landscape is that laptops are now outselling desktop computers and people are starting to use handheld devices including cell phones to store sensitive data and conduct transactions. Portable devices are lot more vulnerable than desktops when it comes to loss, theft and damage.
Another change over the last few years is that an increasing number of people are using wireless networks. So now in addition to worrying about your computer, you have to worry about bits and bytes that are floating through the air.
Then there's the ever-increasing use of the Internet for banking, travel, shopping, and communications and just about everything else we do these days. In almost every case, this means typing in passwords, credit card numbers, and in some cases even Social Security numbers.
There is also a change in the type of people who perpetuate these threats. Back in the days when all we had to worry about were viruses, worms and Trojan horses, the perpetrator was typically doing it for attention: a young man or boy whose primary reward was bragging rights among other hackers and the knowledge that he had done something to disrupt other people's computers or lives.
Now the enemy is more likely to be motivated by profit. Literally billions of ill-gotten dollars are made every year as a result of spyware and other malicious programs that are installed on people's computers. There are programs that can be used to display unwanted advertising, turn machines into "spam-bots" to relay spam to other PCs, and, of course, steal personal information.
Fortunately, what we used to call "anti-virus" companies are evolving to deal with these news threats. While it will always be a cat and mouse game with the criminals winning at least some of the battles, the leading PC security companies including Symantec, Zonelabs, McAfee and TrendMicro are now in the process of rolling out this year's crop of new security software to deal with the ever-changing threat landscape.
Click here to check out Larry Magid's podcast with Trend Micro president Lane Bess, discussing PC threats and protections.
The most recent weapon in the PC user's arsenal is PC-cillin Internet Security 2007 from TrendMicro, which came out on Monday. This new suite of programs, which costs $49 to buy and $49 a year to keep up-to-date, addresses a wide array of threats with anti-virus and anti-spyware features along with a personal firewall to thwart hack attacks, fraud defense to guard against "phishing" attacks and other scams to steal credit card and bank account information, monitoring of your wirelesses network and laptop against unauthorized access, parental controls to keep kids from inappropriate websites and features designed to protect you even when you're away from your home or office PC.
The "away" features include a new service called TrendSecure,,designed to be used from a public PC or a colleague friend's machine, even if they don't have a copy of PC-cillan. A subscription to the service (which is free when you buy PC-cillian) allows you to download a small helper application on whatever Windows PC you're using that provides temporary protection for one session against spyware, keyloggers and other tracking software.
It also pops up a virtual keyboard on the machine you're using to further thwart any software that might attempt to log your keystrokes. Of course, this feature only works if the machine doesn't have its own security software that blocks your ability to download and run the small application.
Another new feature is Remote File Lock. Once you install the feature, a new folder is created called TrendSecure Vault. You can put sensitive files in that folder and, if the machine is lost or stolen you can go online from another machine and disable access to those files. If you later find the machine, you can log in again to make the files accessible.
PC-cillan users also have access to software that protects you from viruses and spam on some (but far from all) cell phones.
I've used earlier versions of PC-cillan for years and am very happy with it. Although I tested the new 2007 software, it's impossible for me to test against every possible security threat that could impact a computer.
While nothing bad happened to my PC during my test, it's quite possible that nothing bad would have happened even if I hadn't been running PC-cillian. What I can say is that the program is not only easy to install but easy to live with, in that unlike some security programs, it doesn't keep bothering you to ask permission every time you try to access a new program.
That's because it has a database that allows it to distinguish between suspicious and non-suspicious programs and activities. Also, the program seems to have minimal if any negative impact on PC performance. Like a really good police officer, it has the skills to protect you while at the same time staying out of your way. I wonder if there's a way to reward it with a virtual donut?
A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid