Great apps for defeating hackers

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(MoneyWatch) It's a dangerous world out there for computer users, with hackers constantly on the prowl for ways to steal passwords, penetrate networks or read people's emails. Even your private voice communications may not be secure since cell phone service and Skype use only relatively lightweight encryption to keep away prying ears. 

There are highly secure solutions available, of course. CellCrypt, for example, is a commercially available, military-grade encryption system that runs on smartphones like iPhone and Android. But not just anyone can take advantage of it -- there's no consumer licensing available, for example.

Still, there are many other tools you can use instead. Here is a roundup of the most intriguing security solutions available to consumers and small business today. Use each of these tools, and you will have a highly secure shield around all of your communication and data.

Silent Circle. Need the highest level of security for your voice communication, but something like CellCrypt isn't practical? Not to worry: The author of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP for short) -- the granddaddy of public-key encryption software -- has an application called Silent Circle. Available for iPhone and Android, Silent Circle allows you to make encrypted, absolutely secure voice and video calls, as well as text messages -- no one has a "back door" to the service, not even the developers. This level of security comes at a price: $20 a month for calls among Silent Circle users, or $29 a month for the ability to call out to any phone number.

Private WiFi. You've got voice calls covered, but perhaps you're also concerned about the integrity of data you're sending over a Wi-Fi network. After all, this is perhaps your biggest security hole, especially if you use public Wi-Fi networks. Experts recommend using a Virtual Private Network, and Private WiFi is exactly that. According to Private WiFi, the app encrypts your PC's wireless connection with "bank-level security" and is impenetrable even by the government. There's a three-day free trial available and afterwards costs about $10 a month.

TrueCrypt. Once you get your communications locked down with tools like Silent Circle and Private WiFi, it's time to consider your PC's hard drive. If someone stole your laptop, would they be able to get to your personal or business data? Not with TrueCrypt, a free, open-source whole-disk encryption tool. If that sounds like a mouthful, don't worry -- it's not as complicated as it sounds. TrueCrypt can encrypt your entire hard drive, operate invisibly and automatically, and ensure that without the right password, your data in absolutely inaccessible. You can even create a decoy encrypted operating system for situations where you might need to provide access to the computer under duress.

LastPass. Last -- but hardly least -- is the whole issue of access to online sites and services. Rather than compromising your security by using the same password on multiple accounts, you should invest in a password manager. One of the best is LastPass. LastPass lets you remember a single master password, yet protect all of your many accounts with strong passwords. It works across multiple PCs and browsers as well, and you get all that for free (a premium edition adds mobile device access as well as compatibility with the Yubikey two-factor authentication USB gadget).