I recently had, and am continuing to have, an experience of possible identity theft. I did nothing to cause it or to leave myself open to that attack. Stupid things happen. A portable drive with a database of providers was lost or stolen. The VHA wrote to notify me and to offer a year of free credit monitoring and fraud alerts. As most of my personal information including SSN, EIN, name, address, and all the rest was on it, I accepted their offer quickly. My suspicion is that a less experienced employee or an intern copied it to a thumb drive to work on at home. The information was obtained from the Social Security Administration’s database of mental health providers without my knowledge or permission, to be used in a provider demographics study. As a client would feel in a similar situation, I am concerned, anxious, and feel that someone is responsible for potential harm to me. To the VHA’s credit, they immediately admitted their loss and offered some protective measures. Of all the times that I believe my personal information may have been lost, stolen, or compromised this was the only time I was notified.
We owe our clients the best security we can provide. Probably the best security software available to the public is produced by Norton/Symantec and McAfee. They are good and their respective prices reflect that. Many other commercial security software brands are available and usually, as good as the two named, but possibly not as comprehensive.
I have found free versions of some lesser-known software brands available that have proven as effective, in combination, as one of the major manufacturers’ software suites. AVG offers free versions of their Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, and Anti-Rootkit software. As far as I am currently aware, their Anti-Rootkit program is the only free rootkit software available. I use all three. CheckPoint Software’s ZoneAlarm Firewall is a well-known and effective free security application that I also use and rely on. Spybot-Search & Destroy is a very effective free “donation-ware” anti-spyware application. I also use it with confidence. LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware-2007 is a free adware search and removal application. It has very recently been updated and apparently did not install well on my computer. Its past versions have been quite useful and worked perfectly in combination with all the other free programs listed. Microsoft also offers free anti-virus and internet filters, as well as updates to your operating system. I use Microsoft Update, Windows Live OneCare safety scanner, Windows Defender, and the Malicious Software Removal Tool. All of the Microsoft tools may be found on the single Microsoft link appearing above.
These are some of the best free security programs available. I recommend them with some caveats, however. I am making recommendations based on my personal use of Microsoft’s XP Pro and XP Home operating systems and cannot generalize to other OSs. If you do not use these links to obtain the software, be certain that the providers and spellings of the program names are exactly the same. There are imitators using names very similar to the good software that may contain malware or be malware themselves. Finally, if you like the software, please consider purchasing their commercial versions. Be careful out there.