The Trouble-Free PC

Preventive Security

The Paranoid's Palliative

It's hard not to be paranoid when people and software may be tracking your every move. Window Washer erases file histories, browser cookies, cache contents, and other crumbs that applications and Windows itself leave behind. It works better than comparable features in any of the suites we tested. Besides emptying Temp directories and browser caches, the tool will scrub open space on your disk. After we ran the 30-second scrub routine, our test system couldn't remember any deleted items; even an undelete program couldn't resurrect nuked files. The easy-to-use interface presents customization options, from scheduled washings to rigorous disk cleaning that meets Department of Defense specifications. The latest version erases the tracks of the Firefox, Netscape, and Internet Explorer browsers, as well. $30

Managing Password-Protected Information

RoboForm lets you set one master password to protect and remember all of your passwords and your profile information.
RoboForm lets you set one master password to protect and remember all of your passwords and your profile information.
RoboForm automates the time-consuming task of entering personal, billing, and authentication information into Web site forms. Build your complete profile once--including Social Security number and credit card numbers, if you choose--and then use RoboForm's browser toolbar to pour relevant data into Web-page fields with a single click. RoboForm protects your master password with 3DES encryption and includes a handy password generator that can produce random strings up to 512 characters long. All you need to remember is the user name and the master password. A portable version runs off of a USB memory key. Free trialware (desktop and portable versions are limited to ten stored log-ins), $30 (Pro version)

Scramble Your Data

Your PC is a treasure trove of confidential information. The best way to shield that data from unauthorized eyes is to encrypt it. BestCrypt simply and effectively applies one of several powerful encryption schemes--including Blowfish, Twofish, and Rijndael--and lets you create one or several encrypted volumes, which you unlock by entering a password in the BestCrypt Control Panel. The program can also secure the contents of a rewritable optical disc or of any other storage media that is assigned a drive letter. BestCrypt can even secure your Windows swap file. $60

Hide in Plain Sight

If you simply want to protect file directories from casual busybodies, a full-fledged encryption program may be overkill. Baxbex Folder Shield 2003 acts as a cloaking device for folders. Just assign a password and check the Enable Protection check box in the Folder Shield program window, and the targeted folders wink out of sight. My attempts using Windows Search and various undelete programs to find directories that were hidden all failed. Keyboard shortcuts to newly hidden folders produced error messages saying the target was likely moved or deleted. One warning: Folder Shield is no match for a savvy snooper who uses a boot disk to start your PC under a different operating system, since that tactic will prevent Folder Shield from doing its thing. $20

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