Right off the bat- don't be fooled by programs or web services claiming to hide your identity. While it can be argued that these programs do obfuscate your identity to a certain extent; there really is no reason for them, and the worst ones will actually steal your identity, rather than protect it. Now that that's out of the way...
If you're looking at buying something online, someone is going to record whatever information you give them -there's no way around that (unless you never want to buy anything online again).
As far as security programs go, it's always imperative that you have an updated anti-virus program installed on your system. That's a basic step that every web surfer should take. Another security solution is to install a firewall. Firewalls work by blocking incoming and outgoing connections that the user has not authorized (for example, you can allow a connection from a trusted site, like geekstogo.com, but not from malicioussite.org). Check out the link in my signature for a list of free anti-virus and firewall programs.
Let's break down how someone can steal your information:
- Internet access. This can be done when you send information to a site (say your bank's website). You input your username and password, and the information flies across the internet to the bank's computers. If someone else has access to your connection with the bank, they can intercept that information, and now they have it. Obviously, this is bad- you wouldn't give your credit card number to random strangers on the street. This is why securing your internet connection with a firewall is very important.
- Computer access. If a hacker can access your computer from a wireless network (this usually happens in unsecured locations, like a library or coffee shop, or when you don't protect your home network), they can access the files on it. If you have sensitive information stored on your computer in an Office Word document, that file can be copied, opened and viewed. This is why an anti-virus solution is important; it prevents malicious programs from running on your system and causing damage.
To be honest, a lot of that fear of 'being spied on' while surfing the internet comes from paranoia and media blowup. Yes, there are malicious hackers in the world. Yes, there are bad people who do bad things. But in reality, there's no Big Brother watching you as you surf. If you haven't protected yourself using the above solutions, it's more likely that someone will be able to access your system maliciously, but that's obviously easily preventable.
To make a long story short: Don't be fooled by 'internet protection' programs. Stick to the basics- anti-virus and firewall. And don't go clicking on sites you don't recognize or don't understand.
Hope that helps! Let me know if there's anything else I can do to assist you.
Edited by FNP, 18 May 2010 - 09:00 AM.