you also need to be careful about computer viruses. Some viruses -- more hoaxes than true viruses -- are innocuous, doing no more harm than scaring people. Other viruses can destroy all the data on your hard drive.

Most viruses today are spread by e-mail attachments. For security purposes, many people dont open an attachment unless they know the person sending it and unless they know in advance that the person intended to send the attachment.

Its also good practice to use an antivirus program, which can stop viruses from penetrating your computer system by any means. The best program out there today is Norton AntiVirus. You can buy it alone or as a part of Norton Internet Security.

Sometimes youll want to hide your identity on the Internet -- for example, to discuss sensitive matters in a public discussion forum. Anonymizer.com provides such protection. If you threaten violence or otherwise break the law, however, such services may be obligated to reveal your identity.

On the Web, cookies have gotten a bad name, largely undeservedly. Cookies are small files that Web sites create on your hard disk to track such things as your login or registration data, the parts of the site you looked at and any purchases you made. Their purpose is to serve you better next time you visit or better target banner ads to you.

Some people are concerned that cookies can be used to compile a marketing profile of you, which can be shared with others and add to the unsolicited e-mail ads, or "spam," you receive. You can turn off cookies in most Web browsers, but doing so prevents you from viewing the content of some Web sites. Programs such as Cookie Pal give you greater control over accepting or rejecting cookies.

To help cover your tracks after surfing, you can use a program such as TweakIE. As its name implies, this small utility lets you tweak IE -- Microsoft Internet Explorer. Among other things, it can wipe out your history, cache and cookie lists.

E-mail Central

Despite the flashiness of the Web, e-mail is and has always been the Internets killer app -- the primary reason people go online. Chances are, though, that youre not using e-mail to its full potential.

Most people use an e-mail program that comes with their Internet service or browser, such as America Online or Microsoft Outlook Express.

Whatever e-mail program you use, you can use a Web-based e-mail service in conjunction with it when you travel or when you need to keep your personal e-mail separate from your business correspondence. The most popular service out there is Hotmail.

Other services let you send and receive faxes and receive voicemail through your regular e-mail program, which among other things can save money on long-distance charges. The best service is J2 Global Communications (formerly Jfax). J2 also lets you listen to your incoming e-mail over the phone, which can be useful when youre on the road, though its unwieldy in managing lots of messages.

If you regularly send one e-mail message to lots of people, such as an e-mail newsletter, youre better off using a program tailored for this than your regular e-mail program. The best low-cost program for this is MailKing.

E-mail may be fast, but its not always reliable. Web-based services, such as CertifiedMail.com, guarantee delivery of e-mail, which is useful when sending crucial documents. The service also lets you

Reid Goldsborough  |  Contributing Writer
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.