By Walter S. Mossberg, Wall Street Journal

If you're running a Windows computer, you must install an array of security software to fend off an international collection of crooks, hackers, vandals and sleazy business people who aim to invade your PC through the Internet.

You need a good antivirus program, a strong firewall program, an effective antispam program, and a program that specializes in stopping spyware and adware. Or you could just buy an Apple Macintosh, which isn't significantly affected (so far) by these threats, other than spam email.

But the fastest-growing computer-security problem isn't viruses or other traditional malicious programs, and it can't be entirely defeated by using security software or by buying a Mac. It's called “social engineering,” and it consists of tactics that try to fool users into giving up sensitive financial data that criminals can use to steal their money and even their identities.

Social engineering is a broad term that includes “phishing,” the practice by which crooks create emails and Web sites that look just like legitimate messages and sites from real banks and other financial companies. It's closely linked to a newly named category of malicious software called Crimeware — programs that help criminals steal your private financial information.

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