Americans are known for cutting corners to save time. That's why computer downloads are becoming so popular. But it's not a perfect system. Downloads are convenient, but can also be confusing, and downright dangerous. The good is, it's speedy, practical. The bad: you have to feel comfortable using your credit card on the Internet, but beyond that -- do you really know what you're getting? When the first Sears & Roebuck catalog came out, people were a little skeptical about spending their money on merchandise that came through the mail. That was then, today, you can still buy your software on the Internet, but the future is downloading. You can download software, games, pictures, music, and much more everywhere on the Internet, but your confidence in that software comes down to a matter of trust. "Well, if you're going right to the manufacturer's web site, or if you're going through their e-tailer, as they call them, you're probably in pretty good shape, the biggest problem we see with free downloads of anything is it winds up being some kind of free-ware, that may or may not have some malevolent software -- what we call "maul-ware" attached to it," says Jim White of Automation Services Company of Cape Girardeau. Jim makes a living from issues of online security. He says, with the Internet, you're immediately part of a larger community. "The problem is, people move to Cape Girardeau, 'cause it's a small town, and you get away from a lot of the crime problems that you have in larger cities. Crooks in St. Louis don't want to make the hour-and-a-half, two-hour commute down here to cause problems. Unfortunately, hackers travel at the speed of light," says White. Hackers that love to hide renegade programs called Trojan horses, viruses and worms inside innocent downloadable programs. Luckily, there's plenty of help and protection. Virus protection programs like Norton or Mcafee are absolutely essential in screening for unwanted computer code. But if you want even greater peace of mind, you'll need something else. "There are also some software packages called "intrusion protection" programs. If you think of the fire wall as the vault door, you can think of the intrusion detection system as the alarm system," explains White. Anti-virus software will run you about $40; same for the intrusion protection -- and that's a fair price for a good night's sleep.