If you want to protect that expensive PC of yours, you'll need to keep it outfitted with anti-virus software, Internet protection suites, firewalls, and all manner of anti-spyware and anti-malware programs. The good news is that these programs are easy to run, and you can get some of the best ones without paying a penny. These programs, combined with a little common sense, can protect you from the worst of what the Internet has to offer while letting you browse, shop and play to your heart's content.
AVG AntiVirus debuted in 1992 and is still going strong today. Although AVG AntiVirus has paid options that offer email guards, IM scanners and banking protection, its free program is one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly anti-virus suites on the market. Recent tests have put the program on about the same tier as paid programs like BitDefender and F-Secure: It captures and eradicates 97 percent of novel malware and 99 percent of known malware. Although the program can be a bit of a system resource hog, its useful real-time protection and easy scanning features make it a solid investment at a cool $0.
A firewall is a program that keeps track of how your PC communicates with the Internet and prevents bad files from coming in. For what it's worth, Windows comes with a fairly decent firewall, but if your travels routinely take you to the sites where malware lurks (torrents or pornography, for example) you'll want something a program that tracks outgoing files as well as inbound ones. Comodo Firewall does what you'd expect, but does it well, and takes up many fewer system resources than the default Windows firewall. The program will prevent strange programs from executing, alert users to suspicious online activity and set up exceptions so that users can game online in peace.
FileHippo.com Update Checker
One of the easiest ways to fall victim to malware is to be lax in updating your programs. FileHippo.com offers an extremely simple and lightweight solution in the form of Update Checker. This program does exactly what it says on the tin: It analyzes your programs, detects when one of them is out-of-date, then prompts you to update it. In the case of programs like Adobe Flash or Mozilla Firefox, which malefactors target frequently, staying on top of security updates and patches could be the difference between a regular day on the Internet and getting drafted into a botnet that steals your banking information.
If you're serious about keeping your information safe online, you should use a different password for every service. Granted, if you're anything like the average Internet user, you might use dozens of different services in any given week, to say nothing of the ones you need only every once in a while. Rather than writing down every password on a Post-It note that you're sure to lose, try KeePass instead. This free, open-source program allows you to store thousands of different passwords for every service, and all you need to remember is one master password to unlock them all. Each password is encrypted, so your data is inaccessible to everyone but you.
Eraser is a useful piece of software if you want to keep your hard drive free and uncluttered, but it has some security applications as well. Deleting a file on a Windows PC sends it to the Recycle Bin, and emptying the Recycle Bin makes files disappear — but not forever. Until your computer rewrites that data, the file still exists in limbo somewhere, just waiting for an enterprising user to recover it with a program like Recuva. If you have sensitive data, don't take that chance. Eraser will terminate files with extreme prejudice, preventing them from ever resurfacing. This is handy for anything you wouldn't want other people to find — accidentally or otherwise.