Update June 2019, some bits edited to reflect current situation.
This is a minefield but before you go looking for free defense products/applications and stuff, don’t forget the “common sense” type stuff and other “Actions” that you can do that cost nothing. There are loads of FREE self defence products and I have probably tried most if not all of them because I’m a typical Yorkshireman – very deep pockets and very short arms! Basically I don’t like paying more than I have to and FREE always sounds good to me 🙂 However, FREE is not always the best way to go and you will need to decide how valuable the DATA stored on your computer is and if it’s worth paying to protect. If I had my way, no computer would be allowed to connect to the Internet unless it was suitably protected as this would help reduce and/or remove the potential for computers to be used to cause havoc on other computer users on the Internet.
Free Actions/Common sense. This list is just off the top of my head and is very basic stuff so I apologise if I’m preaching to the converted 🙂 I’ll add other things when I think about it!
Passwords. Use a password when you log in to Windows(TM). Make it strong and change it often. A strong password will be at least 15 characters and will contain Upper & lower case letters, at least one number and ideally a few “special characters” e.g. &. #, >, ! etc. The best way is to think of a phrase and then use the first letter of the phrase as part of your password .e.g. All good boys deserve favour would be Agbf. Don’t use a popular phrase, as above and work in the u/c & l/c and special characters. The idea being is that it will be something that you will remember!
Local Admin. Avoid logging in to Windows as Local Administrator (see glossary). Note, Since Windows 8, the Local Admin is no longer “god”. This action alone will prevent the majority of Malware problems because if you log in as a “normal user”, anything that tries to install with or without your knowledge will be blocked. Typically (but not always) anything that needs installing needs “Admin Rights” to progress.
Windows 10, gives you “folder protection” and other security protection, use it! Win 10 is now more secure than any other version of Windows and might mean you have to change the way you do things!
Webpages. Never click on a popup inviting you to install antivirus products or for that matter anything that says you have won something. If it sounds too good to be true, go with your gut instinct.
Webpages in general. All Websites should now be using “HTTPS” and should not be using “Flash”. HTML5 has been around for quite some time and doesn’t need “plugins” like (the very insecure) Flash.
On-Line banking. Never go to your account from an email link and never use on-line banking when using WiFi. Your bank and shopping sites should be using HTTPS://your bank.whatever. Notice the “S” after the HTTP bit and look for the “padlock” in the address bar. No padlock means potentially unsafe!
Phishing. This is a subject by itself, basically its where a Website or an email are asking you questions like personal details etc that are not relevant to the what you are trying to do. Never volunteer information unless you are sure that the website is legitimate. There are lots of websites such as Wiki that will tell you more about phishing and what to look for.
Email. If possible always use plain text when sending email and if possible read email in plain text. Ok, that’s a bit boring but generally speaking it is virtually impossible to “inject/hide” rogue code into plain text email
Beware of Email attachments. The safest thing to do is not open attachments even from people you know but if you must open them, save them to your desktop and then scan for malware before opening.
Avoid social networking sites until you know how to use them safely and securely.
Avoid P2P sites (file sharing) until you learn how to use them safely and securely.
Don’t use pirated software – there are no support options and software of this nature often contains malware.
Free products/programs to help. Don’t forget these are to help you after you have you have carried out the common sense actions and should not be used instead of!
Microsoft Freebies One of the best PCJUDO moves is to keep your Windows(TM) up-to-date. Microsoft spend a lot of time and effort in identifying security loop holes and release patches on a frequent basis. Don’t forget to keep all your other programs/software up-to-date.
MALWAREBYTES. The best FREE anti-malware product in my experience is called Malwarebytes* this is a (FREE) product that I use to remove the majority of Malware “infections” that expensive Anti-virus products miss! Make sure you install this and do a scan at least once per week (after updating it) The FREE version of Malwarebytes is non-resident (doesn’t run unless you tell it to) and is primarily designed to remove infections that other anti-Malware programs miss. However, you can purchase the “pro” version which starts with “Windows(TM)” and this gives additional protection – it even tells you if a website is “dodgy”. The main advantage of installing Malwarebytes and doing regular scans is that it confirms that your paid-for Anti-virus software is doing it’s job.
AVAST (no longer recommended) this is a really nice anti-virus product. Easy to use, nice user interface and it does a good job. It stops most Malware but some Malware get past it. The paid for version is available as a internet security suite.
AVG antivirus again it is FREE and it gives a good general protection for the “cost saving” souls and has a good user interface. Like Avast stops most malware in it’s tracks but the paid for version is available as a suite and is better.
Trend Housecall This is a FREE on-line scanner which you can use occasionally to scan your PC for any nasties. If you are using the FREE Anti-virus products you should visit Trend Housecall and do a scan on a regular basis just to confirm you don’t have any problems. Of course they do paid for products including security suites.
DON’T install more than one Anti-virus product
Keep your Anti-virus up to date
Passwords Change them regularly and have a password of at least 15 characters made up of Alpha numeric + special keys such as “<“, “*”, “[” etc. The most secure passwords are made up of phrases that you will remember but are not well known. A 15 Character password would currently take years to crack so bear that in mind when choosing Passwords.
Web of Trust (WOT) Install WOT to alert you about dodgy websites.
Spybot search and destroy. Excellent utility but mainly for preventing/removing spyware. I used it for years before going over to an Internet Security suite