General Prevention - Be Smart
Anti-virus programs, spyware removal programs, and firewalls are the simplest and often most effective ways to prevent security problems from occurring. However, mass adoption of these three has not halted the steady stream of viruses, spyware, and attackers that exists today. Only one person is at fault for this: You.
The vast majority of all security problems don't result from having the wrong anti-virus or not having a firewall. They result from the average user's lack of knowledge and many need to learn what should be common sense.
- Windows Update
Windows Update is easily the most useful built-in security feature of Windows. It is a necessity to have the latest updates if you want a secure system. Go to Windowsupdate.com or enable automatic updates now if it isn't already. You can also manually download patches from http://www.microsoft.com if Windows Update doesn't work for some reason.
Windows XP users should have at least Service Pack 1, and many users, especially inexperienced ones, will find Service Pack 2 useful. Getting the latest security patches from Microsoft will help make Internet Explorer and other Microsoft programs more secure, as well as removing the threat of new worms and vulnerabilities which are discovered all the time.
If you have a password to something important, such as a bank account or Paypal account, it's best to change it often. If your computer is compromised and someone gains access to your account, the consequences would be, needless to say, pretty bad. Don't save your important passwords in your browser, and change them on a regular basis.
- Web Browsing
People need to take much more care when browsing the web. Clicking on the wrong thing or going to the wrong web site is the primary cause of spyware and a common cause of viruses. Here are some basic rules for preventing problems:
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch! If you simply have to fill out a survey, get the answer right, shoot the Storm Trooper, or whatever the pop-up says to win a free iPod, then it's a scam. You will not win or in anyway get anything except a nice tracking cookie or some spam after you enter your email address to get the free item. Basically, never go somewhere because there's a claim that you can get something. That should be a reason not to go there, in fact it sound alarm bells in your head.
Use a router for improved security - How much?
Nudity is often a very bad thing, and I don't just mean if it's someone you don't want to see naked. The vast majority of pornographic web sites will provide you with some sort of spyware. Usually, it will just provide annoying popup ads to other porn sites, but it can also install tracking spyware that can hijack your web browser and even your entire PC. The former is much more likely, but neither are worth risking.
Software piracy in and of itself caries more repercussions than the law will ever provide. The vast majority of CD keys/serial numbers and cracked programs are provided by sites that have some spyware. As with pornography, this spyware mostly only provides unwanted pop-up commercials, but it can get worse. Make a particular effort to avoid German sites where available. Germans are known for several things online: Cracking, pornography, piracy, and spyware.
Forget that popular commercial jingle; DON'T plug it in. Unless it's a very popular/well-known program or web site, don't install ActiveX controls or plugins. Never install them if they are in any way related to pornography or software piracy. Plugins are the easiest way to hijack a browser and one of the worst types of spyware out there. Feel free to install just about anything from Macromedia, Adobe, Sun Microsystems or Microsoft Corporation - be wary of others, though.
Unless you know exactly what it is, do not run any executable (.exe, .bat, or .msi, for example) unless you're pretty sure you know what it is. Downloading stuff from random sites and running it is a bad idea. The same applies for email attachments - unless you are positive what the attachment is, don't open it - just delete it straight away. This may seem like common sense for some people, but many people take little regard as to what programs they download and run. One little stuff up (program execution) can lead to whole lot of hassles and probably a format of your PC.
Cookies may taste good, but they're usually bad. A good way to stop spyware is to simply delete your cookies. If you delete all of them, you'll have to re-enter your passwords and such, but you can delete specific ones, and not others. Cookies are one of the primary access points for spyware, so delete them or at least scan them regularly.
Don't Explore the Internet. Microsoft's Internet Explorer should probably be avoided. Due to a mix of poor programming and popularity, it is the single largest security flaw in Windows. Spyware and viruses can easily get in through the aforementioned ActiveX controls, and quite regularly new methods come out that don't even need user interaction in order to infect a PC. I highly recommend use of Mozilla Firefox.