Some steps for happier home surfing, (advice I give to friends). The software recommended here is all free and mostly open source.

1. Do not use Internet Explorer except when absolutely necessary.

2. Do not use Microsoft Outlook Express for email.

3. Do not use the Microsoft MSN client, use Gaim

4. Change some Windows settings.

5. Don't use Kazaa (consider emule).

6. Antivirus software: look at Avast, because it is free and works with a better range of email software than Norton.

7. Firewall: Use sygate

8. Anti spyware software


Radical alternative: Get a Macintosh.

 



1. Do not use Internet Explorer except when absolutely necessary.

Use the internet browser Firefox, a free download.
http://www.mozilla.org

Installing Firefox does not delete Internet Explorer, so IE can still be used if necessary. Some websites say they do not work with Firefox, but usually they do. Example: Rabobank for a long time said it did not work with Firefox, but it does.
Why change? IE has a long history of security problems; the product was not securely designed (some terrible decisions were made, such as ActiveX, and it is closely linked to the operating system). And because so many people use it, it is a common target for thieves and crackers.
It is possible to import bookmarks from IE when installing it, but usually setting up a new browser means some nuisance at the beginning because the import process will not be perfect. Additionally, after installing Firefox, you will need to also install Macromedia Flash (http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash) and Java from Sun (http://www.java.com/en/download/manual.jsp)


Please see this page: http://www.mozilla.org/support/firefox/faq


There are non-English language packs available. First install it in English and get it working, then install the language packs you want.
Firefox has a built-in pop-up add blocker, which everyone uses. Also, it has lots of extensions (addon functionality). One of them is "ad blocker" which does a nice job of removing advertisements from webpages.



2. Do not use Microsoft Outlook Express for email. Use Thunderbird. Also from http://www.mozilla.org
Outlook used to be an even worse security nightmare than Internet Explorer. Thunderbird is a good email client; its anti junk mail features are better. But some things it does not do; there is no calendar feature, for example. However, if you just read email, Thunderbird is a good choice.


3. MSN: I did not realise fully how bad the MSN messenging client had become as a security problem. My wife uses the MSN network, but once again, we do not access it with Microsoft software. We use software called "gaim" which has the advantage of also connecting to the Yahoo network and the AOL network. http://gaim.sourceforge.net/
Once again, it is new software to learn which can be annoying. It is also not as full featured as Windows Messenger. On the other hand, it is much safer, plus the convenience of having one program which accesses different messenger networks is very nice.


4. Change Windows settings. Under Windows XP, in the English version, there is a choice on the start menu called "Set Program Access and Defaults". When you run that, choose the "Custom" option. You can now change the settings for Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger. I disable access to Outlook (it is replaced by Thunderbird) and I disable access to Windows Messenger (replaced by Gaim).


5. Don't use Kazaa. Consider using a different file sharing network. We use emule. It is much safer, and protects privacy better. Also much better for large software and movies. http://www.emule-project.net/


5a. Instructions to other users at home. You will note that I have not said "never download files". If you use the software above, the risk is already much lower. There is no need for drastic rules about what to do and what not to do while on the internet. Another way of saying it is that using safer software reduces the human user having to be safety aware.




6. Antivirus software: http://www.avast.com/
I was using Norton, and I still have a subscription active, but this free software is better. It catches viruses in email better, and works well with Thunderbird.


7. Firewall. After checking all the main players, I concluded that Sygate was the best. The free personal version is all that is required. http://www.sygate.com/
Turn off the Windows firewall. Do that by going to the control panel called "Windows Firewall" and turn it off. You will have the Windows firewall if your Windows XP is upgraded to service pack 2. It is better than nothing but only just.


8. Anti spyware. Here there is not really great software; all the main programs have weaknesses. They say that the best users rely on two programs. Because of steps 1 to 5, my risk is much lower, so I use only one package: spybot search and destroy.
http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html
Cetainly this one is just as good as Ad-aware, and spybot is free (the team behind it love donations, so if you do use it, I urge you to consider this)



Final word
Changing to new software can be a nuisance. However, there are features in Firefox and Thunderbird that are a million miles beyond the Microsoft versions, which have not been improved much in a few years. The security is perhaps a good enough reason, because you know how bad things can get.


Radical alternative: Get a Macintosh.
This is the most consumer friendly way of doing these steps. The Mac is really safe, has a better operating system.
To be honest, looking at the problems friends have had, I would now tell someone wanting a family computer to consider a Mac because it is almost guaranteed to not cause problems the way it comes out of the box. That is, it is "idiot proof". Windows certainly is not. I trust myself to run Windows safely, but I know a lot about computer security.


The human factor is that I have given this list to other people, and they don't follow my advice because it is just too hard to spend the few hours getting used to new software. So they end up where they begin. In this circumstance, a Macintosh starts to look really smart.