The era of comparatively safe exploration of the NET is over with
governments and businesses attacking and spying of each other, criminal
organizations and individuals contriving to defraud you, and Experian
exposing everyones identity to fraud. An unprotected Windows system will
be hacked within about 20 min. on line, so protection is necessary.
The least expensive way I have found is:
Be very suspicious. Look at the address for a link before clicking. Assume SPAM is a trojan, as well as any click-bait site. Use the tools. Know that companies you may have trusted were not worthy (Experian, Wells Fargo) and others have not been caught.
Critical information should stay off hard disk. Flash drives can keep data available but not available for extended hacker searches. The fact that major ISPs and Lifelock provide anti-virus packages shows how important a problem this is.
With tools which may be had at one level for free, you can reasonably protect a system with the addition of a great big helping of discretion, like NEVER opening a spam email, no matter how interesting the "subject" may be. The other big anti-virus suppliers do provide some effective tools, but I no longer recommend Norton due to its resource use. To save yourself grief, back up your system,, and remove anything you do not need on it (burn to CD, check, store, and ^Delete), which will speed up defragging, backups, and scans, as well as prevent some other problems.
A Startup Monitor is an additional step that most will be unwilling to use, since it requires you pay attention and approve changes to your startup, which insures nothing can sneak in a startup installation. Make sure any download site you use tests for worms and trojans. Zipping files with a password can reduce access to information if your system is breached. Obviously, any file swapping program is an open invitation to crackers and the RIAA.
Some of the more regular programs I have used for years are in my links under
1) FmEdit Explorer with graphics viewer and text & HTML editor- using it now.
2) IrfanView Excelent (& free!!!) graphics viewer.
3) WorldTime multiple world clocks with net sync (so I see local, NY, & UMT).
4) frhed: Free Hex Editor Hex editor, examine suspicious files.
Mozilla has continously developed Firefox, Thunderbird, and more packages that lack IE's security holes.
LibreOffice is a freely available alternative to the MS package, without the vulnerabilities of Word, Xcel, Powerpoint, etc. I do not have the MS package on any of my computers, so I have no MS automation or risks. It does cooperate with MySQL, another very good Open Source package. LibreOffice is a package of remarkable value. With NONE of the MS Office on my systems, I would be at a great disadvantage were it not for the free, open source software, powerful ability to make .xls and .doc files usable.
I have written a web based RegExp Search and Replace and Date Converter convert .csv dates between m/d/yy and yyyy/mm/dd used by MySql. Use them all you want, just don't sell them©.
The Microsoft paradigm for the net tends to be an all or nothing design, resulting in frustration, and then a lack of security. Since the Microsoft way is to try to keep everything locked in to MS to maximize its profits, it creates many features without enough thought about control and security, so features to "look cool" and help advertizers, but will allow script kiddies and crackers to access your system. As a result, I avoid those products in favor of products aimed for me. I recommend using .ogg for music and .png for graphics, as they are explicitly public, and royalty litigation proof as a result.
PortableApps is a full suite of my regular tools, including LibreOffice and Firefox, which runs from flash without leaving a footprint on the host system. Very highly recommended!