If you have a PC, you're a target.
Those kinds of sweeping, dramatic statements tend to set my eyes a-rollin', as they frequently lead into a pitch to spend your hard-earned cash on a high-priced security suite.
Here's the thing, though: As crass as the delivery is, the message itself is true. If the bad guys aren't phishing for your personal data, they're trying to trick you out of your credit card details or angling to turn your machine into a botnet zombie. If you're connected to the Net, you really are a potential target.
But that doesn't mean you need to shell out cash for a premium security suite. Though the likes of McAfee and Symantec offer simple, seamless solutions, you can cobble together a DIY security suite of your own that provides most of the protection that the boxed options do, at none of the cost. Once you've slapped these apps on your PC and read up on how to avoid the Web's most devious security traps, you'll have a decent amount of protection from the majority of the Web's worst boogeymen.
Get a good, free antivirus program
AVG Free topped the charts in our most recent free antivirus roundup, and this superb software suite has only gotten better since. Fast and efficient, AVG does a great job of blocking malicious downloads before they happen, and it's even better at eradicating malware that has already slipped onto your machine.
Notice I said "malware," not "viruses." Despite the antivirus moniker, AVG protects against a wide range of nasty infections, and it comes with useful extras like a secure file shredder and a Do Not Track feature to shake ad networks off your tail. Check it out--but be warned that AVG tries hard to get you to sign up for its premium offerings during installation.
Have a backup antimalware tool
No antivirus product is perfect. If an especially tenacious bug sneaks past AVG, call in the Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free cavalry. This scan-on-demand program focuses on "zero day" threats rather than common offenders, so you won't want to use it as your sole protection, but it gives you a potent secondary option when your PC starts behaving suspiciously.
Firewall your PC
The other critical member of the dynamic security duo, a firewall blocks hackers from indirectly penetrating your system. You have a couple of options here: the low-key security of the default Windows Firewall, or the more demanding (yet more dynamic) ZoneAlarm Free Firewall.
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