There are a million posts and blogs out there that tell you how to make your computer safe on the interwebs. I'm going to tell you how to bulletproof the damn thing. I'm also going to tell you how to do it on the cheap. You don't have to be an uber-geek or millionaire to have a setup that is resistant to bugs and quickly recoverable if it does get a nasty STD from the web. Please read the whole post before starting, Step 1 might really be at the end. I'm Evil!
1. Start fresh. Re-install your operating system and minimize the programs you install. I install programs that I just have to have and it's the coolest thing ever mommy, may I please please please have it? Then after a week they are forgotten, never to be used again because that was so last week. Before you begin, write down a list of the most used, most necessary programs that you have. Make sure that you have the install files or that you can get the install files again (including serials/cracks). Which brings us to #deux
2. Keep Data Separate. Programs can be easily replaced. So can music. The picture of little Timmy when he slid into home base cannot. Personally my music just cannot be replaced either, but I'm really anal. So when you go to setup your computer again, make a partition for your operating system and another for your data (we'll call it stuff). Let's classify data as anything you can download; this includes install files for programs, music , videos, documents, pics etc. So, lets recap: One partition for your operating system and programs and another for your stuff. Here's some info on partitioning.
3. Go External. Hard drives are inexpensive now. You can get an external 500GB-640GB hard drive at wally world for less than a $100 now. Go get one. Get two if you feel frisky. This is going to be your lifepreserver This is also going to help you keep your stuff separate. Go ahead and put your stuff there. It's time for step one. Uno.
4. Sync and Backup. Now that you have your computer just like you like it. It has all of the programs that you like and all your stuff just where you like it. Lets talk about sync(ing).
There are two things that we are going to sync. Can you guess what they are? You got it. Your stuff and your operating system. Let's start with the operating system. For this you can use a myriad of programs to back it up. Here's a good paid one. Here's a torrent for the same thing but free if you walk around saying arrr all day. There's also a free open source version called DriveImageXML, Both are easy to use and you just follow the prompts and you'll be okay. Send the image of your operating system to that fancy external hard drive you bought. If your operating system decides to crash irreparably, or you get a really bad infection, then you can be back up and running in less than 30 minutes. Order a pizza and time it.
Now for your stuff. There are two ways of doing this; manual and automatic. Sounds fancy! For a manual back up you'll need to go through your stuff and copy/paste it to your external hard drive. Simple. You'll have to remember to do it occasionally to make sure you have a good backup of your stuff. Automatic backups can be done with free programs too. I use SyncBackSE, It's simple and doesn't miss anything that you tell it not to miss. You will want to setup your rules (send FolderA to FolderB etc.). Pretty simple, especially if you separated your "stuff" from your OS. SyncBack will do validation checks (making sure C:\filea.mp3 = Z:\filea.mp3), scheduling and testing.
If you are on a Mac you can use Time Machine to accomplish this feat of geekiness.
So you're thinking "Why don't I just keep all of my stuff on an external hard drive?" Wrong! The point is to have 2 copies or even 3 if you are paranoid.
5. Security. Whether you use a Mac or Windows, you want to be smart about traveling on the super highways of the net. Windows offers Defender as a free addon, but there are other free utilities that will keep your machine lean, mean and hacker free: Spybot S&D, MalwareBytes, and SoftPerfect Firewall to name a few. And for the Mac there are a few free versions too, such as iAntiVirus and ClamXav.
Update: Mzaher Mentioned that you should use a paid for anti-virus. I don't disagree with him if you want to use NOD32, Kaspersky's or Avira. I would definitely not suggest Macaffee or Norton's though. While they are a good product for keeping a virus out, I personally think they are a virus all on their own. They slow down you system horribly, self-replicate and cannot easily be removed from your computer once you install them. There are programs out there that have one function: help you remove Norton. I have made numerous house-calls and corporate-calls just to remove these programs.
Thanks Mzaher for pointing this out.
So that should get you started on making your computer bullet proof. For an added bonus you should keep that fancy hard drive somewhere else besides your computer. Maybe at a friends house, or in a safety deposit box. This is what the pros call "Offsite", can we say that together now? This will save your ass if your house is broken into and someone steals your computer or a fire happens etc. Then at least you will have all of your "stuff" when you get a new computer.
Got any questions? Drop me a line. This is just the beginning of what you can do, but in most cases it will make you bullet proof.