All of the green names are links, and I use the free versions of all of these programs. From the quality of ZoneAlarm I would most likely buy it, if I needed to pay for a firewall and malware protection.
I am convinced that Firewalls are a major part of why I am no longer troubled by Malware (the general term for viruses, spyware, etc..).
I recommend buying a router with one built in and/or downloading ZoneAlarm.
ZoneAlarm is by far the best free software for computer safety. Not only does it block inbound bad guys, it gives you the power to: allow or deny any program, on your computer, from accessing the internet. This might seem bothersome for the first day or two, but it's worth it.
Every time a program attempts to connect to the internet, a small window pops up on the bottom right. At this point you can allow it or deny it, and if you are completely sure about your choice (e.g. allowing your web browser access) you can click a little box that says “Remember this setting”. If you reconsider you simply open Zonealarm and go to the Program Control menu, where you can allow or deny any program.
Virus programs can use a lot of system resources if they are continuously on and 'looking'. We solve this by not needing an active virus program.
[! Before you run away screaming, know that with my set-up, I have been Malware free for months, and even my scans with the program below seem superfluous at this point!]
Meet Malwarebytes; the all encompassing anti-malware program.
This is the program that found and removed dozens of trojans and spyware that Mcafee and AVG failed to recognize.
Simply install it, remember to open it occasionally, run the update and do a scan.
Additively, or alternatively you can try PandaCloud, another free anti-malware whose database is stored on a server, not your computer; this allows it to remain active while not slowing your computer down.
Make sure programs, which are heavily involved with the internet (e.g. Flash), are up-to-date. To do this easily, we use Secunia PSI, which checks to see what the current version of each program is, and then gives you a suggested fix (e.g. this program has a patch).
Also, make sure windows update is turned on.
I use Firefox for its great add-ons. The one add-on that you're going to want for safety is “Web of Trust”. With this add-on, every time you do a search (on yahoo, google, etc..) every link has a circle by it. Green is good; red is bad. These circles are colored by people rating the site, who also have WOT. If you get a pop-up that has a red circle, WOT asks if you want to continue, which you don't. If you have a good or bad experience with a website, you can rate it and add a comment to its WOT page.http://www.mywot.com/
The more people that use this, the safer we all become.