General Safe Surfing Practices using Windows
Good passwords are important. This site is a good resource for password creation. http://www.cs.uno.edu/Resources/FAQ/faq4.html

Virus Scanner
Get a virus scanner and keep it updated. Here are a couple of links to some free ones. If your machine came with a scanner, it must first be removed before installing a new one. When machines have more than one virus scanner, they tend to fight over who gets to rid the machine of viruses and some of them actually identify other virus scanners and their virus quarantines as viruses and try to remove them.


Two free virus scanners.
AVG - http://grisoft.com (search for free AVG)
ClamWin - http://clamwin.com

AntiSpyware
It’s also a good idea to get some antispyware. I personally like Xoft by Paretologic. It seems to find almost all the spyware. If you don’t buy it (its inexpensive for what it does) you might have to work with the registry on your computer and that is very dangerous. Working with the registry, if not done correctly, can actually disable your machine permanently.

Xoft - http://paretologic.com/products.aspx

Update/Patch Operating System
Another thing that is absolutely necessary is updating your machine’s operating system. To make sure your machine is updated with the latest OS patch. Since most of us have XP it is easy to update. Go to Start, Windows Update or Start, Programs, Windows Update, and follow the bouncing ball. I usually click the Express button when the site comes up. Make sure you take all the security updates. Microsoft is no longer supporting Win98, NT and a few other operating systems. If you have one of those and can afford it, just buy a new machine. Most people do not need the highest and mightiest computer. We may want it just like we want that Corvette but we don’t need it. I usually buy one that is a little behind the current close to the top computer and I usually pay about $400 or $500. OK, I also don’t drive the most current fancy car either but my car and computer has the essentials for what I need, not what I want.
The machine can be kept up to date with the latest patches by automating this process. If this is the first time you have done windows update, it will ask you to automate it. I would suggest making sure the machine is updated at least once a week. Since this can take a bit of time, do it before going to bed one night and it should be finished or almost finished in the morning.

Buying things on the Net
The regular things apply. You wouldn't buy something like a Corvette for 3 grand, that would be a steal, right? Well, it was probably stolen. Apply some common sense to the Net as well. If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

When you log on to a site or use your credit card, a little lock appears in the lower right hand corner. Look for that lock which should be locked if you are buying something. If it isn't there or not locked, don't enter any information. Others can see your information if it isn’t encrypted.

In Internet Explorer, the lock is up at
the top next to the web address.


In Mozilla and some other browsers, the lock is at the bottom right.

 
For more information about the security of a site just either single click the lock in IE or double click it on Mozilla. In IE a box comes up (pictured below). Clicking View Certificates tells which Certificate Authority issued the secure certificate. Even though most machines can issue their own, usually Verisign or Equifax or some other company is listed. Using these wider known companies is supposed to be better so don't be alarmed.
The following is a picture of a website that uses its own machine to encrypt traffic. The actual website is made fuzzy (by me) on purpose.