Surfing the internet without properly protecting your PC first is like trying to clean your computer by chucking it in the bath - dangerous and not particularly bright.
Spyware, Trojans, viruses, worms - there is lots of malicious content out there, all of it created to cause your PC problems. So getting hold of some kind of security is a must.
One part of computer security is the firewall. Its job is to monitor data traffic going in and out of your computer and deny access to unauthorised traffic.
There are two types of firewall, hardware and software, lets start by looking at software firewalls.
Vista and Windows XP service pack 2 come supplied with firewalls which are switched on by default, although the XP firewall only monitors incoming traffic, and as you might expect, both firewalls offer less protection than commercial examples.
To get hands on with XP or Vista Firewall settings, locate the firewall controls in the Control Panel from the Start menu, look at the checkbox to see if Microsoft's firewall is on or off.
PC users should exercise caution if they decide to use a third party firewall as well as the Windows option. In some instances the two do not get on together and cause problems for your computer. Check with the supplier the best way to run their software with Windows.
Third party firewalls often provide a greater degree of security than Microsoft's offering. There are even a host of free software firewalls available on the web, with the offerings from Zone alarms and Commodo rating highly in consumer tests.
Big business often opts for a hardware firewall, a dedicated box which sits between a companies' networks and its internet connection.
For domestic purposes most routers come fitted with a hardware firewall. While these are good you really ought to have a software firewall as well.
Make sure that the router is correctly configured when it is plugged in by checking its administration settings. Follow the instructions to access the admin page and change the password straight away.
Hackers share information about factory default passwords of all types of network devices, making it easy for them to hack unchanged devices.
Also you should set a network password to prevent wireless users nearby helping themselves to your broadband connection. You can then allow what machines you like to use your router.
Do not forget to keep your firewall up to date and make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software as well, just in case.