If you were lucky enough to bag yourself a PC in the sales, no doubt you immediately wanted to get online to brag about it to your mates. But in the excitement of having a new toy to play with, it's all too easy to overlook the preparation needed before venturing online. And unfortunately, such eagerness has its price.

This article appears as part of the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents

Expect your penalty to include digging out the recovery disc, or hours spent undoing the damage that a virus has done.

To become truly seaworthy, ensure that you're suitably equipped to maintain control over your system. Consider that a good antivirus suite and firewall are the best weapons at your disposal. XP has a built-in firewall and most PCs will bundle a three-month antivirus trial. If yours doesn't, visit your local computer shop.

You should install a decent antispyware application, such as Ad-Aware SE Personal. Ad-Aware prevents browser hijacks and persistent adverts meddling with your PC while you're online. There are plenty of other good alternatives, including Microsoft's own Windows Defender. Looking to the future, it's vital that you keep your PC's native security tools up-to-date. This includes periodic visits to the Windows Update site, as well as keeping your antivirus and antispyware programs current.

However, even with these precautions in place, your web browser is still vulnerable. Following the workshop in the April 07 issue of PC Advisor will give your browser higher security and privacy levels.