Although you can never eradicate the threat of malware when probing the web's dark recesses, slapping on as many layers of security as possible will make you less of a target. Here, we show you how to pile on the protection for free.

The other night a friend called, apologetically asking for advice because her computer had been infected with malware. (Truth be told, I knew already: receiving multiple spam emails from your friends somewhat gives the game away.)

It could have happened to anyone. My friend had received an email purporting to be from an acquaintance with some ‘photos' attached. Open email, get infected. Even the most web-suspicious cynic can be caught out this way.

My friend had no idea that she required anything more robust than Windows' built-in security tools. She did, and does, but there's a lot of ignorance about.

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Every PC user should be running up-to-date antivirus and antispyware and a software firewall. Even then there are no guarantees - staying safe online requires you to manage risk. Just as you wouldn't wave your wallet around in a rough part of town, you should proceed with caution if you're surfing dodgy sites.

In this instance, slapping on as many layers of security as you can will make you less of a target. Here, we show you how to do just that, and for free.

Security software reviews

But you'll still need to follow some basic security rules, including regularly changing and protecting all your passwords. As we reveal, ‘soft' targets such as your webmail account are just as important. Follow our advice to keep the hackers out of your contacts book.

Get a multilayered security setup

Let's make one thing clear: if your PC is connected to the web, you need to protect it. Beyond simply switching it off, by far the simplest way to do this is to purchase a brand-name internet security suite with all the updates and technical support such products include. Check out our online security software reviews for a recommendation.

PCA security software reviews

The down side to such products is that they cost you between £20 and £50 a year. But tech-savvy users may find that they can build a security arsenal with no outlay.

Even so, you can never have too much of a good thing. Most security experts recommend adding extra layers to the traditional antivirus (AV), antispyware and firewall setup. With the exception of the products mentioned in Layer 1, the apps below are all designed to work alongside your security suite.

Internet security is as much art as science. Beyond the big three of AV, spyware protection and a firewall, you could install all the products below or pick and choose some or none. It's really a question of how risky your online behaviour is and how much you have to lose.

As with all installations, we recommend that you back up your PC and set a System Restore point before adding security layers. Build them one by one - if you get a conflict, you'll know which tool is the culprit and be able to excise the problem.

Also see: Secure your webmail to stop scams