How do I set up my own systems?

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In a recent post, someone asked my opinion on Norton and NordVPN which made me realise I have never shared how I set up my tech for my own use.
As you would guess, I spend a LOT of time on computers and I often poke around some of the darker parts of the internet in my day to day work so how do I prepare my systems for use?

I set up my computers with the attitude that they will be compromised in some way eventually. If all my devices are set up as “burners” then I can bounce back from when things eventually go wrong with very little stress.

The long story:
My “daily driver” is a Windows Laptop.
I have a few extra features installed (like the Linux Subsystem, machine virtualization etc.) that I will leave out and focus on the essentials for the common user.

Operating System : Windows 10, build 1803, latest security patches applied.
This is one of the key components of a secure system. Whether you use Windows, Mac or Linux it is vital to make sure you have the latest security updates applied. Up to date systems are way harder to hack than out of date systems.
Cost: Included with new computer (Free-ish)

Antivirus/Antimalware : None.
Well, not quite none. I use Microsoft Windows Defender that comes with Windows 10 and is better integrated into the Windows Operating system that any other competing product.
Keeping this free feature up to date works as well (or better) as any other commercial “internet security” suite offered free with new systems or added to your purchase. My advice is to skip on spending money that no longer gives the bang-for-buck it used to deliver a decade ago.
Taking your time and thinking before clicking will deliver more than any off-the-shelf internet security suite almost any day.
Cost: Free

Office applications : Microsoft Office 365
If you can afford around $90 a year you can afford to have arguably the best Office suite there is. If you have a family of up to 5 people you can cover all of them for $120 a year which is a screaming deal.
Cost: $90 – $120 year

Document/Data storage and backups: Cloud services plus external hard drive.
Bundled with Office 365 is 1TB of One Drive storage for each person. This is excellent for the storage of important documents that is accessible from anywhere, any time. If you are concerned about security, turn on two factor authentication and keep another copy of those precious documents on an external hard drive stored in a secure location just in case.
Just keep in mind that external hard drives do have a lifespan. I usually replace external hard drives every 3 or 4 years.
Pro Tip : One Drive is also a great place to store those hard to find programs and drivers for any out of the ordinary stuff you might need to cater for.
Cost: $30 to $60/year (Assuming you are replacing a $90 to $180 external drive every 3 years).

Passwords: Lastpass
Honestly, passwords are a pain and we are overdue for a better system. In the meantime, I have unique passwords for all my accounts that are large and complex. The best part is that I don’t have to remember them. I don’t even have to know them as I use Lastpass to manage my passwords. I understand that keeping all my valuable stuff in one place is a risk so I use 2 factor authentication with Lastpass. To take a look at Lastpass, click here.
Pro Tip : Lastpass is an excellent place to keep software licence keys etc. and includes a really cool feature called One Time Passwords. This allows you to generate a list of single-use passwords in case you need a trusted party to access your accounts when you cant.
Cost: USD$36/year

When it comes to accessing the internet from locations that I did not set up myself I use a VPN to make sure that my communications are not intercepted. This applies to public Wifi and any other free or paid service that I share with others.
When choosing a VPN service, you have to understand that the VPN provider will have access to your data so a “free” VPN service will be selling your information to third parties and cannot be trusted. A paid VPN provider that you can trust is imperative. For this reason I use NordVPN a they take a strong stance when it comes to privacy. Check out NordVPN here.
Cost: USD$83.88/year but there are more cost effective 3 year plans.

Email: Various
Email is the biggest hassle people have to deal with on a regular basis so carving your email into a few providers depending on what you use the email account for. Using multiple email accounts is no problem because you are using Lastpass right?
Gmail: Cavernous storage, comes with your Youtube account and goes everywhere with you. Perfect for use to sign up to services and a second gmail account for personal use if you like.
Supports 2 factor authentication for very good security. Free!
Outlook/Hotmail: The same as Gmail but comes with your Office 365 subscription. Nicer webmail look and feel. Also supports 2 factor authentication. Free!
ProtonMail: This is good for fully encrypted email and best used for when you want a little extra security. Has a free plan for low use and basic features and paid plans for setting up secured business mail services.
Cost: Free* although there are options to upgrade for added features.

Contact Management: Google Contacts
Google contacts has been my go to for years. It works with Mac, IOS, Windows and Android so I can use all my devices to access my central contact list at
Cost: Free*

Photos: Google Photos
Like Google Contacts, works everywhere and automatically backs up the photos you take with your phone to the service. It also include the photo assistant that will enhance some photos or create an animation from a burst of photos you might take to catch a moment.
Cost: Free*

*When I say free, there is a good chance that some services will use your information for advertising or to train AI to better recognise things (in the case of Google Photos). Understand that there are very few things out there that are truly free.

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