Looking for some solutions to Home PC security in an unsecure environment. Impossible?

i am no super smart tech, nor have I worked as tech support anywhere, but I do know my way around windows a fair bit, have cleaned many viruses and spyware off lately, mostly learning and reading off of sites such as spywareinfo.com and here as well.

I help my friends and family with viruses/spyware/issues...   and post on here when I find an issue I just can't fix for some reason...  

Well on to the point...  I am a power user/entrance level tech I guess, and have been cleaning alot of friends/family/friends of friends computers lately.  I am seeing a reoccurance of various spyware and viruses on a few of these, typically reappearing a month or two after I clean them... sometimes the same virus/spyware.  

Most of these computers are XP Home or XP Media Center.... Most range from 1500mhz to 2800mhz.. usually celerons/durons/semprons... with 256-512mb ram.. sometimes 1gb.  So they can run a few programs if need be.  Most do NOT have hardware routers.. despite my suggestions, and are connected via USB to their cable modems.  They typically will have Limewire or Bearshare or Emule, One person has Kazaa and does not want to give it up.  A few have iPods or other music devices that hook via USB.  Almost all have AIM and use it, or their children use it.  All use Internet Explorer and Outlook, despite my best advice efforts to move to Firefox/Thunderbird.

So my question is this....  what more can I try in these insecure cases, where I can not simply put Firefox, Thunderbird, Trillian to replace AIM, and a Linksys Router in to help block port attacks?
Are there any products that I can try besides IMSecure for AIM from zonealarm, AVG antivirus(they dont like paying for antivirus usually....but might can convince them), maintaining the windows updates, removing the viruses each time they happen(Vundo and another one were fun to remove)... and feeling like I can't offer them protection because no antivirus or antispyware program I know of, blocks these new threats(some remove it... but few I have found block it).

Just looking for ideas/programs to secure/tighten windows/Internet Explorer/Outlook/AOL instant messanger/Limewire or Emule or Bearshare.... Since they do not want to switch to more secure programs that run those tasks...

I am not sure if they are opening virus infected files, or are visiting comprimised websites, or are getting directly attacked since they dont have a firewall.. or just have XP's firewall...

Prevention and blocking for these programs if there is any, would be very much appreciated...  Ideas are also appreciated...

AVG Free
Spyware Blaster
Spybot S&D
IESpyADs(caused some problems for a few clients.. so removed)
Ewido(rarely I have to install trial to get a trojan out.....  but its not free so :( )

Going to Try:
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AVG free is fine; I know many people who use it (including me).  The only program I don't see on your list that I would suggest is is the ZoneAlarm free firewall.

Other than that:
-Assume everyone will forget to run their Windows Updates, and just set them up to be automatically installed.  I believe the new "Microsoft Update" includes MS Office updates.

-Tell them the truth about the P2P programs (or a slightly embellished version of the truth).  They're vulernable to attacks and having personal information stolen.  Tell them that they have a choice: keep the program and the junk that comes with it, or get rid of both.  There's no in between.

-Tell them to avoid the bogus WARNING UR PUTER HAS TEH SPYWAREZ popups.  Also, turn the new IE popup blocker on, or install the Yahoo or Google toolbar (with popup blocker).
KouUrakiAuthor Commented:
Are the old issues with Zonealarm firewall fixed?
There were old reports between the last time i used to use it and the present.. of it not being able to be uninstalled because it did not take out certain registrey keys when it ran uninstall and thus locked the internet unless you were a registry wiz on editing the keys back...  also that later versions were a bit of a system hog...

I think i used to use 2.0 or 2.6... and it was ok.. but I switched to Tiny Personal Firewall 2.0 for myself....  and while it is quite well, it is rather..   complicated for other users I would wager.

But the newer versions of zonealarm free are pretty problem free?
Hmm... I wasn't aware of the ZoneAlarm uninstall issue (although I know that many programs don't remove everything when you do an uninstall).  It looks like this was still an issue as of July 2005:

I haven't noticed ZoneAlarm being a resource hog.  Then again, with antivirus and anti-spyware also running, it's sometimes hard to tell which is consuming resources.

After the initial setup, I can't say I've noticed any problems with ZoneAlarm, other than the fact they don't give you a "Reboot Later" button after installing an upgrade.
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You may want to do a 3 pronged attack.  

1. For actual security, ZoneAlarm Pro with Symantec Anti-virus, or better yet ZoneAlarm Antivirus (2 products in one) everyone has suggested some variation of this.

2. Ghost the HD (or use any imaging program), after you get a good build.  This is for those moments when defense is breached, by very intrusive software or when someone actually compromises your actual security.  You can restore to the last known good build.  If you have multiple drives, you may want to ensure that your system drive is not your data drive also.  Otherwise save your data to an external storage area before restoring
2a. restores become easier when the image and all your valuable data is stored on another physical HD.  And you are assured that you don't blow away any good data when you are doing the system drive.
2b. When you need to update the image, just reload the last good image, update everything and create a new image.

3. Educate your userbase (family and friends) on what not to do. Go to porn sites, installed hacked or questionable software, don't give out SS#s and the like.  

It'll be chaotic trying to enforce anything on family, friends and neighbors (you can't fire them), so you do the above 3 points and hope that they come running to you before a bad situation gets worse and you have to restore an image.
(so they got 3 chances to get out of trouble)

My 2 cents


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KouUrakiAuthor Commented:
Then its just as I thought.... no real dummy-proof(no offense to family members or friends or anyone that is...a not so adept computer user) protection.... I just have to keep trying to educate them....

Alright, thanks guys.
best security is layered.  The image is your safety net, just in case the other 2 fails.

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