A. Windows or Linux? Windows means an open window onto your important information. Choose a flavor of Linux such as OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, or Puppy. All three are free. Puppy is fast, small, and it runs entirely in memory. The Linux kernel is not nearly as porous as the Windows kernel, and most all malware is written for Windows. From a security perspective Linux is the clear winner. If you choose Windows, then that can be hardened, but this is another conversation.
B. Choose the right browser. Go with Mozilla and disable Windows Internet Explorer. Mozilla does not collect personal information, and you can take advantage of the excellent add-ons they offer for free. Make sure to use WorldIP, Ghostery, Adblock Plus, and HTTPS Everywhere. But be careful with add-ons other than HTTPS Everywhere if anonymity is a goal for you (in addition to privacy). Some add-ons, other than the ones that come with the Tor browser by default, can ruin the anonymity provided by the Tor network.
C. Choose the right e-mail provider. If an e-mail provider is based in the United States forget them. Go with Countermail in Sweden or Neomailbox. Neomailbox is based in Switzerland. Countermail has a host of security features to help keep your information safe. Countermail is your best bet.
D. Pick the right VPN. Use VyprVPN because it is based in Germany, it is well-reviewed, it has its own DNS servers to prevent certain attacks, and it has a special firewall (called a NAT firewall) for added security. Use your VPN all the time, and use 256-bit encryption. Their proprietary feature called “Chameleon” is an added bonus for masking your traffic as to whether or not it is encrypted. This feature is especially useful in countries that strongly control the internet (in China, for example). Ubuntu and VyperVPN go together very well.
E. In the latest versions of OpenSUSE and Ubuntu it is easy to encrypt your hard drive when you first set up your system. Choose a strong password. Make sure your firewall is enabled. With OpenSUSE you can learn how to write your own certificates to encrypt your files, and the encryption can be very strong (4028 bit RSA). If you store a file on your computer, or on the internet, anywhere, why not encrypt it yourself? If you use Ubuntu you can download a free program to encrypt your files, or the most important ones on your computer. Many are available.
F. Choose a search engine that is not designed to know everything about you (do not choose Google). Choose duckduckgo. They do not collect on you. Their website is http://www.duckduckgo.com
G. Use an anti-virus for your Linux system. Many people do not know that viruses pose a threat to Linux-based systems, nor is it widely known that strong anti-virus protection exists to counter this threat. Go to http://www.cyren.com/f-prot-antivirus-for-linux-workstations.html and get your F-Prot Antivirus for Linux Workstations. That will set you back $29.
H. Take a little piece of dark tape and cover over your camera without touching the lens.
One possible set-up: Use Ubuntu with Mozilla and its security add-ons mentioned above, VyprVPN, and Duckduckgo.