Windows

The Windows Resource

 
   
 

Keep Your Computer Secure

Keeping your machine secure is a must these days, with faster internet connections and probably over a billion connected computers in the world, an infected machine can scan thousands of other computers an hour looking for weak ones to attack.

You can make sure you're not one of those weak spots by ensuring you're keeping up to date with security updates, Windows can automatically download new updates as they become available.

Automatic Updates

Automatic Updates can be enabled by clicking:

Start
-> Right clicking My Computer
--> Click properties
---> Click the Automatic Updates tag

It is also accessible from Control Panel in classic view and via the new Security Center.  Updates can also be downloaded manually from the Windows Update website.

If you've enabled automatic updates, you should by now also have Service Pack 2 which is part of the big security push from Microsoft.  It introduces the Security Center.  It looks like this:

Windows Security Center

Accessible via the Control Panel all basic security related issues can be found from here.  If something is wrong it will also alert you.

Your computer might be at risk

Ideally everything should be green across the board.  If it's not be sure that it's setup correctly, you can get more information from Microsoft from the links down the left hand side to the Security Center.

Windows XP ships with a Firewall and the Automatic Updates program.  However it does not include any anti-virus software, your computer may well have included something like Norton or another anti-virus suite.  The trouble with this is, it most likely expires after a year.  Norton for example require you to then buy another year's worth of updates from them - make sure you do.  A year old anti-virus program is practically useless.

If you're after a cheaper solution, don't fret!

I've used AVG Free Edition for years now, and highly recommend it.  It's a very lightweight program which doesn't use anywhere near the system resources that Norton and other big commercial packages do, keeping your computer faster and using less memory.  Best of all it's free for personal home use.  The free version is available from Grisoft's website they do also offer commercial programs with more features.

New Threats

The above section deals with the more traditional threats to computer security, however over the last few years a new breed of problems have arisen - spyware, malware and other nasty software that hides in the background on your machine, which may be reporting your web usage to 3rd parties without you knowing, or showering you in advertisements from pop-ups, or even hi-jacking your web browser's homepage.

A number of solutions exist to challenge this, none of the programs are typically as mature as anti-virus software and you may find just one unable to properly cleanse your machine.  Recently Microsoft announced it was going to build it's own anti-spyware software (Windows Defender - previously Microsoft Anti-Spyware) and that it was going to be free for it's Windows customers.  It's still under development now but you can download a test version, which I've now been using for months quite successfully, from their website.  In my opinion it's certainly a big step over other free ones.

Windows Defender

There are currently several different free anti-malware solutions, my favourite is Windows Defender, it's got a clean simple UI, the installer works great and it protects the PC all the time, so it prevents malware from getting onto your machine in the first place.  Even better is it's comes built in for people running Windows Vista.

Windows Defender
Lavasoft's Adaware and
Spybot Search & Destroy

User Rights

Controlling the rights of users on the system is an extremely effective way of increasing the security of a system.  Typically most home computers have their users as full administrators, this does allow for maximum compatibility on a system for applications, but it swings both ways, it also allows viruses and malware full access to the system.

By moving the user account you commonly use to that of a limited user, you reduce the amount of damage a virus or piece of malware can do to your system.  If a virus or other nasty software runs when you're logged in with full administrative rights, it has virtually unlimited access to your entire system.  If it runs when you have limited rights, it also is very limited in what it can do.

To create a new administrative account, and to then place limits on your own go to User Accounts in Control Panel.  You'll be presented with a screen that looks like the following.

Add a new user account

You'll then be prompted to enter a name for the new account, to keep things simple it might be best to simply put Admin on the end however you can call it anything you like.

Name the new account

Next up we've got to make sure our new admin account actually is an administrator.  Make sure Computer administrator is selected and press Create Account.

Windows will then go ahead and create the new user account.

We'll then be able to change the rights of the normal account.  You may be able to do this simply by clicking on your name in the main User Accounts screen, if not log off and log on with the new account.  Go to User Accounts click your name and select Change account type, then select Limited and then click Change Account Type.

Once this is complete sign in with your normal limited account, and your machine will be a lot safer.

However running as a limited user will also put restrictions on what you can do with the computer, for example you won't be able to install applications, some applications might not even work.  In some cases it would be necessary for you to logon to the administrative account to install new programs or change settings.  Luckily most of this can be avoided, Windows has a very handy feature that allows you to run a program (for example the installer for something you wish to install) in it's own environment, effectively giving it the rights it needs to install on your system.

So if you ever find a program refusing it install or run, right click on it (on a CD it will be necessary to go to My Computer, right click the CD drive click browse to find the setup program), on the menu will be an option 'Run as...' this will allow you to change the user account the program runs as.

Run as...
Right-clicking the program and click Run as...

 

Run as...  the admin
Finally entering the details for the user account with the admin rights.

This will then launch the application with full administrative rights, with a lot of modern programs today you'll only need to do this when installing them, as they're built in mind of XP's user rights.

Last updated 14th February 2006.