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Windows Vista hints and tips

Tips index

Improve security with a new account

There are different types of user account in Windows Vista and there is an administrator, a standard user and a guest. The reason that three are provided is because they offer three different levels of security. An administrator has full control over everything in Windows and full access to the system. An administrator can do anything they want and they can make changes that affect not only the current account, but also other people's accounts too.

From a security point of view it's a bad idea to use an administrator account for everyday use because software, including any malware program that might try to infect your computer, can also do whatever it likes to the system and there's nothing to stop it. However, administrator accounts are the most convenient to use because of the complete and unrestricted access it gives you the system.

A standard user account (called a limited user in XP), is much better for everyday use from a security point of view because it will let you run most software, but it will prevent any changes that affect the system. For example, you can't install or uninstall software or hardware, or delete system files. You may be asked to enter the password for an administrator's account in order to access certain functions and features. It is harder for malware to infect the system when it is running in standard mode because it just doesn't have permission to do certain things, like modify system files and settings.

A guest account is the most restrictive and it severely limits what can be accessed in Windows. You can't access system files, install or uninstall software or hardware, and so on. You can run most software though. From a security point of view, a guest account is the safest to use because any malware program that tries to infect your computer will find that it doesn't have the right permissions to do what it needs to do.

Older versions of Windows encouraged bad habits and the vast majority of people used XP with an administrator account. No doubt they have installed Vista and continue to use it with an administrator account. This is not advisable though and you should create a second account and make it a standard user. Just log on with an administrator account and run User Accounts in the Control Panel. Click Manage another account and then Create a new account. A Standard User account will be selected by default. While you are in User Accounts, you should set a password for your administrator account too.

For everyday tasks you should log on with the new standard account and enjoy the extra security and protection from threats that it provides. If you ever need to do anything that a standard user doesn't have permission for you'll be prompted to enter the password for your administrator account. It's a minor irritation and it's worth putting up with for the extra security it offers.

Most malware comes from the internet and for browsing the web you might want to consider doing it from within a guest account. In User Accounts, select Manage Another Account, select the Guest account and turn it on. You'll see it on the welcome screen when Windows starts. Log on as a guest and browse the web using Internet Explorer in the usual way. Any malware you encounter will have a much tougher time than usual trying to infect your computer. It doesn't mean that you can completely do without security software, but it does make your computer more secure.

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