Friday, August 17, 2007

Using Microsoft Windows Vista safely

et up and use Vista safely

Microsoft Windows Vista is the latest version of the Windows operating system. Although it has advanced security features, you still need to set it up and use it safely. This article will point you in the right direction.

Using Microsoft Windows Vista safely

Upgrade with care

Most people will get Vista with a new computer. However, if you decide to upgrade an existing computer, check that your hardware and software are compatible with Vista. Run Microsoft’s Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor first.

You may need to get updates for your programs to make them Vista compatible. It is particularly important to get a version of your virus software that works on Vista. (See below for more information about anti-virus software.)

Remember to back up your files, pictures and music before you upgrade in case something goes wrong during the upgrade. Read our advice about backups.

Built-in security features

Vista includes a number of security features that need to be configured carefully, including:

  • User account control. You can assign different accounts to the different people who use the computer. It’s best to avoid an account with ‘administrator’ privileges for everyday use. Even if you are the only person using the computer, set up one account to use when you need to do administrator stuff like installing programs or changing the system configuration, and another ‘Standard User’ account as your regular account. You can change user details in the control panel. When you install a new device driver or program, Vista will ask you to enter an administrator password. Be careful that you only do this to install programs that you know are trustworthy – it’s hard to change your mind later if you accidentally allow in something you shouldn’t. You can also use user accounts to set up parental controls on what your children can do with the computer.
  • Security Centre. This is in the Control Panel. Use it periodically to make sure everything is up to date.
  • Windows Defender. This blocks spyware. It updates itself automatically by default.
  • Windows Firewall. This controls the flow of information to the internet. As new programs try to connect to the internet, Firewall will ask for your permission. Only allow connections if you are sure that you trust the program.
  • Backup. You can find ‘Backup Status and Configuration’ in the Windows menu under All Programs / Accessories / System Tools. You can use this software to setup a regular backup of your computer.
  • Internet Explorer 7.0 phishing filter. When you’re browsing the internet, Internet Explorer will warn you if it thinks the website you are looking at is a fake. You can also ask it to check a specific website by clicking Tools / Phishing Filter / Check this website.
  • Windows Mail with spam filter. Windows Mail replaces Outlook Express and includes a spam filter to block unwanted email. You can adjust the level of protection you want using the ‘Junk E-mail Options’ on the Tools menu. The higher the setting, the more chance legitimate emails will be wrongly categorised as spam and moved to the Junk E-mail Folder (or deleted if that’s what you told the program to do). Start with a low setting and adjust it higher if you get more spam. Check the Junk E-Mail folder regularly for legitimate email and add any that you find as ‘Not Junk’, so that the program doesn’t filter them in future.

Get anti-virus software

Windows Vista includes most of the security features you’ll need but it does not include anti-virus software. This is a must-have.

If you bought a new machine, it may have come with a trial version of some anti-virus software pre-installed. This is fine, but if you decide to keep it remember to pay for the subscription when it falls due, so that you always have the latest updates. This way you’ll stay protected and up to date. This is very important.

Compatible anti-virus software (as of early February 2006) include:

Look out for alerts

When you first run Vista, you’ll see a lot of alerts as it configures various bits of the operating system and installs new drivers for your hardware. As it beds in, these warnings will appear less frequently. However, you will still see them when something unusual happens; for example, when a new program is installed, when a new program tries to access the internet, when Internet Explorer suspects a phishing site.

Most of the time, you’ll know why the warning has appeared and it will be completely legitimate.

Be on your guard – viruses and other unwanted programs could also trigger these alerts, so make sure you are confident each time you click ‘OK’. If in doubt, check first.

More information

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