A large majority of PCs are running on Microsoft Windows. Being the most used operating system means that it is the most obvious target for attacks of the digital kind by malwares. Yes, the Microsoft Windows platform is known to be more susceptible to attacks by those “creative minds”. So, how do we ensure our computer’s security? Read on. I’ll unveil the most basic security measure for your pc. No software to install. No firewall to configure. I have used this security tip ever since I can remember. Up to today, my computers have yet to be infected by any so called malwares.
Recently, I came across an interesting article in The Star’s InTech entitled “Staying Safe Online for Free“. The article mentions about all the various free software currently available to protect your computer from malware attacks. These software are supposed to be good at protecting your pc from computer viruses (AVG, Avast! 4, Nanoscan) and spywares (Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D). It goes on to provide a brief information on the strengths of the above mentioned software.
I certainly agree with the article that the software above does an excellent job in ensuring security for a pc. I personally have used them at one time or another. I mostly use them and a few other utility software to disinfect computers whose security have been compromised. They are even included in my favorite Windows Utility CD. However, I don’t use them specifically on my computer. As I said earlier, my security method does not require the installation of any specific software such as the above.
What really is my method? Well, here’s a clue – User Accounts.
Yes, I ensure security by securing the user accounts created on my computer. That, to me is the most basic level of computer security. I ensure that all user accounts are password protected with strong passwords. To further secure the computer, I do not use a user with Administrator rights (which is what the default user has upon XP installation) in my daily computer usage. I’ve created a Normal User and use that instead. I only use the Administrator account when required – normally to perform administrative functions on the computer like installation/uninstallation of software and drivers. Realistically, I don’t really have the need to use the Administrator’s account very often anyway.
Now, you may ask, “Do I have to logout and relogin as Administrator when I need Administrator rights to run something?”.Well, you can do so if you want to. However, there is an easier method. Windows comes with a function called “Run As”. This function allows you to run a program as another user. It’s available in the pop-up menu displayed after a right click on a program icon or an exe file. So, lets say you want to install a new application. A Normal User would not have the priviledge to install or run the setup.exe of any software. Thus, to install a software, you’d have to right click on the Setup.exe file and select “Run As”. Enter the Administrator’s username and password and press “Enter”. That’s it. Your software will be installed as it should, accordingly.
Why the user account approach? Almost all types of computer virus and spyware attacks require the use of a user account – normally the account which is currently logged in at the time of the attack. So, if at the point of attack, you are logged in as a user with Administrator rights (which I’m sure 90% users are), then the malware will have access to the entire operating system. As such, the malware is able to take control of the operating system and do anything it pleases in the computer.
The Normal User account is a limited privilege account. Thus, if a malware were to be executed under this account, it will also be running under limited privileges. Most importantly, it will not be able to save itself into system folders. It will also not be able to add, modify, or delete any of the system settings and configurations. It does, however, have access to your files and folders and may add, modify, and delete them. Hence, it is still highly advisable that you regularly backup your data files and folders into external media. However, since these files are not system related, the operating system will not be compromised. Your operating system is still very much secured from the malware.
Over the years of running Windows on a number of computers, I have yet to encounter any significant problems in performing my daily computing under a Normal User account. The best thing about this method is, I basically do not have the need to install any antivirus nor antispyware programs in my computers. Thus, non of the CPU resources are wasted on something that is really not required, nor is it productive. Now, I have about three computers running. Two in the office, and a notebook. All three are online almost 24×7. All three are running without any protection software. I access all three as a Normal User. Not one of them have ever been infected with any type of malware. How do I know? Well, occasionally I scan the machines using the many Online Scanning services just to be sure. So far, so good.
You might think I’m just lucky. I don’t think so. Many Windows users are following such a method in preventing malware (prevention is better than cure). As a matter of fact, Windows Vista is implementing a similar security policy. Users run with limited privileges by default. Vista prompts you for the Administrator credentials when a system configuration or software installation is performed.
Thus, I strongly recommend that you also change the way you use your computer. I’d say this is the most basic computer security tip for you to follow. It works. It’s free. It’s easy. If you are among the more technically inclined, you might also like to check out this “Run As” post by David Wang. Heck, even if you’re not technically inclined, read his post and the comments from others.
To further secure your computer, you might also want to compare your installation against this checklist and read up on this Lockdown Guide.