Windows 8 Security - Make Sure Your PC Is Safe

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Make sure your PC is safe with the new operating system

Key points

·         Windows 8 has built-in antivirus tools and anti-spyware protection

·         Smartscreen helps protect the PC from unsafe or unknown programs

·         Windows access can be protected with a password, Pin code or picture password

Windows 8 is every bit as secure as earlier versions of the operating system. But with the new Start screen and revamped interface, finding old and new security tools can be a challenge. In this Crash Course, we will explore Windows 8’s security tools to ensure that both your PC and personal files are completely protected.

Make sure your PC is safe with the new operating system

Make sure your PC is safe with the new operating system

Keep viruses at bay

Windows 8 has full built-in protection against viruses and spyware, thanks to a new version of Windows Defender. This incorporates the anti-spyware features of previous versions with all the antivirus capabilities of Microsoft Security Essentials.

An automatic virus scan is performed daily, but a scan can be run manually at any time. From the Start screen, type defender then clicks the Windows Defender icon. Choose a scan type (Quick, Full or Custom) then click Scan now. The Custom scan option allows the user to choose a specific drive or folder to scan.

By default, all files and programs are scanned when they are accessed. If a virus is found, a notification appears at the top right-hand corner of the screen saying ‘Malware Detected’, and the program will automatically be placed in a protected quarantine area and deleted after three months.

To turn Defender’s real-time (live) scanning on or off, click the Settings tab, select ‘Real-time protection’ in the left-hand list, then tick or un-tick the box labeled ‘Turn on real-time protection’. We recommend leaving other settings unchanged but, if it needs to be disabled completely, click Administrator and uncheck the ‘Use Windows Defender’ box.

Windows Defender now includes full antivirus protection

Windows Defender now includes full antivirus protection

Defender is updated daily but it can be updated manually by clicking the button on the Update tab. The History tab shows any recently detected threats, and if a program was mistakenly identified, it can be restored by checking the box next to its name and clicking Restore. To delete threats, select Remove All.

Some security features have not changed much, such as Windows Firewall. This helps prevent other computers on the internet from connecting to your PC without permission. The firewall works mostly in the background but, if a new app is installed that needs to accept connections from the internet, the app will be blocked and a dialogue box will appear. To allow the app to access the web, click Allow Access. Internet Explorer 10 has a feature called Smartscreen Filter, which protects users against known bad programs and malicious websites by checking them against a database. It is not new, but Windows 8 extends this protection outside the browser with a feature called Windows Smartscreen, which works regardless of the browser or antivirus software being used.

If the user tries to open an unsafe or unrecognized program that was downloaded from the internet, Smartscreen blocks it with a ‘Windows protected your PC’ warning screen. This can be overridden if you are sure the program is not malicious – it sometimes incorrectly blocks lesser-known programs – by clicking ‘More info’, then clicking ‘Run anyway’.

The Action Center

Windows security options are managed in the Action Center, just as in Windows 7. Open Control Panel (type control panel from the Start screen, then click to open the Control Panel). Select ‘Review your computer’s statuses. Click Security to expand the section. If there is a problem, such as out-of-date antivirus software, it will be highlighted here, along with instructions on how to fix it. Notifications about security problems are also shown in the Notification Area of the Taskbar on the old-style Windows Desktop (click the Desktop tile). Its icon looks like a small flag, just as in Windows 7, and clicking it shows any alerts along with a link to the Action Center. For serious problems, the flag will show a red and white cross.

The Action Center also allows User Account Control (UAC) and Smartscreen settings to be changed. Just as in Windows Vista and 7, UAC protects users from malicious programs by requiring the user to approve any changes made to system settings. Do not turn UAC off completely, but adjust the alert levels using the Change settings link in the User Account Control section. Smartscreen has three settings: default (where administrator approval is needed for unrecognized apps), a less-secure mode that just warns users and disabled.

Security options are managed in the Action Center

Security options are managed in the Action Center

Password protection

User accounts will be explained in detail in a future Crash Course but, for now, we will explore the new password options you can use when logging in to Windows. Instead of a password, users can enter either a four-digit Pin code or the new picture-password feature to sign in to Windows 8. Both are useful on tablets, where long passwords are a nuisance on a touch keyboard.

To use a Pin, open the Charms bar (hold down the Windows key and tap C), click Settings and ‘Change PC settings’. Select Users, then ‘Create a PIN’. Enter the user password, and then type a Pin code in the two boxes. In the Pin-entry box, there is an eye icon at the right edge. Clicking this shows the Pin’s digits temporarily, rather than dots. This is a useful new feature found in all password-entry boxes in Windows 8, whether in settings, apps or on web pages, but in Internet Explorer only.

A Pin code can be used to sign in to your account, instead of a password

A Pin code can be used to sign in to your account, instead of a password

When done, click Finish. The password box at the Windows sign-in screen will now say ‘PIN’. Enter the new Pin to sign in – there’s no need to press Enter. To use the password instead, click ‘Sign-in options’ and the key icon.

A picture password involves clicking or drawing on a photo to sign in. It is intended for touchscreens but can be used with a mouse. To create one, in the Users section of the PC settings screen just explored, click ‘Create a picture password’, then enter the user password. Click Choose picture, browse to a picture, click it then click Open. Click ‘Use this picture’ then follow the instructions to create three separate gestures with the mouse (or finger on a touch screen). Only straight lines, circles and clicks (or taps) are allowed. Repeat when prompted, and then click Finish.

When Windows next starts, repeat the three gestures (they must be in the same order and direction) on the picture to sign in. To switch to a normal password or Pin, click ‘Switch to password’. The sign-in options link will show options for password, Pin and picture password.

Picture passwords, involving three gestures, are best suited for use on tablets

Jargon buster

Technobabble demystified…

Charms bar: A tool in Windows 8, used to access common tools such as search and print

Firewall: Software or hardware that prevents access to a computer over a network, such as the web.

Notification Area: An area on the bottom-right of the screen that shows programs that are running.

Operating system: Governs the way hardware and software components work together.

Pin: Personal Identification Number. Used for cashpoints and online transactions.

Spyware: Software installed to monitor a computer’s use.

Taskbar: Bar that runs along the bottom of the screen in Windows.

Tile: Rectangular elements that make up Windows 8 Start screen.

UAC: User Account Control. Part of Vista that attempts to protect your PC by verifying major decisions

Virus: A computer program made to cause damage to data.

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