What Security Settings do you need enabled on your computer?
By Mike Ellis.
Before you enter your credit card on a website to make that purchase, there are things you look for that tell you that it is okay to safely do so. Your web browser — whether it be Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge (or it’s predecessor, Internet Explorer) will tell you whether or not the connection is secured by encryption. Just like purchasing online, there are things you should absolutely have enabled on your computer. If they aren’t enabled, then your goal is to find out why, and get them enabled. Here is my list of four security settings you absolutely should have enabled.
Regardless of the computing platform, anti-virus software is a must when it comes to securing your computer. Anti-virus software comes in many forms and fashions, both paid and free, and each version has it’s own quirks. As a result, it can get quite overwhelming trying to choose between the different products. Fortunately, Microsoft is getting smarter about providing anti-virus protection, and has it’s own tools that you can use for free. If you are running Windows 10, at the minimum stick with Windows Defender, which is included in the OS by default. Or, if you are running Windows 8 or 7, get Microsoft Security Essentials from the Microsoft website. Other anti-virus options, which, in my experience, are all good, include AVG Free, Avast, or if your Internet Provider offers it for free to you, go with their solution (commonly McAfee). For Mac OSX users, I recommend either Sophos or AVG, both of which you can get for free. The key here is that there are a lot of good solutions available, at little or no cost, and it’s better to utilize one of them than to go without one at all.
Firewalls come in two main varieties — network based and host based. Generally speaking, host based firewalls are included in most operating systems by default, but often they are disabled, either by software installs, end users, or because of some other reason. Network based firewalls, for you home users, will often be included in your network modem, along with your Wi-Fi and physical connections. Generally speaking, the firewalls in systems today are configured to allow access out from your computer to anything, but inward traffic for unknown applications is blocked. On my systems, I just run the built in firewall that comes with the operating system, whether it be Windows or Mac OSX. There are other alternatives out there, but generally speaking, most users aren’t going to need something more than the standard solutions. Often, for purchase anti-virus solutions will include their own firewall programs that will take the place of the built-in Windows solution. This isn’t often a consideration for free anti-virus programs.
Without question, absolutely, positively, all home based computer systems should have their automatic updates enabled. In corporate environments this is up for discussion — often automatic updates are disabled by group policy because of a product that is used to take the place of that. But in a home environment, automatic updates are a must, and if they aren’t enabled, we need to rectify that quickly. You’ll be amazed at the number of updates a Windows computer will need.
User Account Control Settings
One security feature that Windows implemented back in Windows Vista is User Account Control (UAC). The idea behind UAC is that Windows would alert you when something was attempting to change a setting that could impact the security posture of your computer. There are four settings, as seen in the screenshot below, with the next from the highest being the default behavior.
On my system, I actually put my UAC settings at the highest level, which means I’ll be notified on these conditions:
- Apps try to install software or make changes to my computer.
- I make changes to my Windows settings.
I know that this may seem like overkill, and for most of us, it may be. Keeping the default behavior is probably fine for most users, but for me, I think — at least for now — I’m going to set it at the highest setting.
The problem with things like UAC is that far too often the end user (including myself, I’m guilty here too) just clicks yes when prompted instead of investigating why, so it’s important to make sure you actually look into why you are being prompted.
Surfing the web, making purchases, banking online, all of these activities involve risk of exposing your computer to things that could harm you, not just your computer. It’s important to protect your computer, because by doing so, you are also protecting things more important than just your computer, such as your identity.
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