Every time a new operating system is released, before running down to the store to buy it, people need a few really simple questions answered. For example is Windows 8 better than previous versions and why should I upgrade?
If you already have Windows 8, the following ten tips can help keep your computer safe and secure at home, or if you’re still deciding on the switch then these tips might help you decide one way or the other. As a bonus, many of the tips can help you stay safe at work also.
Security Tip #1—Be Careful What You Disable
Windows 8 and 8.1 are, by default, the most secure operating systems Microsoft has ever shipped. The only problem is that security can sometimes get in the way of convenience. To install or run third-party programs, you may be asked to disable security features like Windows SmartScreen.
It’s your computer, so this is your choice. But the most secure option will always be to keep the security feature enabled. The next most secure option is to only disable security features when you really need them disabled—then re-enable the for the rest of the time.
Security Tip #2—Use BitLocker For Encryption
Malware and hackers are scary, but one of the top threats to any system are the people with physical access. Anyone can steal your computer, or simply sit down and start looking through your files. If you store confidential data on your computer, a simple and free tip is to install Microsoft’s BitLocker tool to encrypt your files and folders.
BitLocker is easy to use and it provides the same encryption to you that many large businesses use. However, if you keep encrypted files, it’s also very important to make backups—recovering encrypted files from a damaged hard drive can be impossible.
Security Tip #3—Be Careful Of Microsoft Login
Windows 8 will let you login using a Microsoft account which will automatically sync your settings between multiple computers. This can be very convenient, but it does mean that anyone who discovers your password on one computer can access all of your computers. They may even be able to remotely access data on your other computers.
There’s nothing wrong with Microsoft Login, but you probably want to use different accounts for home and work so that a compromise in one place doesn’t mess with computers in the other place.
Security Tip #4—Windows Defender Is Good Enough
There are plenty of firewall and anti-virus products on the market, so how does the built-in security from Widows Defender compare? It’s actually quite good. As long as you keep it enabled, you will have the same level of security available from products which cost $50 or $100 a year.
See our post about how to protect your computer from viruses and see if you need to pay for an antivirus program or not!
Security Tip #5—Use Internet Explorer’s Enhanced Protection Mode
If you use Internet Explorer, you should use its enhanced protection mode (enabled by default on Windows 8). This feature scans any plugin files you’re about to run for possibly-dangerous code sequences. If it finds any, it will alert you so they plugin can’t infect your computer with a virus.
Internet Explorer needs this enhanced protection mode because it provides backwards compatibility with ActiveX applets popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox don’t support ActiveX and so their regular security measures are sufficient protection.
Security Tip #6—Only Install Apps Through Windows Store
Apps installed through the Windows Store must clearly define what security access they need, and they’re often “sandboxed” to ensure they can’t change arbitrary settings on your computer. On the other hand, apps you install manually have no such requirements, so they can install adware, spyware, or malware. (They can also more easily crash your computer by being buggy.)
So, whenever possible, only install apps through the Windows Store. This is a bit limited for me personally so I probably need to think about getting my Windows 8 computer more protection.
Security Tip #7—Keep Your Kids Safe
Parental control software has been around almost as long as the web, but Windows 8 is the first version of Windows to ship with built-in parental control software. It’s called Family Safety, and it allows parents to restrict kids to a whitelist of allowed sites and to see reports about what their kids did with the computer.
Kids are smart, and any parental control software can be eventually defeated given enough time and experimentation—so don’t completely trust Family Safety to keep your kids safe. However, it’s built in, so it’s a good first step.
Security Tip #8—Never Turn Off Your Firewall
Windows 8 ships with a built-in firewall, and it’s turned on by default. Leave it that way. Turning off your firewall is one of the most dangerous things you can do on a Windows computer. A disabled firewall allows hackers and viruses to immediately begin attacking all of Windows’s network features.
The only reason you should disable the Windows Defender firewall is because you installed a firewall from another trusted company.
If you need to use a service blocked by the firewall, only enable the specific ports required for that service. The Windows Defender firewall isn’t too hard to configure, but if you can’t make it compatible with the service you’re trying to use, consider using a third-party firewall. All firewalls are equally effective, but I find some of the third-party firewalls to be easier to use.
Security Tip #9—Use A Locking Screensaver
Even since Windows 95, Windows has provided an option on the screensaver configuration that allows it to automatically lock your computer when you’ve been idle for a certain amount of time. If you have administrator access to your computer, you should be using this feature even if it’s only at home.
Recall in the parental control section above I mentioned that kids are great at getting around firewalls. One way they do it is by hijacking their parents accounts when the parents aren’t around. Recall also in the encryption section that BitLocker can protect your files from unauthorized access—that only applies when your account is protected. At both work and home, you should be using a locking screensaver to prevent anyone from accessing your user account without your permission.
Security Tip #10—Always Keep Good Backups
You’ve probably heard of ransomware—a category of computer virus which installs itself on your computer, encrypts your files, and then demands that you pay a fee to get your files back. If you followed all the tips above, you’re more likely than most to avoid getting infected—but if you do somehow get infected, you’re going to wish that you had good and secure backup files.
With backups, all it takes is a few minutes to reinstall Windows 8 with its new Refresh/Reset feature. Without backups, you’ll either lose your files forever or have to pay the ransom—and there’s no guarantee that the hacker will unlock your computer after you pay.
Windows 8 Security Tips Conclusion
All of the tips above are easy to follow, which is only because Windows 8 really is very secure by default. All most hackers can do now is try to convince you to disable your security features, so be very careful when you do see something that “requires” you disable one of those features.