Windows 7 Security Tips

Today’s computers store more sensitive data than ever before. From banking and investments, to intellectual capital and other business processes, our data has become more critical in nature.

Ubiquitous Internet access and the explosion of mobile computing devices mean that we have the ability to work from anyplace. Unfortunately, the price of this convenience is the constant threat of compromise.

The key then, for the enterprise and individuals alike, is to take advantage of the tools available to aid in protecting your sensitive information.

Microsoft has made marked improvements in its security offerings with the release Windows 7. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to implement some of these tools and best practices. Today we’ll take a look at:

  • Windows Firewall
  • Microsoft Security Essentials
  • Network Locations
  • Encryption
  • Windows Defender
  • User Access Control (UAC)

Windows 7 Firewall

While your computer is connected to the Internet, it is susceptible to attacks from hackers and malicious software. Windows Firewall has been revamped in the latest version of Windows 7.

The firewall is enabled by default. To access it, click Start > Control Panel > Security > Windows Firewall.

I’d keep the default settings, but if you’d like to incorporate additional rules, click on the advanced settings link on the left hand of the window. Here you can import or export firewall rules, create new inbound/outbound rules or monitor.

Since for security purposes, most application are blocked from communicating inside or outside the firewall, chance are you’ll need to edit this default setup. Let’s say you have an application that requires a port be opened. On the left pane, click on “Allow a program or feature through Windows Firewall”. Then click on “Change Settings” and select the program that you’d like to allow to communicate through he firewall.

Learn how to create a security policy and configure your firewall.

Microsoft Security Essentials

In addition to the built in security tools, you may also choose to download a free copy of Microsoft Security Essentials. This program helps fight a slew of malware, including viruses, trojans and worms.

When your computer has an issue that requires your attention, the look of the Microsoft Security Essentials home page changes based on the issue. The status pane turns either yellow or red depending on the situation, and an action button appears in a prominent location on the page with the suggested action.

Learn how to install and configure Microsoft Security Essentials.

Windows 7 Network Locations

Whenever you connect to a network (wired or wireless), Windows 7 identifies it and creates a profile or location and stores that information on your hard drive. Following this initial identification, your computer can then automatically connect to that network using your defined security preferences.

The four network types are: home, work, public, and domain. Public networks like those found at your local bookstore or airport pose the greatest security risks.

Normally, available networks will appear automatically, but if you need to create a profile, click: Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing > Setup a new connection or network.

Encryption in Windows 7

Recent studies have confirmed that laptop sales are outpacing desktop sales. This can probably be attributed to the laptop’s mobility, laptops are also more likely to be lost or stolen. In the event that your laptop falls into the wrong hands, encryption can ensure that your data is safe.

Encryption essentially uses an algorithm to scramble the contents of your hard disk into an unreadable format, only accessible with the appropriate key. Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise editions include BitLocker Drive Encryption.

In order to use this tool, your computer must have two partitions: a system partition that holds your startup files and operating system partition that holds Windows. The operating system partition will be encrypted and the system partition will remain unencrypted so your computer can start. To launch, click Start > Control Panel > Security > Bitlocker Drive Encryption. Follow the wizard. Also, check out this video overview of the tool.

Learn how to set up BitLocker and BitLocker To Go in Windows 7.

Windows Defender in Windows 7

Windows 7 also includes Windows Defender, software that helps protect your computer from spyware. Spyware may find its way onto your computer via pop-up ads, downloads or accessing tainted websites. This system uses both real-time alerts as you surf the Internet, as well as scanning capabilities.

Launch by clicking Start and typing in Windows Defender, in the search box. From this interface, you can run or schedule a scan, view quarantined items and check for updates.

User Access Control (UAC) in Windows 7

With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced the concept of UAC. Initially seen as intrusive, many end users opted to turn it off completely. But the updated software included with Windows 7 has changed much of that. It’s easier to manage and you’ll get far fewer messages interrupting your workflow.

User Account Control (UAC) notifies you before changes are made to your computer that require administrator-level permission. The default UAC setting notifies you when programs try to make changes to your computer, but you can control how often you are notified by UAC by adjusting the settings.

I opted to keep the default setting to only notify me when a program attempts to make changes to the computer. The more aggressive option is to always notify.

Security is best viewed as an ongoing, multi-layered activity. No single solution will ensure your data is protected. In addition to taking advantage of the tools included with Widows 7, be sure to apply software patches/updates and maintain virus definitions regularly.

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