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Windows Vista Security Explained

Introduction:

Due to the constant changing of security threats on the Internet. Microsoft has found it necessary to focus its resources on creating an operating system that helps to keep a home or business computer along with any network of computers safe from security threats. In this paper I would like to discuss the key features that Microsoft has used in its Vista operating system and how these security features impact you, the computer user.

<>User Account Control (UAC):

The most significant feature of the Vista operating system is the use of the User Account Control (UAC). The purpose of the UAC is to allow standard users to have permission enough to be productive but not be allowed to make potentially harmful system changes. The greatest challenge for the UAC is that most users get very frustrated when prompted for Administrative level permissions for tasks that are under the UAC's control. Over time, many people will tire of the constant prompts and take the UAC out of the equation by running with Administrator controls.

Running your computer as administrator can be fine for those that are pretty computer savvy and can confidently make the necessary system changes without compromising the security of the system. For those of you that are not comfortable making system configuration changes or are not sure how to properly configure your network, I would advise running in standard user mode so that Vista can help protect your system from possible security threats. Security threats are very real in today's world. It isn't a matter of 'if' your system gets attacked any more. It is a matter of 'when' your system will be attacked.

Vista's UAC has the ability to keep malicious code from accessing certain system files and will notify you in the event something is in fact trying to make these changes. Therefore, it is important that you allow Vista to do its job and not turn this feature off. I know that the prompts can be a bit annoying at times, but it is something that you should learn to accept and know that it is trying to keep your valuable data safe.

<> Windows Vista Security Center:

The Windows Security Center was developed to place all of your security programs in one easily accessed location so that you can view the status of these installed programs. Once accessed, you will easily be able to see that you have all of your security settings turned on. The Windows Security Center will even monitor 3rd party security programs to show that these programs are turned on and are up-to-date.

<>Malicious Software Removal Tool:

Microsoft delivers a Malicious Software Removal Tool via Windows Update. This tool runs in the background and will scan your system periodically for any malicious code (viruses, worms and Trojan horses) that could have been installed. This tool has the ability to remove this code and return your system to its original state. Keep in mind that this tool is not intended to replace an anti-virus software. The Malicious Software Removal Tool is a post infection tool, meaning that the infection has already been installed on the system. Keep a capable and updated anti-virus software installed and running on your system at all times. If you do not want the Malicious Software Removal Tool installed on your system, you have that choice. However, if you ever would like to download and run this tool to check your system, you can do that online here:

http://www.microsoft.com/security/malwareremove/default.mspx

<>Windows Vista Firewall:

The Windows Vista Firewall is a very capable firewall that gives sufficient protection to basic users by default. "IT" individuals that require added protection have the flexibility of configuring the firewall to suit their needs. For more information about the Windows Vista Firewall, visit the link below:

http://www.support4vista.com/tutorial/windows-firewall.htm

<>Windows Defender:

Microsoft's Windows Defender is a real-time anti-spyware detection and removal application that is built in to Windows Vista. This anti-spyware tool can be accessed via Control Panel and clicking the Windows Defender icon. It can also be accessed through the Windows Security Center and then clicking the Windows Defender link. Once accessed, you can scan your system for possible spyware infections. The tool will then notify you of such infections and give the option to clean your system from these pests.

Keeping this tool up-to-date can help keep your system protected against spyware being installed on your system. Once Windows Defender's main screen is open, click the "Check for Updates Now" button to install the latest security definitions.

<>Safer surfing with Internet Explorer 7:

Internet Explorer 7 has many security features installed. The features that I'd like to discuss here are:
  • Protected Mode
  • Phishing Filter
  • Security Status Bar

- Protected Mode:

Windows Vista comes bundled with Internet Explorer 7 and has Protected Mode turned on by default. With this feature turned on, anytime a malicious code attempts to install itself in to a location that is monitored by Protected Mode, you will receive a notification of this attempted installation. In having a user double-check this suspicious activity, it greatly reduces any malicious code attempt and stops it before it has a chance to install.

- Phishing Filter:

When Internet Explorer is first installed on your system it will have the Phishing Filter turned on by default. Users can at that point decide if they would like to keep it running or decide to turn this feature off. What Microsoft has done is compiled a huge and on-going list of known web sites that have a reputation of phishing. From the 5 Star Support Computer Glossary, Phishing is defined as:

"Short for Password Harvesting Fishing. It is the luring of sensitive information, such as passwords and other personal information, from a victim by masquerading as someone trustworthy with a real need for such information.

Popular targets are users of online banking services, and auction sites such as eBay. Phishers usually work by sending out spam e-mail to large numbers of potential victims. Typically the email will appear to come from a trustworthy company and contain a subject and message intended to alarm the recipient into taking action.

A common approach is to tell the recipient that their account has been de-activated due to a problem and inform them that they must take action to re-activate their account. The user is provided with a convenient link in the same email that takes the email recipient to a fake web page appearing to be that of a trustworthy company. Once at that page, the user enters her personal information which is then captured by the fraudster."

With the Phishing Filter turned on, a user would be warned of this possible activity prior to accessing the site.

- Security Status Bar:

You will not notice the Security Status Bar until you have entered an area that requires personal identifying information. While many of the sites that you visit are trusted and the need for accessing this status bar is unnecessary, it could prove helpful if you are accessing a site that you have never purchased anything from before. You will see the Status Bar at the right side of your address bar (where you enter in a web sites address). It is a little yellow lock. When you click the yellow lock image, you will invoke a separate window and will offer advice that could help keep you safe from any possible fraudulent activity.

Closing Comments:

As you can see after reading this article, Microsoft has addressed many important security concerns with the Windows Vista release. Is it perfect? Absolutely not! In fact, there is much more work to be done. As the Internet evolves, it will be necessary to make constant changes to ensure people are safe from data theft and identity theft. I think Microsoft fully understands its responsibilities to its customers and has demonstrated with this latest release their dedication to Internet security.

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