Vista Security Tips: Yes, I Like the Prompts

A guide to the new User Access Control, which allows you to set up advanced “house rules” for your PC’s protection.


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Windows Vista has been in the news a lot lately – in particular, Vista's security. The new security features have been the target of both praise and ridicule. Even Apple took a jab at Vista's security with its latest TV ad mocking Vista's security prompts. Say what you will, but I personally like the prompts. And get used to them; they are likely a sign of things to come.

Vista's security prompts are part of a new technology called User Access Control (UAC). Microsoft designed UAC to address a problem, that so many people use their PC on a daily basis logged in as an Administrator. The reason for that is simple: it's just such a hassle not being an administrator. With Windows XP, just about anything you do requires administrator rights, and too many programs simply don't run correctly unless you are an administrator.

Although using your computer as an administrator lets you do anything you want, malware can also exploit that power to do anything it wants. Suppose you run a new freeware program you just downloaded from some web site. That program is running as a system administrator and can do anything it wants. Although we hope we can trust this stuff, the fact is that we simply cannot.

So Microsoft's first attempt to fix the running-as-administrator issue is UAC. UAC allows users to log in with an unprivileged account for day-to-day use but also provides an easy method to enter administrator credentials only when needed. Unprivileged login means that any programs you run also run as unprivileged, therefore you have better in-depth protection from malware.

But UAC is much more than just making it easier to use your computer without privileges. The UAC prompts serve as a warning sign that what you are about to do has the potential of unwanted consequences.

I have seen a cookie jar that insults your eating habits every time you lift the lid. Sure, that can be annoying and it certainly won't prevent anyone from taking a cookie, but it does make you think every time you lift that lid. That's why we buy them – because as humans we seem to need those reminders.

UAC is a lot like those cookie jar insults, although perhaps a little bit nicer. You can complain about those constant security prompts in Vista all you want, but you have to admit that most of us need those reminders. So why not embrace them?

Vista's security features are an opportunity to learn how to be safe with your computer. Every time you see that UAC prompt, you should pause for a moment before hitting continue – and not be afraid to hit Cancel more often.

Windows Vista provides a good opportunity for setting up some new house rules for computer use. Here is some advice to get you started:

Use an Unprivileged Account

This one should be obvious by now, but you need to take the time to create a user account that is not an administrator. And don't forget to set strong passwords on both that account and the real administrator account.

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