How to secure Microsoft Vista

How to secure Microsoft Vista

  • How viruses should be less of a threat with Vista than the notorious Windows XP
  • Which? guide to improved security features and protection against hackers
  • But why only time will tell how secure Vista really is

Make the most of Vista security

With Windows Vista, Microsoft claims it has built the safest version of Windows yet.

Only time will tell when it comes to finding out just how secure Vista really is, however the operating system is armed with a multitude of new and improved security tools and parental control options.

Read on to find out how to check your computer’s security status and how to set it up to make it as safe to use as possible for all the family.

1Check security status

Check security status

Windows Vista features an all-new Security Center that monitors your computer's safety. To find out your computer's current level of security, go to Start > Control Panel and click on the link that says Check this computer's security status under the Security heading.

2Security Center window

Security Center window

The Security Center window is divided up into two main sections. The sidebar on the left lists the different security programs that are running on your computer and in the main window you'll find a list of Security essentials, with status reports for each one. 

The status reports work like traffic lights, so green is good, amber shows something that might need attention and red denotes a danger that needs to be rectified immediately. Click on the down arrows next to the traffic lights to see more details and more options.

3Scan for spyware

Scan for spyware

For specific security tasks, go to Start > Control Panel > Security. Here you can also run a check for any spyware or other malicious software. 

To do this, click the Scan for spyware and other unwanted software link. Windows Defender will search your PC for malware. Once the scan has finished, Defender will present you with its results; if it has found any suspicious software, Defender will ask you what you'd like to do with it. The safest option is to click Remove.

Watch the Which? video guide to protecting your PC from spyware.

4Configure user accounts

With Vista's parental controls you can make sure that all the valuable files and settings on your PC are kept safe and that children are protected from unsuitable online material.

Configure user accounts

To use the parental control features, you'll need to set up separate accounts for everyone who uses your PC. The default user account in Vista is Administrator, which allows you to alter settings, as such it's only really suitable for adult users. Go to Start > Control Panel and under the User Accounts and Family Safety heading, click on Add or Remove User Accounts. A warning screen may appear at this point. Click Continue

In the Manage Accounts screen, click on the Create new account link. Type the name of the person into the box, ensure Standard user is selected and click on Create account.

5Configure parental controls

With all the requisite user accounts created, go to Start > Control Panel and under the User Accounts and Family Safety heading, click on Set up parental controls for any user. If a warning screen appears, click Continue. From the list of users that appears next, click on the name of the person you require. 

Configure parental controls

The next screen contains all the different parental control features that you can switch on for that user. First, put a check next to where it says On, enforce current settings. Your computer can keep a record of the user's activity so that you can find out things like how long the person used the computer for, which programs they used, which websites they visited, which blocked sites they tried to access and so on. To switch this feature on, put a check next to On, collect information about computer usage under the Activity Reporting heading. 

Under Windows Settings, you'll also find a number of other parental control options. Use these to filter unsuitable websites and set usage time limits or block access to programs and unsuitable games. When you have finished, click on OK to confirm your selections.

Anti-virus protection

For all its much-touted new security features, Vista doesn’t come with any built-in anti-virus protection, so you’ll need to install some kind of anti-virus software yourself. Big names like Norton and McAfee have released Vista-ready editions of their anti-virus packages (both cost around £40). AVG Antivirus Free Edition 7.5 is also compatible with Windows Vista.

Microsoft released a Beta version of Windows 7, the operating system that will replace Windows Vista, in January 2009, though it isn't expected to be rolled out until late 2009. Read the Which? first look review of Windows 7 here.