If you connect to the Internet, allow other people to use your computer, or share files with others, you should take steps to protect your computer from harm. Why? Because there are computer criminals (sometimes called hackers) who attack other people's computers. These people can attack directly, by breaking into your computer through the Internet and stealing your personal information, or indirectly, by creating malicious software to harm your computer.
Fortunately, you can help protect yourself by taking a few simple precautions. This article describes the threats and what you can do to defend against them.
These are ways to help protect your computer against potential security threats:
Firewall. A firewall can help protect your computer by preventing hackers or malicious software from gaining access to it.
Virus protection. Antivirus software can help protect your computer against viruses, worms, and other security threats.
Spyware and other malware protection. Antispyware software can help protect your computer from spyware and other potentially unwanted software.
Windows can routinely check for updates for your computer and install them automatically.
Action Center is a central location for monitoring and managing firewall settings, Windows Update, anti-malware software settings, Internet security, and User Account Control settings. Action Center also monitors computer maintenance settings and provides links to troubleshooters and other tools that can help fix problems. For more information about Action Center, see How does Action Center check for problems?
A firewall is software or hardware that checks information coming from the Internet or a network and then either turns it away or allows it to pass through to your computer, depending on your firewall settings. In this way, a firewall can help prevent hackers and malicious software from gaining access to your computer.
Windows Firewall is built into Windows and is turned on automatically.
If you run a program such as an instant messaging program or a multiplayer network game that needs to receive information from the Internet or a network, the firewall asks if you want to block or unblock (allow) the connection. If you choose to unblock the connection, Windows Firewall creates an exception so that the firewall won't bother you when that program needs to receive information in the future.
For more information, see Firewall: frequently asked questions.
Viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are programs created by hackers that use the Internet to infect vulnerable computers. Viruses and worms can replicate themselves from computer to computer, while Trojan horses enter a computer by hiding inside an apparently legitimate program, such as a screen saver. Destructive viruses, worms, and Trojan horses can erase information from your hard disk or completely disable your computer. Others don't cause direct damage, but worsen your computer's performance and stability.
Antivirus programs scan e‑mail and other files on your computer for viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. If one is found, the antivirus program either quarantines (isolates) it or deletes it entirely before it damages your computer and files.
Windows does not have a built-in antivirus program, but your computer manufacturer might have installed one. If not, there are many antivirus programs available. Microsoft offers Microsoft Security Essentials, a free antivirus program you can download from the Microsoft Security Essentials
website. You can also go to the Windows 7 security software providers
website to find a third-party antivirus program.
Because new viruses are identified every day, it's important to use an antivirus program with an automatic update capability. When the program is updated, it adds new viruses to its list of viruses to check for, helping to protect your computer from new attacks. If the list of viruses is out of date, your computer is vulnerable to new threats. Updates usually require an annual subscription fee. Keep the subscription current to receive regular updates.
If you don't use antivirus software, you expose your computer to damage from malicious software. You also run the risk of spreading viruses to other computers.
Spyware is software that can display advertisements, collect information about you, or change settings on your computer, generally without appropriately obtaining your consent. For example, spyware can install unwanted toolbars, links, or favorites in your web browser, change your default home page, or display pop-up ads frequently. Some spyware displays no symptoms that you can detect, but it secretly collects sensitive information, such as the websites you visit or the text you type. Most spyware is installed through free software that you download, but in some cases simply visiting a website results in a spyware infection.
To help protect your computer from spyware, use an antispyware program. This version of Windows has a built-in antispyware program called Windows Defender, which is turned on by default. Windows Defender alerts you when spyware tries to install itself on your computer. It also can scan your computer for existing spyware and then remove it.
Because new spyware appears every day, Windows Defender must be regularly updated to detect and guard against the latest spyware threats. Windows Defender is updated as needed whenever you update Windows. For the highest level of protection, set Windows to install updates automatically (see below).
For more information, see Using Windows Defender.
regularly offers important updates to Windows that can help protect your computer against new viruses and other security threats. To ensure that you receive these updates as quickly as possible, turn on automatic updating. That way, you don't have to worry that critical fixes for Windows might be missing from your computer.
Updates are downloaded behind the scenes when you're connected to the Internet. The updates are installed at 3:00 A.M. unless you specify a different time. If you turn off your computer before then, you can install updates before shutting down. Otherwise, Windows will install them the next time you start your computer.
Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button . In the search box, type Update, and then, in the list of results, click Windows Update.
Click Change settings.
Make sure Install updates automatically (recommended) is selected.
Windows will install important updates for your computer as they become available. Important updates provide significant benefits, such as improved security and reliability.
Under Recommended updates, make sure the Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates check box is selected, and then click OK.
Recommended updates can address non-critical problems and help enhance your computing experience.
If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
For more information, see Understanding Windows automatic updating.
Using the latest version of your web browser and keeping your browser up to date are two of the best ways to prevent trouble online. In most cases, the latest version of a web browser contains security fixes and new features that can help protect your computer and your privacy while you're online.
Also, many web browsers offer security updates periodically. So be sure to install updates for your browser whenever they're available.
If you have Internet Explorer, you can get updates for it automatically using Windows Update. If your computer isn't set up to automatically receive updates, you can manually request these updates by using Internet Explorer. Click the Safety button, and then click Windows Update
. Follow the instructions on the screen to check for updates.
Many web browsers have security features that help you browse the web safely. So it's a good idea to find out what security features your browser has and make sure they're enabled.
If you have Internet Explorer, here are some of the security features that are available:
which can help protect you from online phishing attacks, fraud, and spoofed or malicious websites. For more information, see SmartScreen Filter: frequently asked questions.
Domain highlighting, which lets you more easily see the real web address on websites you visit. This helps you avoid deceptive or phishing websites that use misleading web addresses to trick you. The true domain you're visiting is highlighted in the address bar.
which lets you disable or allow web browser add-ons and delete unwanted ActiveX controls. For more information, see How do browser add-ons affect my computer?
Cross site scripting (XSS) filter, which can help prevent attacks from phishing and fraudulent websites that might attempt to steal your personal and financial information. For more information, see How does Internet Explorer help protect me from cross-site scripting attacks?
A 128-bit secure (SSL) connection for using secure websites. This helps Internet Explorer create an encrypted connection with websites run by banks, online stores, medical sites, or other organizations that handle sensitive customer information. For more information, see How to know if an online transaction is secure.
For more information about protecting your computer and your privacy while you're online, go to the Microsoft Security
or the Microsoft Online Safety website.
When you log on to your computer, Windows grants you a certain level of rights and privileges depending on what kind of user account you have. There are three different types of user accounts: standard, administrator, and guest.
Although an administrator account provides complete control over a computer, using a standard account can help make your computer more secure. That way, if other people (or hackers) gain access to your computer while you're logged on, they can't tamper with the computer's security settings or change other user accounts. You can check your account type after you log on by doing the following:
The steps that you should follow will vary, depending on whether your computer is on a domain or a workgroup. To find out, see "To check if your computer is on a workgroup or domain" in What is the difference between a domain, a workgroup, and a homegroup?
Type the user name and password for your account in the Welcome screen.
Your user name is highlighted and your account type is shown in the Group column.
Your account type is displayed below your user name.
If your account type is Administrator, then you're currently logged on as an administrator.
If you're currently using an administrator account, see Change a user's account type to learn how to change it to a standard account.
For more information, see User accounts: frequently asked questions.
Use caution when opening e‑mail attachments. E‑mail attachments (files attached to e‑mail messages) are a primary source of virus infection. Never open an attachment from someone you don't know. If you know the sender but weren't expecting an attachment, verify that the sender actually sent the attachment before you open it.
Guard your personal information carefully. If a website asks for a credit card number, bank information, or other personal information, make sure you trust the website and verify that its transaction system is secure.
Be careful when clicking hyperlinks in e‑mail messages. Hyperlinks (links that open websites when you click them) are often used as part of phishing and spyware scams, but they can also transmit viruses. Only click links in e‑mail messages that you trust.
Only install add-ons from websites that you trust. Web browser add-ons allow webpages to display things like toolbars, stock tickers, video, and animation. However, add-ons can also install spyware or other malicious software. If a website asks you to install an add-on, make sure that you trust it before doing so.