Editor's Note: Article updated on May 8, 2009. Original article published September 8, 2006.
Every family has at least one member whose risky computer behavior is asking for trouble. You know whom we mean: the kid brother who can't resist those dodgy downloads; the spouse who clicks on suspicious pop-up ads and updates without a second glance; or the cousin who returns a borrowed laptop riddled with malicious software. You have two options: become a paranoid misanthrope with motion-sensor alarms rigged to your PC, or take a few minutes to establish these four security precautions. They're not foolproof against the most persistent of malicious software magnets, but these basic tips should give novices some ideas.
Step 1: Create multiple user accounts
A no-brainer, perhaps, but creating multiple user accounts is one of the surest ways of restricting a guest's risky activities without breathing down their neck while you supervise each mouse click. Families can generate an account for each member, an especially proactive move if there have been problems in the past. Enact it thus and you, the uber-administrator, can limit others' capabilities to install programs and make systemwide changes, a move that could prevent your errant relations from executing tainted programs. To sweeten the deal, each account-holder's capability to customize their own desktop could help mow down weedy sibling rivalry. Consider adding a password-protected log-in to help maintain privacy.
In most versions of Windows, you'll simply click the Start menu, open the Control Panel, and select "User Accounts" to get started. For each intended user, click "Add" in the Users tab, enter a name, and then select the user type--either power-user status, which allows administrative rights, or restricted-user status, which does not.
Make sure the "password at login" feature is enabled, so everyone who accesses the computer will be required to provide their username and password. The nuisance of compelling returning users to log in after each idle period is easily outweighed by the security benefits of maintaining multiple accounts. Besides, you can always adjust your idle-time settings to minimize the frequency of logging in anew. Here's another tip--setting up an unpassword-protected guest account on a laptop means your friends can borrow it to easily get online or use core Office functions, while the password protection on your account acts as a deterrent. … Read more