Get out of my WGA

Every time you go to the Windows Update site, your PC 'phones home,' contacting the Microsoft servers so your copy of Windows can be checked for authenticity. This is all well and good, you might think. Microsoft doesn't want people to use pirated copies of its operating systems, and it has every right to check up on this.

But what if I told you that if you have Automatic Updates enabled, you may well have downloaded a WGA Notifications program -- that contacts Microsoft on a much more regular basis -- without even knowing you've done it?

Worse still, this program could potentially be sending Microsoft more information than just which OS you're using and what licence key it has. To many industry analysts, WGA is no better than spyware, contacting the company when you're merely logged on to the internet. You don't even have to be on the Windows Update site. And there have been plenty of instances where innocent owners have been repeatedly receiving pop-ups telling them that the copy of Windows they are using is illegitimate.

The program will become mandatory, but at the moment you have the choice of whether or not you install it. There is a tool available to remove WGA Notifications from your PC if you think it might have invaded your system -- see Useful downloads, page 134. Visit forums.microsoft.com/Genuine/ShowForum.aspx?ForumID=442&SiteID=25 if you want to find out more and what others think of WGA.

If you want to nail your files to your desk so they can't be prised away from you, have a look at How to lock down Windows, since the best way to protect your data is to ensure there is as little chance as possible that anyone will be able to access your files. Some tips require XP Pro, rather than the Home edition.

Passwords have their place in keeping your files to yourself, too, so we've covered this, as well as backing up your system.

Lock down Windows

1. The default file system for XP is NTFS, which offers control and protection that's unavailable with FAT/FAT32. To set your drives to NTFS, go to Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Computer Management and select Disk Management. In the command prompt type 'convert x: /fs:ntfs', where 'x:' is the drive you wish to convert.

2. Attempts to connect over a network are forced to use Simple File Sharing, where services log on via the Guest account to read, write or delete files. This may leave your PC open to other users on the net. To disable it, open the Windows Explorer, Tools, Folder Options, View, and deselect the box for simple file sharing.

3. Part of XP SP2, DEP (Data Execution Prevention) helps to prevent malicious code running on your PC by exploiting memory loopholes in software. DEP can prevent such code running and is enabled by default. To check it's active, go to Control Panel, System, Advanced, Performance and Settings, DEP.

4. Going to Control Panel, User Accounts allows you to turn off Guest accounts. To disable it completely you need XP Pro -- it is accessed from the Computer Management console where you check your drive format. XP Pro allows the system to be set up so that users who do not provide a password can log on only to the local PC.

5. Under the Administrative tools option in Control Panel, you can set which software can or cannot run on systems across the network. Software policies tie into Group Policy and Active Directory, so that certain users or machines will have access only to particular software and services.

6. Windows provides a number of services designed to simplify communications between PCs. They can leave you exposed. Many are closed down if you use a firewall, but to disable them manually go to Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Services. Double-click on a service and choose 'Disabled' in the dialog box.

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Ben Camm-Jones

PC Advisor (UK)
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