Protecting yourself with user accounts

Is what's good for the goose always good for the gander? If you're referring to computer security, the answer is a firm "no".

Software companies are always reiterating how important it is to limit users' privileges to stop them from inadvertently harming their PC and all the other systems on the network. But it seems that even the experts don't always follow their own advice. As with many smaller and less technically-aware companies, Microsoft must battle viruses, malware and other assorted gremlins caused by staff tinkering around under the bonnet.

Robert Scoble ( is a blogger who until recently worked for Microsoft. He declared some time ago that the company has to stop giving its employees free reign to install whatever they like on their computers, whenever they like.

This ruffled a few feathers. After all, who wants to limit the control they have over their own PC and go running to system administration with a permission slip signed in triplicate every time they need to reinstall a failed printer?

And if Microsoft is finally biting the bullet, you should think about beefing up your security, too. This advice is particularly important if you happen to have more than one person using your PC. It's more crucial still if any of those people happen to be less than 4ft tall and are prone to clicking on anything bright and shiny.

Setting up user accounts lets you control what each person can do with the PC. It will allow them to personalise their own desktop, therefore keeping their files safe from your tampering.

If you haven't already set up user accounts, do so now. Choose Start-Control Panel-User Accounts to bring up the User Accounts window - see Figure 1. Click on Create a new account. Type in the name of the prospective account holder and then click Next.

Admin rights

And here's how you can keep other users from installing dodgy software or accidentally deleting the Internet. Choose whether you want a "Computer administrator" or a "Limited" account - see Figure 2. Those with administrative privileges can change the PC's configuration, while people with limited accounts are allowed only to run installed programs. They can't change important settings. Finally, choose Create Account.

Now each user has their own virtual workspace. It's easy to switch quickly between accounts if you have "Fast user switching" enabled. But if you want to disable this, click Change the way users log on or off in user accounts, uncheck the "Use the welcome screen" box and then uncheck "Use fast user switching".

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Susan Pederson-Bradbury

PC Advisor (UK)
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