Protecting yourself with user accounts


Want a neat way to distinguish between accounts? At the Welcome login screen, each user account pops up with a picture. You can choose from a small selection of shots, or attach your own personal photo from a file. To change the image, go into User Accounts again and choose the account. Click Change the picture and decide which one you want. Select Browse for more pictures to access one of your own images. Hit Change picture to finish.

What if you change your mind about which privileges to grant someone? Click on the account you want to change, then choose Change the account type. Pick the one you want, then click the Change account type button. You can delete unwanted user accounts at this point by choosing one and then hitting Delete the account.

Your PC will ask whether you want to keep the account's files. If the reason you're deleting it is because the user is moving to a computer of their own, choose Keep files. This will save all the contents of that person's desktop and My Documents to a folder - complete with the user's name - onto the desktop. You can then simply copy these files over to the other PC.

To improve security, password-protect your accounts. Choose one then click Create a password. Type in and confirm a word and, if you wish, add a reminder for the log-in screen (try and pick something that the little darlings won't know the answer to) - see Figure 3. Click Create Password.

Embrace change

You can disable password-protection for any account by clicking on it in the User accounts window and choosing Remove the password. Refresh your passwords on a regular basis. In the User accounts window, choose an account and click Change the password. Fill in the boxes and select Change password to finish.

You might be thinking, "I'm the only one who ever uses my PC, so why do I need to bother with user accounts in the first place?" Well, increasingly, security experts (and any Linux users you'd care to talk to) recommend that you should log in as an administrator only when you need to install programs or perform other major tasks. This will keep you safer from malicious Web sites and viruses that can target your browser and hijack your PC.

Microsoft is acknowledging the need for safer computing practices such as this in its upcoming operating system, Windows Vista. It says its new UAC (User Account Control) will prompt users for permission before installing programs, show them up front what they can and can't change on the PC, and prevent high-level code tampering while allowing easier access to basic system tasks by ordinary users. Here's hoping that advances such as these will help keep our PCs safer without unduly irritating us in the process.

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Susan Pederson-Bradbury

PC Advisor (UK)
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