Out of the box, Windows 7 includes antispyware functionality in the form of Windows Defender, a two-way firewall in Windows Firewall; a hardened Web browser (Internet Explorer 8); and automatic updating features that keep the system up-to-date, every day, with the latest security patches. Also included are changes to the User Account Control (UAC) feature, covered in the next chapter, making it less annoying and less likely to be turned off, thus reducing your exposure to malware. It would seem that Windows 7 comes with everything you need to be secure.
Sadly, that's not quite the case. First, Microsoft makes it too easy for users to opt out of one of the most important security features available in the system. In addition, one glaring security feature is missing from Windows 7. You'll want to make sure you correct both of these issues before using Windows 7 online. Fortunately, doing so takes just two steps:
1. Enable automatic updating: If you set up Windows 7 yourself, one of the final Setup steps is configuration of Automatic Updates, the Windows Update feature that helps to ensure your system is always up-to-date. However, Automatic Updates can't do its thing if you disable it, so make sure at the very least that you've configured this feature to install updates automatically. (Optionally, you can enable the installation of recommended updates as well, but these are rarely security oriented.) We can't stress this enough: this feature needs to be enabled. If you're not sure how it is configured, run Windows Update (Start Menu Search and then type windows update) and click Change Settings in the left side of the window. Make sure the option under Important updates Install updates automatically (recommended) is selected.
2. Install an antivirus solution: Many new PCs are preinstalled with security suites from companies such as McAfee and Symantec. While these suites are better than nothing, they're also a bit bloated and perform poorly in our own tests. We prefer standalone antivirus solutions for this reason. There are many excellent options, including ESET NOD32 Antivirus, which in our own tests has proven to do an excellent job with minimal system impact. You can find out more about ESET NOD32 Antivirus from ESET directly (www.eset.com).
While commercial antivirus solutions are generally more effective, you might be surprised to discover that you can get a perfectly good antivirus solution free, which is perfect for budget-minded students and other individuals. The best free antivirus solution we've used is AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition. It's not quite as lightweight as ESET NOD32 Antivirus, but it's close. And it's not as bloated as those unnecessary security suites. Best of all, did we mention that it is free? You can find out more about AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition on the Web (free.grisoft.com).
Security in Windows 7 starts with this simple rule: leave all the security settings on, at their defaults, and install an antivirus solution. That said, a full understanding of what's available in Windows 7 from a security standpoint is, of course, beneficial. That's what this chapter is all about.
Now it's time to take a closer look at Windows 7's security features.
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