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Windows 8: Put its hidden security features to work!

Eric Geier | Feb. 13, 2013
Don't let the Windows 8 haters brainswash you: Microsoft actually introduced a few great features in its new operating system, some of which will help keep you safer from malware and other security threats. Though most of these security enhancements are active by default, you still must be proactive to get the most from them. Also, one new Windows 8 feature presents specific security concerns that must be addressed to keep your PC--and your data--as safe as possible. Let's jump in and investigate.

Don't let the Windows 8 haters brainswash you: Microsoft actually introduced a few great features in its new operating system, some of which will help keep you safer from malware and other security threats. Though most of these security enhancements are active by default, you still must be proactive to get the most from them. Also, one new Windows 8 feature presents specific security concerns that must be addressed to keep your PC--and your data--as safe as possible. Let's jump in and investigate.

Buy a new PC instead of upgrading

To take full advantage of Windows 8's new security features, your PC needs to run a new kind of boot system called Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). This system, which replaces the archaic Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), adds many new boot features and greatly speeds the startup process.

Included in UEFI is a feature, called Secure Boot, that helps prevent unauthorized operating systems and malware from running at startup. This makes it more difficult for data thieves to use bootable discs or flash drives to access your files; it also helps keep rootkits--a form of malware that's hard to detect--from infecting your computer during bootup.

Some PC vendors included UEFI on select systems in the past, but Secure Boot requires a new version, specifically UEFI revision 2.3.1. So if your system originally came with Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, it likely doesn't include UEFI. And if it does include UEFI, it's probably an earlier version that doesn't support Secure Boot.

Though some PC and motherboard vendors offer upgrades to UEFI, you might want to consider buying a new PC or board that's designed for Windows 8, as such hardware must include UEFI and have Secure Boot enabled by default.

If you're technically inclined, however, you can double-check an older PC's UEFI compatibility before you run out and buy a new system. First, try pressing the traditional BIOS or setup key (such as F2 or Delete) during booting just after you turn on the system. There, you can find your BIOS or UEFI version.

From Windows, you can type msinfo32 in the Start menu search field or the Run prompt to find the BIOS version. If it appears you have a traditional BIOS, you could check with the system or motherboard vendor to see if it's offering upgrades to UEFI. And if the UEFI version you have is older than 2.3.1, see if there are any updates for your PC.

Take precautions when using a Microsoft account

In Windows 8, you can now optionally sign into Windows with a Microsoft account using your email address. This account stores many of your personal Windows settings, preferences, and saved passwords, as well as other items like browser history, favorites, and Windows 8 apps, on Microsoft's servers. Whenever you log on to a new Windows 8 device with that Microsoft account, all your data automatically syncs to your new hardware.

 

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