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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.

Although this new syncing functionality can be useful, it does pose a security risk. If malcontents get your Microsoft account password, they could log in to your account at another Windows 8 PC and access your synced data. And if you use Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service, they'll quickly be able to access your online files.

To help prevent your Microsoft account from being hacked, use a strong password when creating your account in Windows 8. Try to make it as complex as you can with lower- and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters, and avoid words from the dictionary. Also make sure to use a unique password. If you simply re-use the same old string that gets you into other sites and services, you're just asking for trouble. Finally, you should avoid storing any truly sensitive documents in SkyDrive.

If you already have a Microsoft (or Windows Live) account, you can use it when logging into Windows 8 instead of creating a new account. And if your existing password isn't strong, you can always change it.

Fortunately, your saved passwords from Internet Explorer, networks, and Windows 8 apps aren't synced to a new system until you confirm it as a "Trusted PC." Once you sign in to a new Windows 8 system, Microsoft sends you an email and/or a text-message alert asking you to confirm it. This is a great protection mechanism, but if you're using a Microsoft email address (Hotmail, say), or if someone knows both your Microsoft account and your other email password, he could confirm the PC he's using as trusted and then access all your saved passwords.

To help make the process of confirming trusted PCs even more secure, use a non-Microsoft email address for your Microsoft account, and use a different password for that email account (which you should be doing anyway). Also make sure to enter your mobile number on your Microsoft account and update it when it changes. You can always add and change email addresses and mobile numbers.

Choose your antivirus program wisely

Windows 8 comes with built-in antivirus software as part of the updated Windows Defender program. However, if your PC manufacturer included a third-party antivirus program with your computer, Windows Defender may be disabled. Either way, make sure you have some form of antivirus program installed and enabled. And if you're considering a commercial antivirus suite, compare the different security suites and choose one that offers good protection--our recent security suite roundup is a good place to start.

Bottom line

We've discussed some security concerns with Windows 8 and how to combat them. Remember, in order to use the new Secure Boot feature, you need to purchase a new system that is Windows 8--certified, or make sure that your current system supports it before upgrading from a previous version of Windows.

 

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