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How to Secure and Manage a Relative’s Computer

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Sure, maybe your parents don’t need any help with their PC and your kids are better at technology than you are. But many geeks are called upon to be responsible for a relative’s PC — often after it breaks.

If you’re responsible for someone else’s PC, these tips will help you lock it down and secure it as much as possible. These tips aren’t for business PCs, just ones you may be responsible for in your personal life.

Set Up Limited User Accounts

Give the computer’s users limited user accounts — or “standard” user accounts — to help limit the damage they can do. With a limited user account, users won’t be able to install software or change system settings without entering an administrator password. You can keep the administrator password for yourself so on one can install software or change system settings without your permission. Or, you could give the computer’s users the administrator password and tell them to only use it when they actually need to install safe software –in this is obviously more risky.

A standard user account won’t shield users from all malware. A user could still download malware and run it, infecting their own user account. However, the malware shouldn’t be able to infect the entire system.

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Enable Remote Access

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Many of us have gotten phone calls from relatives if their computer breaks or they have a question. Set up remote access software ahead of time and you’ll be able to remotely access the computer’s desktop from your own PC. If you get that phone call, you can check the PC’s desktop immediately instead of trying to understand what’s going on over the phone. You can also use this software to check in on the PC from time to time and do any necessary maintenance.

We recommend TeamViewer for this. Set up unattended access in TeamViewer and you’ll be able to access the PC from anywhere. TeamViewer is free for personal use.

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Secure The Computer

Ensure the computer has security software installed. If you’re using Windows 7, you’ll have to install an antivirus. Windows 8 comes with Microsoft’s antivirus installed, but you may still prefer another antivirus with a higher detection rate to protect less-knowledgeable users.

You should also configure the computer’s other software to automatically update. Have Windows itself, any web browsers, and especially browser plug-ins automatically install updates. If there’s a way to have a program automatically update, configure it to do so so the computer always has the latest software.

Uninstall vulnerable software, too. Most people don’t need Java, so you’ll want to uninstall the insecure Java browser plug-in to secure the computer as much as possible.

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Activate Parental Controls

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If you’re setting up a computer for younger children, you may also want to set up parental controls. Windows 8 has built-in parental controls, known as Family Safety. This feature allows you to filter websites, limit computer time, restrict access to specific apps and games, and view information about computer usage. You can view and tweak all these details from Microsoft’s Family Safety website, even when you’re away from the computer.

On Windows 7, you can install the Family Safety software included with Microsoft’s free Windows Essentials or use third-party parental control tools.

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Provide Good Advice

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There’s nothing you can do to lock down a computer completely. Even a user with a limited user account could still end up downloading and running malware that would infect their user account. Even if antivirus software worked perfectly, a user might fall for a phishing scam and send their credit card details, passwords, and other personal information over the Internet.

Be sure to lay out some of the best security practices for using a computer. Knowing the basics might help prevent someone from falling for a phishing scam or accidentally running malware in the future.


Just because you’re  a geek who knows his or her stuff doesn’t mean you need to be responsible for all your relatives’ PCs, of course. If you have a relative whose PC keeps becoming infected, you may want to try nudging them towards a Chromebook or a similar simple device that isn’t as vulnerable to malware.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 06/5/14