We have arrived at the final lesson in this How-To Geek School series. We have covered all the security tools that are built into Windows, and now we would like to some general tips that will improve the security of your computing experience.
We will start by sharing some recommendations on how to share folders in your home network in a secure manner so that outsiders who gain access to your network don’t have an easy time accessing your shared resources.
We will then show you how to improve the security of your system by making a simple change: setting Windows to require a password when resuming from sleep, so that people who steal your Windows laptop or tablet can’t log into it without a password.
Another recommendation we will share is to use VPN servers when connecting to public WiFi and we will also show you how to create VPN connections in Windows. We will move on to the topic of crapware, how to avoid it, and how to remove it when it manages to creep its way into your Windows device.
Last but not least, we will show you how to deal with suspicions files and get a second opinion from different antivirus engines before running them. We will also talk a bit about the benefits of running such files in a virtualized environment, so that your operating system is safe, in case your suspicions turn out to be well-founded.
Stop Sharing Folders Without a Password
In our How-To Geek School about Windows Networking we discussed in detail how network sharing works in Windows. However, we have left the discussion about security to this series. If there’s one thing you should remember about sharing on the network securely, it is this: never turn off password protected sharing. Force all network users who want to access what you are sharing to use the Homegroup or a username and password. This way, if an unwanted guest has access to your network, your shared data is safe from prying eyes.
Also, when sharing something on the network, using the Sharing Wizard or other tools that were covered in the Windows Networking class, avoid sharing with the user ‘Everyone.’ This user means anyone with or without a user account on your computer. Folders shared with this user account are easily accessed by anyone on your network, including unwanted guests who may have received or obtained access.
If you want to have a secure experience as well as an easy way to share folders on your home network, it is best to use the Homegroup feature. With it, you can quickly share just about anything, and your shared resources are accessed only by computers that know the Homegroup password and that have joined the Homegroup. Unwanted guests are left in the dark, unless they crack the Homegroup password and join it as well.
To learn more about the Homegroup and the way it works, read our How-To Geek School about Windows Networking.
Secure Windows by Requiring a Password When Waking from Sleep
If you are using a laptop or a tablet with Windows, we highly recommend that you set Windows to require a password when it wakes from sleep. If your device gets stolen or it is used temporarily by someone who should not have had access to it in the first place, setting this will make sure these people don’t get easy access to your data. We would recommend setting this up even on desktop computers where you want to make sure that only you have access to it, like your work computer.
You can change this setting both from the Control Panel and from PC Settings if you use Windows 8.x. If you want to use the Control Panel, open it, and go to “Hardware and Sound,” and from there click, “Power Options.”
On the left-hand column, look for the link that says, “Require a password on wakeup,” and click on it.
The System Settings window is now opened. Its settings are not editable at first, as they require administrator permissions in order to be modified. All user accounts are allowed to view them by default. If you are logged on as an administrator, then click on the link that says, “Change settings that are currently unavailable.”
Once the list of settings is editable, go to the “Password protection on wakeup” section and check the box that says “Require a password,” and then press, “Save changes.”
From now on, Windows will require a password each time it resumes from sleep.
If you are a Windows 8.x user on a device with touch, this process will be quicker if you use PC settings. Open it and then tap on “Accounts.”
Go to the “Sign-in options” section where you will find several settings related to the way you sign into Windows 8.x.
Look for a setting that says, “Password policy.” The default value is “Password is not required when waking this PC from sleep.”
If that is the case for you, tap the “Change” button and the setting is changed to “Password required when waking this PC from sleep.”
You can now close PC Settings as your setting is automatically saved.
Use VPN When Connected to Public WiFi
When you are connected to public WiFi networks that everyone can access, the data that you transfer to and from the Internet can be easily sniffed by others. In order to protect yourself, it is best to use a VPN service and connect to it.
VPN services protect your traffic from prying eyes by creating an encrypted tunnel through which information is transmitted. They can also bypass filters and firewalls and give you access to location-restricted or blocked websites.
There are many VPN services out there and we encourage you to do a bit of research and find a service that works best for you. If you need a bit of help, our team uses Private Internet Access and CyberGhost. They are both friendly services that are reasonably priced. CyberGhost also has a free plan that you can try.
Most VPN services come with their own VPN client for connecting to them. Some services may allow you to establish a VPN connection directly from Windows using the connection wizards that are built into the operating system. If you are using such a VPN service, let’s see how you can connect to it from Windows.
As always with Windows, there are two ways of doing this: if you prefer the Desktop in Windows 8.x or you are using Windows 7, then open the Control Panel and go to “Network and Internet,” and then “Network and Sharing Center.”
In the “Network and Sharing Center” click the link that says “Set up a new connection or network.”
This opens the “Set Up a Connection or Network” wizard. Select “Connect to a workplace” and press, “Next.”
You are now asked how you want to connect. Select, “Use my Internet connection (VPN).”
You are asked to enter the Internet address of the VPN server you want to connect to and a name for the VPN connection. You can also set whether you want Windows to remember your credentials or allow other people (user accounts) to use this connection. When done enabling the things that you want, press, “Create.”
At this step Windows 8.x creates the VPN connection and the “Connect to a Workplace” wizard is closed. You can move to the next step of connecting to the VPN. You will then have to enter a username and password in order to connect to it.