How To: Managing Security Settings in Windows XP

The following general security tips can help you manage your security settings in Microsoft Windows XP.

Install and Maintain Malware Protection Software

Malware is a significant threat to Microsoft Windows systems. Research your options for antivirus and anti-spyware protection carefully, and choose well. Don’t let your malware protection software’s signature databases get out of date because the software only protects against the threats it can recognize, and don’t rely on your choice of antivirus software from many years ago.

Update More than Just Windows

The majority of the software most people run on their computers often comes from third-party vendors without any connection to Microsoft’s own software distribution channels. This means that when you install something like Adobe Photoshop or Mozilla Firefox you have to track security updates for these applications separately from the operating system. Just getting your Microsoft updates every month doesn’t always cover it — sometimes some third party applications need to be updated, too. Since security goes beyond the core operating system, you need to keep track of what’s installed and whether or not it has received any updates if you want to maintain security for your system.

Research and Test Your Updates

It’s important to keep your system updated so security vulnerabilities that receive patches from Microsoft and other software vendors will not remain open to exploit. It’s also important, however, to ensure that you research and test your software updates before applying them to a production system. Others may have tested the updates, or have simply applied them and run into problems, so researching others’ experiences can help you plan for such issues as they arise.

Investigate Alternatives to Your Default Application Choices

Should you be using a web browser other than Internet Explorer, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera? The only way to be sure is to determine your own needs and make an informed decision. Don’t settle for default applications without knowing the consequences of that choice.

Use a Quality Desktop Firewall

Desktop firewalls are applications like any other, but they deserve special mention for MS Windows security. Furthermore, even Windows servers are in effect desktop systems, so don’t let the fact that a given computer is a “server” deter you from installing a good desktop firewall application on the system. On an actual end user desktop system, desktop firewall software is even more important. Relying on the defaults you get when you buy the computer is a good way to get your system compromised without even knowing it. Look into alternatives to the Windows Firewall, and select the option that best suits your needs.