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5 Ways To Get Vista's Security Now

Windows Vista is months away, and so is the additional security it's promising. Or is it? Why wait when you can give Windows XP a taste of Vista's User Account Control protection now?

Windows Vista is months away. Maybe a lot of months. And so is the additional security it's promising.

Or is it?

Microsoft has touted User Account Controls (UAC) as among the most significant additions/improvements to Vista. UAC is Microsoft's answer to the security model long used by Linux (and the Unix-based Mac OS X), which requires users to have administrator privileges for selected tasks, like installing software, but gives them fewer rights the rest of the time.

The reason? To keep hackers from abusing users. If an attacker hijacks a browser by exploiting an unpatched bug, he also hijacks that user's rights. Because the user can install software, so can the hacker. Result? The attacker "owns" the PC and can drop in his Trojans and worms and rootkits and spyware.

Millions of Windows users run the OS with an administrator account because Microsoft's never made it easy to do anything different. In fact, you have to work a lot harder to run with fewer rights.

The Redmond, Wash. developer will push Vista as the solution to the ever-increasing number and ingenuity of attacks. But why wait? With our five strategies, you can give Windows XP (or even earlier OSes) a taste of Vista's UAC protection.

(Note: The Web browser is your most vulnerable application, so you'll also want to check out "5 Ways To Bulletproof Firefox" and "5 Ways To Button Up Internet Explorer.")

Option 1: Change to Limited User

At first glance it seems so laughably easy to set up a non-administrator account in Windows, that you may wonder what all the Vista and UAC fuss is about.

True. You can create an account with reduced rights simply by clicking "Start|Settings|Control Panel|User Accounts." From there, click "Create a new account," give the account a name and check the "Limited" button before clicking "Create Account." Give it a password and you're good to go.

Right?

Not really. While this works -- as much as XP's Limited accounts work at all -- when you're starting with a new PC (or at least a new installation of Windows XP), you've just begun your nightmare if you do this on a system that's been working for a while.

You won't be able to access documents you stored earlier in "My Documents" because that folder is now locked up under the administrator's account. Some programs you installed earlier will have mysteriously vanished as far as this new account's concerned. Others, while available, will be virgin versions of long-customized applications. Firefox, for instance, will be extension-less, Microsoft Word back to its standard configuration. You'll have to work hours to recreate the setup you had when you ran XP as head honcho.

Not to mention that there will be some applications that simply won't install unless you're working in administrator mode, or if they do, refuse to work without administrator privileges. (You may be able to sidestep this by right-clicking an installation file and picking "Run As," then select the account with administrator rights, and type in the password. But it's not guaranteed.

Bottom line: No way because it's way too much trouble.

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