Computer security doesn't really have to be hard. Some of the smallest, simplest measures can be the most effective in keeping your devices secure — they won't take long, they're easy to do, and you don't really have any excuse for not doing them.
We're not going to go over the big security habits you should get into, like using strong passwords, backing up your data, and updating the OS regularly. We'll take all those as given (follow those links if you need more help). Here are five extra tips specific to Windows you can deal with in minutes.
1) Turn on Windows Defender
In the not-too-distant past you would need to get a solid antivirus program installed and configured before you could even hook up Windows to the web, but nowadays life is much easier — Windows comes with its own competent security tool called Windows Defender.
You can install a third-party package if you want some extra protection, but at the very least you should make sure Windows Defender is turned on and properly configured. Luckily for those of us who can be absent-minded, Windows will flash up a warning if no antivirus software is present and Windows Defender is turned off.
From Windows Settings (the cog icon on the Start menu), pick Update & Security, then Windows Security and Open Windows Security. An upcoming sandbox update, which Microsoft says is rolling out in the near future, will keep potentially harmful applications even further away from the rest of your system.
2) Audit your browser
Your web browser is your window to the world at large and no doubt where you spend a lot of your computing time. Securing your browser firstly means keeping it right up to date at all times — and thankfully that's very easy to do, with most modern browsers handling updates automatically behind the scenes for you.
You also need to keep on top of the add-ons and plug-ins you install: These extra programs potentially have access to everything that goes on inside your browser, so you don't want anything there that's unwanted, redundant, or suspicious. Run a regular checkup to make sure you only have essential and trusted add-ons installed.
In Chrome, you need to choose More tools then Extensions from the browser menu; in Firefox, the option is under Add-ons right from the browser menu; and in Microsoft Edge, you need to pick Extensions from the browser menu. You can disable and uninstall anything you don't want in just a couple of clicks.
3) Be careful what you download
Speaking of browsers... be careful what you download and install on your computer. As much as possible, stick to well-known and popular applications, and download them straight from the official sites (or the Microsoft Store). If you're installing something more obscure, run a quick web search to check its credentials on the web.
Pay attention when clicking through software installation wizards — don't just click Next again and again until you reach the end, or you might end up with some extra, more dubious programs that you didn't really want. It's a good idea to regularly clear out programs you're no longer using, too.
And when it comes to pirating software and other media (like music and movies), know that this also leaves you vulnerable to malware and viruses from less reputable sources. If you must source stuff illegally, keep it to a minimum, and be wary of any bundled software packages or extras that attempt to install themselves.
4) Check up on app permissions
Speaking of downloaded software... Windows now handles app permissions much like your phone does, so you can see exactly what each program is allowed to do on your system. It's worth reviewing these permissions every so often from a privacy as well as a security perspective.
From Windows Settings, click Privacy: You can see the broad permissions granted to applications and websites under the General tab, then get into more specific permissions by working your way down the left of options on the left.
Obviously nothing on your system should be accessing the camera and the microphone without good reason (to enable video calls, usually). Location is another permission to keep a close eye on. For each permission, you can turn access off completely for all apps, or allow permission on an app-by-app basis using the toggle switches.
5) Set up a user password
Many of us now use auto-login methods inside our applications and our web browsers, and it's therefore very important that no one else can sit down at your laptop and pretend to be you (whether they've broken into your office or swiped the computer from your bag). This is where user account passwords come in.
You absolutely must put a password in front of your Windows user account, even if no one else uses the computer (if you log in with a Microsoft account, you don't actually have an option). This can be checked via Accounts in Windows Settings.
Just as importantly, you need to ensure your computer locks itself when you leave it (so the password is required to log in again): From the Accounts screen, choose Sign-in options then select When PC wakes up from sleep under Require sign-in. You should also set a short sleep period under System and Power & sleep in Windows Settings.