Stop Me If You've Heard This...
July 19, 2007 8:21 PM   Subscribe

A little over a year ago, DuckFOO asked essentially the exact same question I'd like to ask now - I'm a Mac geek and will be setting up a Windows Vista Basic computer for my computer novice mother, and am freaked about security. I'm doing the re-ask because many of the articles and ideas that came in responses to the original question are MIA or too old to necessarily apply to Vista, and because the original poster took some things for granted, like turning off unnecessary services, that I'm nowhere as familiar with. Obviously, many a result comes up with any search for Vista security - I need a reliable, Ask Mefi-approved, novice level guide.
posted by boombot to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
why exactly are you "freaked" about security? Are you primarily concerned with internet security (viruses, adware, etc), or about protecting the computer from your mother so she can't inadvertently mess things up?
posted by jpdoane at 8:27 PM on July 19, 2007

Response by poster: Internet security, mostly, but I can certainly see the second matter coming into play as well.
posted by boombot at 8:30 PM on July 19, 2007

I don't think there's a huge need to go overboard (as many of the comments from the original thread IMO). Install some decent virus protection software and turn on Vista's firewall.

However, I tend to be pretty casual about such things, and I have no Vista-specific experience. Others are free to disagree with me.
posted by jpdoane at 8:36 PM on July 19, 2007

Sticking it behind a "stateful packet inspection" (SPI) firewall like a Linksys WRT54GL will solve 98% of your security worries, but make sure that the router/firewall is patched to latest firmware version itself, and that its firewall feature is turned on. Vista has trouble with some Stateful Inspection firewalls, as noted at the end of above linked article.

Microsoft encourages automatic download of security patches, and if your choice is that, or nothing, do that. But personally, I prefer to let the rest of the world patch for about a week, before patching my own machines. Just in case a patch causes widespread problems, and can't be regressed as easily as MS thinks it should be. (It has happened in the past.)

You might want to look into the guidelines developed by the University of Minnesota for Vista Basic Level 2 security on their network, if you think your mother can put up with the password issues. And depending on the programs you install, your mother might have difficulty running all programs as a limited user, so you'll need to test and grant specific privleges as needed.
posted by paulsc at 8:46 PM on July 19, 2007

My mother is constantly screwing up her computer. She installs new stuff constantly, much of which isn't really meant for her benefit.

If you get Grandma running Firefox, and you stress not to install new software without talking to you first (so you can check it out and preapprove), you probably don't need to panic too much about Vista.
posted by Malor at 10:05 PM on July 19, 2007

And if you get her running Ubuntu, you can keep her off the proprietary software treadmill altogether, as well as minimize the amount of time you spend cleaning up later. The current version (Feisty Fawn) is streets ahead of Windows on ease of initial setup (a short initial interview + twenty minutes = fully usable computer) and if she's a novice, the differences between the Gnome and Windows desktop environments won't matter to her.
posted by flabdablet at 10:56 PM on July 19, 2007

Flabdablet has it. I set up Ubuntu for my mother in law. All she uses her computer for is web surfing and email. Her computer is now bullet proof, and I don't have to drive out there twice a week to see what she's screwed up. Try it before you install Vista. After all, its free!
posted by Crotalus at 11:41 PM on July 19, 2007

If you're a Mac geek, why can you not get your mother a mac? At least then, you'll have a decent chance of being successful for ongoing, long-term support for her.
posted by mooders at 12:54 AM on July 20, 2007

2nding Firefox. The key is avoiding IE. You'll have to set preferences whenever possible to use Firefox instead of IE. Also set her up on GMail.

Why do you hate your grandmother? Get her a Mac and don't worry about anything except sending her pictures of the grandkids.
posted by Gungho at 4:19 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: She'll be running a new Dell Inspiron, picking up a signal off an older Airport Extreme base station I'm going to put in (mostly for laptop-carrying family members). What's the recommended cocktail of free anti-virus, anti-adware, anti-spyware, etc., software that will provide a high level of protection without being too obtrusive?
posted by boombot at 6:31 AM on July 20, 2007

Set her up with a non-administrator account and Firefox. Turn on the windows firewall, and install an anti-virus package.

She should be fine.
posted by bshort at 7:25 AM on July 20, 2007

I have to think that the difficulty of figuring out how to do non-prepared things in linux is a selling point here. She will basically have to ask you for absolutely everything that isn't spelled out easily, but that's kinda the point.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:57 AM on July 20, 2007

A simple FREE protection often overlooked is a last line of defense called a startup registry monitor. Either of these solutions monitor registry locations that malware use to do their dirty work. They warn you when something tries to change things. Even when a baddie sneaks though your defenses, this keeps it from installing itself. I have run over two years without malware problems, mostly due to this protection.

Registry Protect was the first one I used and is available here. They have a viewer program available here if you want to see what's going on behind the scenes.

The second is StartupMonitor. Simple, lean, and it works. Use its companion program StartupCPL to view and change things that start with Windows if you want to get technical.

All are free.

(Disclaimer - I have not tried any of this software with Vista, because I never use the latest Windows. My new machine will be my first install of Win XP.)
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:26 AM on July 20, 2007

bshort has the two-sentence answer. Internet Explorer, not Vista, is what makes your mom's computer vulnerable. Vista is just what makes it annoying. Is the computer already purchased? If not, the entire world recommends that you order it with XP, not Vista.
posted by gum at 9:25 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: It's ordered and on the way. So, Vista firewall and AVG is all I need if I go Firefox-exclusive?
posted by boombot at 10:21 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: Also, is Vista really so noxious? I've never had the pleasure.

If it is, what can I do to make things as painless to the novice as possible?
posted by boombot at 10:22 AM on July 20, 2007

what can I do to make things as painless to the novice as possible?

Tell the novice to never shut down the computer, because shutting down and starting up Vista is excruciatingly slow.
posted by kindall at 12:56 PM on July 20, 2007

Using a Microsoft operating system before MS has pushed out at least one service pack is just going to cause you grief. Think of Windows 98 (first edition), Windows ME, Windows 2000 before SP1, Windows XP before SP1. Dogs all.

If you must run Windows, at least upgrade from Vista to XP+SP2. Put AVG Antivirus on that, create a Computer Administrator account called Admin for you to use, give Mum a Limited User account, install Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice, turn off the Internet Gateway Discovery and Control Client, use Set Program Access and Defaults to disable access to Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, delete all the shortcuts to MSN Explorer, and she should be good to go (apart from turning off assorted Windows annoyances like the Desktop Cleanup Wizard and using the Display Properties to make fonts look acceptable).

Or, to make things as painless to the novice and to you as possible, just nuke Vista, pave with Ubuntu, and paint new white lines with Automatix.

Yes, I'm an Ubuntu fanboi.

However, the reason I'm an Ubuntu fanboi is that I fix broken Windows installations for a living, and as the years go by, there's an ever-increasing number of ways it breaks and an ever-increasing number of tools to stay current with to fix it.

Ubuntu needs *one* tool to fix it: Googling the Ubuntu forums. That's *it*. I do this very rarely, and most of the that has been due to needing to find the right tweaks to make the installer disc boot on rare or very new hardware. I've been installing Ubuntu on newbie machines around my home town for nearly a year now, and it Just Works, and everybody who has it likes it.

Plus, you can get Dell machines with Ubuntu preinstalled for less than the Vista equivalents.

Plus, at least some of your present Mac knowledge will help you in the Ubuntu environment, since they're both Unix-family systems.
posted by flabdablet at 6:20 PM on July 21, 2007

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