Protect your Windows device

更新10 October 2021

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    Microsoft Windows is the world's most used operating system, but also the most common target for malicious software (malware). Follow this checklist to secure your Windows device.

    Visual guide

    Use this visual guide as you go through the checklists below.

    Use the latest version of your device's operating system (OS)

    • When updating software, do it from a trusted location like your home or office, not at an internet cafe or coffee shop.
    • Updating to the latest OS may require you to download software and restart a number of times. You will want to set aside time for this where you do not need to do work on your device. Go through the steps of comparing the latest version to your device's current version below, until your device does not give you additional new updates.
    • If the latest version of the OS will not run on your device, it is best to consider buying a new device. Note that Windows 7 cannot be updated after January 2020. If you have been using Windows 7, we strongly recommend you update to a more recent version, or consider another operating system like Linux or Mac.
    • Make sure you restart your computer once an update has downloaded, to make sure it is fully installed.
    • See the most updated version available
    • Compare it to the version your device has installed
    • Update your operating system
    • Note: there may be many updates, and you may need to restart your computer multiple times to ensure your software is fully up to date. Repeat the update instructions until Windows tells you your software is up to date.
    Learn why we recommend this

    New vulnerabilities in the code that runs your devices and apps are found every day. The developers who write that code cannot predict where they will be found, because the code is so complex. Malicious attackers may exploit these vulnerabilities to get into your devices. But software developers do regularly release code that fixes those vulnerabilities. That is why it is very important to install updates and use the latest version of the operating system for each device you use. We recommend setting your device to automatically update so you have one less task to remember to do.

    Disable voice controls

    Learn why we recommend this

    When a device is set up so you can speak to it to control it--for example, Siri, Cortana, Google Voice, Echo, or Alexa systems--it is constantly listening while it is on. It may even record what is happening and send it back to companies like Amazon or Microsoft for quality control, and their contractors save and review those recordings. It is also possible someone else could install code on you device that could capture what your device is listening to.

    If you have a disability that makes it difficult for you to type or use other manual controls, you may find voice controls necessary. See below for instructions on how to set them up more safely. However, if you do not use voice controls for this reason, it is much safer to turn them off.

    Turn off location and wipe history

    • Get in the habit of turning off location services overall, or when you are not using them, for your whole device as well as for individual apps.
    • Regularly check and clear your location history if you have it turned on.
    • See how to turn off location
    Learn why we recommend this

    Many of our devices keep track of where we are, using GPS, cell phone towers, or wifi we use. If your device is keeping a record of your physical location, it makes it possible that someone could find you, or could use that record to demonstrate you have gone to particular places or associated with specific people.

    Check your app permissions

    Review all permissions one by one to make sure only apps you use can use them. The following permissions should be turned off in apps you do not use, and considered suspicious when used by apps you do not recognize:

    • Location
    • Contacts
    • Messages
    • Microphone
    • Voice or speech recognition
    • (Web)camera
    • Screen recording
    • Call logs or call history
    • Phone
    • Calendar
    • Email
    • Pictures
    • Movies or videos, and their libraries
    • Fingerprint reader
    • Near field communications (NFC)
    • Bluetooth
    • Any setting with "disk access," "files," "folders," or "system" in it
    • Any setting with "install" in it
    • Facial recognition
    • Allowed to download other apps

    Follow these instructions to find your app settings and to make sure that only apps you use have access to the following permissions:

    • Account Info
    • Motion
    • Radios
    • Tasks

    In addition to checking on the permissions mentioned above, turn off permissions for the following if you see them:

    • Allow elevation
    • Modifiable app
    • Packaged services
    • Package write redirect compatability shim
    • Unvirtualized resources
    Learn why we recommend this

    Apps that access sensitive digital details or services—like your location, microphone, camera, or device settings—can also leak that information or be exploited by attackers. So if you do not need an app to use a particular service, turn that permission off.

    Use programs and apps from trusted sources

    • Search the Microsoft Store for apps you have installed to gauge whether they are legitimate
    • Determine whether your Microsoft software is licensed
    • Note that when it comes to finding out whether you can trust software, Microsoft does not offer as many protections to users as other platforms do. Carefully evaluate whether it is safe to install a given program or app. If you are unsure, ask an expert before you install.
    Learn why we recommend this

    Only install apps from the Microsoft app store or from the websites of the developers themselves. "Mirror" download sites may be untrustworthy, unless you know and trust the people who provide those services. If you decide that the benefit of a particular app outweighs the risk, take additional steps to protect yourself, like planning to keep sensitive or personal information off that device.

    Learn why Security in a Box trusts the apps it recommends.

    Remove apps that you do not need and do not use

    Learn why we recommend this

    New vulnerabilities in the code that runs your devices and apps are found every day. The developers who write that code cannot predict where they will be found, because the code is so complex. Malicious attackers may exploit these vulnerabilities to get into your devices. Removing apps you do not use helps limit the number of apps that might be vulnerable. Apps you do not use may also transmit information about you that you may not want to share with others, like your location. If you cannot remove apps, you may at least be able to disable them.

    Make separate user accounts on your devices

    • Consider using a local account (one that is just on your device) instead of an account with Microsoft. Be aware you will not be able to share data across devices if you do this.
    • Make more than one account on your device, with one having "admin" (administrative) privileges and the others with "standard" (non-admin) privileges.
      • Only you should have access to the admin account.
      • Standard accounts should not be allowed to access every app, file, or setting on your device.
    • Consider using a standard account for your day-to-day work:
      • Use the admin account only when you need to make changes that affect your device security, like installing software.
      • Using a standard account daily can limit how much your device is exposed to security threats from malware.
      • When you cross borders, having a "travel" account open could help hide your more sensitive files. Use your judgment: will these border authorities confiscate your device for a thorough search, or will they just open it and give it a quick review? If you expect they won't look too deeply into your device, using a standard account for work that is not sensitive provides you some plausible deniability.
    • Add user accounts
    Learn why we recommend this

    We strongly recommend not sharing devices you use for sensitive work with anyone else. However, if you must share your devices with co-workers or family, you can better protect sensitive information by setting up separate accounts on your devices in order to keep your sensitive files protected from other people.

    Remove unneeded accounts associated with your device

    Learn why we recommend this

    When you don't intend for someone else to access your device, it is better to not leave that additional "door" open on your machine (this is called "reducing your attack surface.") Additionally, checking what accounts are associated with your device could reveal accounts that have been put on your device without your knowledge.

    Secure the accounts connected with your device

    • You may want to take a picture or screenshot of the pages showing your account activity if you see suspicious activity, like devices you have disposed of, don't have control of, or don't recognize.
    • Also see the section on social media accounts.
    • See how to secure accounts connected with your device
    Learn why we recommend this

    Most devices have accounts associated with them, like Google accounts for your Android phone, your Chrome laptop, and Google TV, or Apple accounts for your iPad, Apple watch, Mac laptop, and Apple TV. More than one device may be logged in at a time (like your phone, laptop, and maybe your TV). If someone else has access to your account who shouldn't, this is one place you might see and be able to stop that.

    Set your screen to sleep and lock

    Learn why we recommend this

    While it may seem like technical attacks are your biggest concern, it is much more likely that your device will be confiscated or stolen and someone will break into it. For this reason, it is smart to set a passphrase screen lock, so that nobody can access your device just by turning it on. We do not recommend screen lock options other than passphrases. You might easily be forced to unlock your device with your face, voice, eyes, or fingerprint if you are arrested, detained, or searched.

    Someone who has your device in their possession may use software to guess short passwords or PINs. It is also possible to guess "pattern" locks by looking at finger tracks on the screen. Someone who has dusted for your fingerprints can make a fake version of your finger to unlock your device if you set a fingerprint lock; similar hacks have been demonstrated for face unlock.

    For these reasons, the safest lock to set is a long passphrase.

    Control what can be seen when your device is locked

    Learn why we recommend this

    A strong screen lock will give you some protection if your device is stolen or seized--but if you don't turn off notifications that show up on your lock screen, whoever has your device can see information that might leak when your contacts send you messages or you get new email.

    Use a physical privacy filter that prevents others from seeing your screen

    Learn why we recommend this

    While we often think of attacks on our digital security as highly technical, you might be surprised to learn that some human rights defenders have had their information stolen or their accounts compromised when someone looked over their shoulder at their screen, or used a security camera to do so. A privacy filter makes it less likely someone doing this will succeed. You should be able to find this wherever you find device accessories.

    Use a camera cover

    • First of all, figure out whether and where your device has cameras. Your computer might have more than one if you use a plug-in camera as well as one built into your device.
    • Low-tech camera cover: use a small adhesive bandage over your camera, and peel it off when you need to use the camera. A bandage works better than a sticker because the middle part has no adhesive, so it does not get sticky stuff on your camera lens.
    • Or search your preferred store for "webcam cover thin slide." "Thin" is important because some covers are too thick, and your laptop may not close.
    Learn why we recommend this

    Some malicious software will turn on the camera on your device in order to see you, the people around you, or where you are without you knowing it.

    Turn off connectivity you're not using

    Learn why we recommend this

    Wifi is a data connection that lets our devices reach other devices on the internet, using radio waves to connect to a router which usually has a wired connection to the broader internet. Cell phone connections also help us access other computers and phones around the world, via a cellular network of towers and repeaters. NFC and Bluetooth connect our devices to other devices near them, also using radio waves. All these connections are vital to communicating with others. But because our devices are connecting to other devices, there is a chance that someone will use this connection maliciously to get to our devices and sensitive information.

    For this reason, it is a good idea to turn off these connections when you are not using them, particularly wifi and Bluetooth. This limits the time an attacker might have to access your valuables without you noticing that something strange is happening on your device (like it running slowly or overheating when you are not using it heavily).

    Turn off sharing you're not using

    Learn why we recommend this

    Many devices give us the option to easily share files or services with others around us--a useful feature. However, if this feature is left on when we are not using it, malicious people may exploit it to get at files on your device.

    Turn off Autoplay

    Learn why we recommend this

    The Autoplay feature in Windows may automatically run malicious code from a disc or drive you put into your device. Turning it off protects you against this possibility.

    Turn off advertising and other "privacy options"

    • Review options in Settings > Privacy and turn off settings not covered in other parts of this checklist
    • One option to turn on is SmartScreen Filter, which can stop malicious software from loading on your device
    Learn why we recommend this

    Sharing additional data about your device means that more information about you is floating around in public. Limiting this sharing is an extra way to protect yourself.

    Use a firewall

    Learn why we recommend this

    Firewalls help us protect our devices in situations where a piece of software starts listening to information we weren't expecting it to. Where a door gets left open, in other words, either by accident or by a malicious person within the building. Firewalls that monitor outgoing connections are sometimes able to let us know when malicious software is trying to steal data or "phone home" for instructions. If you install a firewall that is specifically designed to limit outgoing connections, or if you configure your built-in firewall to work this way, you should be prepared to spend some time "training" it so that it only alerts you when it observes something unusual.

    Advanced: Stop malicious code from running

    Advanced: figure out whether someone has accessed your device without your permission (basic forensics)

    Learn why we recommend this

    It may not always be obvious when someone has accessed your devices, files, or communications. These additional checklists may give you more insight into whether your devices have been tampered with.