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Browse the Internet as a Standard User
Rick Downes on “Cryptolocker's Cruel Joke”

Wikipedia's article about ActiveX

Creating strong passwords

Determine your account type

Change your account type: Windows XP instructions

Types of user accounts in Windows XP

How to use the Fast User Switching Feature in Windows XP

Change your account type: Windows Vista instructions

Change your account type: Windows 7

Change your account type: Windows 8 instructions


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Here's why...
The Internet is getting more dangerous for Windows users every day on account of security threats to be found there. Rick Downes has a series of articles called “The Red Hat Diaries” wherein he details such threats and advises fleeing Windows altogether because of these problems (see Rick Downes link.) For those of us not ready for that step, it is imperative to protect your system immediately and fully: keep your Windows system updated, use an antivirus/anti-malware such as Microsoft Security Essentials and keep it updated, keep your User Access Control at its highest level, and don't browse the Internet using an Administrator user account type. See also the last section of this article for more advice on avoiding potentially unwanted programs.

Account types
In Windows, your account type determines what tasks you can perform on the computer. In Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, the types available are Guest, Standard and Administrator.

Guest accounts are intended for people who only need temporary use of the computer-- a good choice for the kids, for example. With a Guest account, from a security standpoint, it's hard to put the computer in danger because no changes can be made to the system and nothing can be installed.

Standard accounts are for everyday computing by the owner of the system: checking email, browsing and doing business with banking and shopping accounts, and for making changes to his own system account. For installing new programs or updating Java, for example, the password of an Administrator account will be required. This may seem tiresome, but it keeps control in the owner's hands.

Administrator accounts provide the most control of the computer, but should only be used when necessary, for example when system-wide changes are needed, or to make changes to other user accounts. Every system must have at least one Administrator account and this is the reason they are the default for accounts on new computers.

In Windows XP, there are the same account types, though instead of the Standard type as described above, this less powerful type is called 'Limited,' and is indeed even more limited than a Standard-type account.

The threat
What's the big deal? When you browse the Internet using an Administrator account, any web site you visit can potentially take over the computer using ActiveX controls (see ActiveX article link.) These are bits of computer code that were originally introduced to make browsing the web a richer experience by making it possible to manage and change system resources directly and with little and no human input. Because of this, ActiveX has become another hole that Microsoft must repeatedly plug and account for. When you run as an Administrator, Windows assumes that it's you managing and making the changes, and that it has your blessing to do so. When using a Standard account on the other hand, Windows interrupts your session and tells you that someone wants to make a change to the system and asks you to type the password of a particular Administrator account before it will proceed. When trying to make such changes while using a Limited account in Windows XP, you get a similar message, but it suggests that you log off and log back in as your Administrator account (see link on switching users in XP.) This is not as convenient as with the later editions of Windows, but just as effective. If you get requests like this and have NOT been deliberately installing things, click Cancel, close Internet Explorer, and think twice about that web site in the future.

Changing your account type to Standard
This is a two-step process because of Windows' insistence that there be an Administrator present. So in the first step you create a new Administrator account and give it a good password and immediately write it down somewhere. If the system is a laptop, that password and every account password should be difficult for casual passersby and other thieves to figure out because laptops are so portable and so often find themselves in public places. For desktop systems used in the home, a good enough password is a short one, like two or three letters or numbers. Next, you change the account type of your original account to Standard and restart the computer.

The whole process is handled using the User Accounts control panel, and rather than list out the entire process for each of the various versions of Windows, links are provided below to pertinent instructions. Once completed, your system will be more ready for the safe installation of downloads.

Next, prepare yourself
Here follow several important “don'ts” related to browsing and installing downloaded programs:

.Tempting as they are, avoid system freebies and web sites that promote them. Don't click any button you see that promises a free cleanup or free speedup of your system. Use Ccleaner and Microsoft's own utilities for these fixes, and download Ccleaner from its publisher's web site only (see link.)

.Free software is the greatest, but you have to know where and how to get it safely. Until recently,, CNET's and could be trusted to provide good, free programs that did not include additional, bundled software that turns your computer into a cash cow. Even now tries to get you to also install Google Chrome and Ask toolbar when you install their periodic updates. Read and pay close attention to the Terms and Conditions when installing from these sites. Look for and select a Custom installation button as this may provide a way to sidestep the unwanted portions. Immediately after any such installation, check your Programs (or Add/Remove software) control panel for any new items there that you don't recognize. As of this writing, you can still trust, and most authors' web sites. We can use and to read reviews of programs, and then google something like the name of the program and the words “home page.” Near the top of its results, Google will list the author's web site and this will give you a safe link to the program itself.

.Avoid also free entertainment. Music, games, videos, and pornography downloads frequently include invisible additional installations of unwanted programs.
December 1, 2013

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