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The new Windows 10 security features explained

Expert Reviews Staff
28 Sep 2015
Windows 10
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Windows 10 includes a raft of new and updated security features: we explain why it is the most secure version of Windows ever.

With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft has worked hard to boost the security of its operating system, both with new tools to defend against hackers and new features that make it easier and more secure to use. We've teamed up with BullGuard to take a look at all of the new features, how they work and how you can use them to keep your computer safe.

Picture passwords and PINs

The password is not yet dead, but Windows 10 gives you a couple of extra ways to sign in if you're bored of typing in a long, secure password every time you want to use your computer. You can choose to use a PIN, which is probably a step backward in terms of security, or more intriguingly you can choose a picture password.

Picture passwords require that you remember a complex series of gestures, so that you drag your finger over a touchscreen in a series of straight lines and circles, tapping in certain places. This seems a ridiculously hard task, but it's made much easier because you do this over the top of a picture. Any picture will do, from a stock photo included with Windows to a photo or other image you have created yourself. It's worth noting that you can use this option even if you don't have a touchscreen. The mouse cursor works just as well for pointing, clicking and dragging around over the top of the image.

Windows 10 picture passwords

Better SmartScreen

For years popular web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome have prevented users from accidentally visiting dangerous, infected websites. Microsoft's SmartScreen feature, which aims to do the same thing, has been part of Internet Explorer for years but now its reach extends to protecting not only the new Edge web browser but Windows generally. This means that if you download a file using a file-sharing service like DropBox, SmartScreen will check to see if it is a probable threat.

Windows Defender

Although SmartScreen is a great idea, it is not a fully-featured security package. It is complemented by Windows Defender, Microsoft's anti-malware product capable of scanning files and providing real-time protection. It comes included with Windows but quietly disables itself if you install an alternative internet security package. That said, if you fail to update your security product, for one that’s compatible with Windows 10, Windows Defender will re-activate and start providing protection using Microsoft's latest updates. This will mean that your computer will not have the ideal level of protection and we always recommend that users install a full internet security package, such as BullGuard Internet Security. This software has been fully confirmed to work with Windows 10, so you know that it’s giving you full protection. Existing BullGuard customers have been upgraded to the latest, Windows 10-compatible, version of the software; for those still running Windows 7 or 8 this automatic update means that they’ll be fully protected the second they upgrade to Windows 10.

Better patching

Windows 10 really pushes users to keep their systems updated. It is possible but not trivial to disable updates, although we don't know why you'd want to. Updating your software is a great way to plug the security holes often used by hackers and malware to break into your system. Research has shown that using Windows Defender with a fully-patched system provides a decent level of overall protection: good enough to get online and buy full internet security software.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit

If you want to really bullet-proof your system against evil internet exploits you can bolster your defences by installing a free security utility from Microsoft called the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET). EMET essentially provides obstacles for malware designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the system. Windows Defender and SmartScreen have not proven themselves to be particularly competent at stopping exploits so EMET fills that gap.

No more unwanted software

Many free applications come with unwanted additions in the form of adverts that can be both annoying and a security concern. Spyware, which monitors how you use the computer and can steal sensitive data, is also a possibility. You might be surprised how many very popular apps come with additional baggage that can affect your security. If it's good and free you can probably find it bundled with adware somewhere on the internet. The Windows Store has a policy of excluding all such 'bundled' software. If you want a utility to compress files, manage a to-do list or a selection of games then you can download and install from this trusted source.

Control freak

If you've used any version of Windows since Vista you'll have encountered the infuriating security feature known as User Account Control (UAC). In Windows 10 UAC works slightly differently. With previous versions of Windows, when some software wants to make changes to the system, your screen will go dark and the prompt to allow or deny this change appears. You can do nothing with the computer until you click an option. In Windows 10 you can choose to receive the notification about change but not have the screen 'dim'. This means you can temporarily ignore the alert and carry on working on other tasks. The option to play with UAC settings is available through the Control Panel, User Accounts, Change User Account Control settings.

Improved firewall

The Windows firewall is so effective that many security products don't bother providing their own. Instead, they manage the included firewall's settings. Old versions permitted you to set rules for incoming connections only, while later versions (such as the one with Windows 10) provides control to outgoing connections too. This means that if you want to you can prevent certain applications from connecting to the internet or restrict them to making only secure connections. This is a great option if you are worried about leaking personal information over insecure connections.

One example would be if you like an old version of some software for which you don't want to receive updates. If it doesn't need to access the internet to achieve its main goal you can configure the firewall to block any attempts to do so. It will then be unable to update itself and should remain stable and capable of doing its job.

Windows 10 firewall

Backup!

Windows 10 comes with a basic backup facility that not only allows you to save files from accidental deletion but also lets you access older versions of files, which is handy if you mess up a document that was looking good a few days prior. You'll need a spare hard disk, most likely an external USB model or a network drive. Use the File History option in Control Panel to set up the backup. You can easily exclude folders and libraries, so you don't need to fill up your disk with enormous files that can be replaced easily (e.g. videos, software downloads and virtual machines).

Fast recovery

No version of Windows is perfect and at some stage, once you start experiencing problems, you might consider reinstalling to be the only way towards a usable system. Traditionally this means digging out a restore disc or the original Windows DVD. With Windows 10 you can simply 'Reset this PC'. You can start the System Reset for Windows application through Settings by choosing the Update & Security option and clicking through to 'Recovery'. You will be given three choices: Keep my files (remove apps and settings only); Remove everything; Restore factory settings (total reinstallation of Windows). There is an advanced option that lets you reinstate a Windows backup that you made previously. This is handy for technical users who have configured Windows 'just right' and want to be able to return to this ideal setup should something go wrong.

This is an independent guide from the Expert Reviews editorial team. This content was produced to the same impartial standards as the main content on our site but paid for by BullGuard.

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