This article appears as part of our comprehensive guide to Windows Vista in the March 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents. Click here to visit our dedicated Windows Vista forum.
XP’s version of the Windows Firewall protected you only against inbound threats. If malware infected your PC and attempted an outbound connection, Windows Firewall could do nothing about it. Vista's firewall includes outbound filtering too – although this fact is not readily apparent by looking at the Windows Firewall Settings tab.
To configure outbound connections, you need to launch the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security screen by typing 'wf.msc' at a command prompt. With outbound filtering now built in, some users may not need a third-party firewall. Vista’s Security Center is like XP’s, with a similarly confused interface. Clicking the green button next to the firewall, automatic updating and so on, all do absolutely nothing – just as in XP. But links on the screen’s upper left side let you configure security settings.
Windows Defender, Vista's bundled antispyware software, is a revamped version of Windows AntiSpyware. It provides real-time protection and daily system scans. The Software Explorer in the Tools menu shows you programs that run at startup, those currently running and whether an app is classified as malware. It can disable or remove any that are. For more details of Windows Defender and Windows Firewall, see our breakdown of Vista's bundled apps.
One of the less visible new features is Network Access Protection. This lets network administrators set requirements a PC must meet to connect to the network, such as having up-to-date antivirus signatures. BitLocker Drive Encryption, available only in Vista Enterprise and Ultimate, enables hardware-based lockdowns of a PC and its data.
Internet Explorer 7.0
Because so many attacks on Windows exploit security holes in Internet Explorer, Microsoft has beefed up IE7's defences. Most improvements – including phishing site filters and address bars in pop-ups – duplicate those in the Windows XP version of the updated browser. However, in Vista, IE7 runs by default in the new Protected Mode, which keeps it from changing system files or settings.
User Account Control
UAC prompts you to type in a password or click ok before taking certain actions such as turning off the Windows Firewall, adding or removing user accounts or running some applications. You sometimes get a warning: a small shield appears next to links or options that will summon the UAC prompt if clicked.
This annoying virtual nanny protects against malware running unchecked. If your PC gets infected and the malware attempts to perform a dangerous action such as turning off your antivirus program or the firewall, UAC will stop it cold. UAC can also protect you against yourself, preventing you from making changes that could harm your computer.
This would be great if Microsoft hadn't gone overboard with this protection. For example, you get a UAC prompt when you try to change Windows' font size or your PC's name. It can make using Vista a jerky experience, with so many annoying pop-ups coming at you. Thankfully, you can stop these prompts by turning off UAC entirely. Go to Control Panel, User Accounts and Family Safety, User Accounts, click the Turn User Account Control on or off link, and you'll send that nagging nanny into the virtual ether.
Of course, if you do turn off UAC, then you have no one but yourself to blame if a piece of malware does get in and take over your system.
Vista leaves you in doubt if you are in danger of connecting to an unsecured network