Windows 7 and Windows 8 users can both take measures to increase their security and their privacy online and realize some meaningful benefits from doing so. Be aware that some of these enhancements to your security require subscriptions to third-party services or particular types of software outside your operating system, but the steps here can make Windows a more secure operating environment and your online traffic better protected against hackers, spyware, malware and more. The First and Easiest Step: Let Windows Update On Windows 7 and 8 you can search for updates for your computer, check which updates are available for your computer and choose which updates to download. The step by step from Microsoft is as follows: 1. Go to your Start Button and Search for Update 2. Choose Windows Update from the results 3. Click on “Check for Updates” in the window that comes up 4. Click any messages about updates that come up 5. You’ll see a list of updates, you select which ones to install by selecting or deselecting the checkbox next to it 6. Click Install Updates 7. You may have to agree to a license or log in as an Administrator to complete the process A good portion of the people who have security issues on their computer could fix them by installing Windows updates. The best option is to let Windows download and install updates automatically. If the updates cause a problem, you can revert to a previous version of your operating system and everything will go back as it was, barring some very rare situations. Antivirus You’ve heard this before and it’s worth hearing again: You have to have antivirus software on your computer. Being direct about it, most people would prefer not to pay for it and some of the most popular paid brands tend to be a bit overbearing with their constant reminders, notifications and warnings. There are free programs out there—provided you’re not using them for commercial purposes; always check the terms of service—that are great options for increasing your overall level of security. Two of the most popular include Avast and AVG. Both of these have free versions that offer adequate protection for home users. For a bit more money you get more bells and whistles, but some users may not feel the need for the complete product. Either option gives you real-time protection and the ability to manually scan files, along with automatic updates. Windows will warn you if you don’t have antivirus installed and be sure to address the issue if it does. Encrypt Encryption allows you to surf without people being able to see where you’re going, what you’re looking at, what services you’re using and other information. It’s what’s used to protect financial transactions online. You can use a service called a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, to enhance your online privacy by encrypting all of your online activities. You can get a VPN account from any number of different third party providers. Do a Google search for “VPN service” and you’ll get a long list to choose from. Look for OpenVPN or L2TP encryption. There’s a protocol called PPTP, but it’s not secure. You can read about the security issue with PPTP in this article on Bruce Schneier’s site. Most of the third parties will give you a tool that allows you to connect to their VPN servers without having to manually change any settings on your computer. Below is a picture of the VyprVPN interface, for example. If you want to set up the connection manually, go to your start menu and search for VPN and then select the link that says “Set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection”. Your VPN provider will assign you a username and password and give you the IP address to get on their network and supply any further instructions you need specific to their service. VPN encryption can provide protection against: * People actively monitoring your Internet traffic or Wi-Fi connection * People trying to capture passwords or other information * Traffic throttling by your ISP * Traffic monitoring by your ISP * Tracking of your Internet behavior There are other ways to enhance your security on Windows 7 and Windows 8. Both of these operating systems have their weaknesses out of the box, but a few tweaks here and there can make them a lot more secure and protect your privacy a great deal.