A user level account on Windows 7 and Windows 8 is one of your most powerful security tools. It’s also one of the security tools that most people simply do not take advantage of. The reason they don’t take advantage of it is often times simple laziness. The little bit of inconvenience that you have to go through by using a standard user account rather than an administrator account could actually save you hours of inconvenience in the future and, potentially, the cost of a new PC. Here’s why. The Root of the Problem People who used to work on UNIX or who currently work on Linux systems generally follow a very basic rule: never login as root. The root account on those operating systems allows the user to do anything they want to the system, including obliterating the entire operating system, if they so choose or, potentially, accidentally. The administrator account on Windows is similar. The administrator account allows you to make changes that affect every single user on that computer, according to Microsoft itself. If you are the only user on the computer, there are still drawbacks to using this account that you should be aware of. Figure 1: The Windows 7 login screen. Source: Microsoft.com. Massive Changes If you aren’t on an administrator account and are on a standard user account, Windows requires credentials before it will let you do anything that will really change the operating system or, potentially, cause problems with security. As a prime example of this, if you are on a standard user account and you try to install a program, you’ll get a dialog asking you to provide administrator credentials to make that installation. This prevents people from installing programs on your computer without your permission or without you knowing it. It also prevents some types of exploits. Some exploits rely on the computer simply installing something that has been downloaded from the Internet without the user’s knowledge. On a standard user account, there’s a good chance you’re going to get a dialog warning you that something’s going on and you have a chance to intercept it before it becomes an issue. Too Much Power The administrator account allows you to change just about everything about the operating system and to access any file on the operating system. For some users, this opens up opportunities for errors. Understand errors are not only committed by people who are computer illiterate. Very good techs can accidentally delete files that are needed by the operating system or make other changes that could compromise the operating system altogether. This is why most of them will log on as a regular user when they are trying out the machine and, when they need to make a change, they will provide administrator credentials rather than working on an administrator account all the time. Simply put, you don’t need the power of a full-fledged administrator to perform most tasks on Windows. Set Up the Account Make certain there is an administrator account on your computer. You can do this by going to the Start button, clicking on the Control Panel and then going to User Accounts. Click on User Accounts and then click on Manage User Accounts. There should be an administrator account listed there. There is probably an account for you and whatever other users utilize the computer, as well. To change the type of account to a regular user account, go to Users and then go to Users for this Computer. You can change what group they belong to in the Group Membership tab. Click OK and you’re done. Leave one administrator account and make certain that it has a secure password. This will prevent anybody who doesn’t have access to that password from making certain types of changes to your computer. Regular users can do everything most people need to do on a computer without any difficulty whatsoever. When they try to do things that are a bit more involved or that have the potential to affect how the computer operates or the security of the machine. However, they will have to enter administrator credentials, which is a great way to increase your security without spending a dime on new software.