To start Security center in Windows XP, click on the Start button and then on Control Panel. When the Control Panel appears, click Security Center. Vista users can start Security Center as follows: click the Start button and then Control Panel. When the Control Panel opens, click Security followed by Security Center. The remaining steps in this Workshop describe the operation of Security Centre in Windows XP. Though not identical to Security Center in Windows Vista, it operates in much the same way and can be used as a guide by Vista users.
The three major elements of Security Center are Firewall, Automatic Updates and Virus Protection. Vista has a fourth called Malware Protection. Colour codes in shades of red (danger), yellow (caution) and blue or green (safe) provide an instant indication of the current safety status of each element. Don’t be alarmed if your computer is currently showing yellow or red for any of the elements: Microsoft is ultra-cautious in its colour coding and your computer may not be in serious danger. But let’s explore further.
This computer is coded red in its Firewall section because the firewall built into Windows is turned off. In fact, this particular computer is adequately protected by a firewall built into the wireless router that connects it to the internet, but Windows doesn’t know this. Some computers are protected by software firewalls included with internet security suites sold by the likes of McAfee, Norton and Kaspersky, but if your computer is showing red and you do not know for certain that it is protected by other means, click the Recommendations button.
In the Recommendation dialogue box there are two options. You can either turn on Windows Firewall by clicking the Enable Now button or tell Windows that you have another firewall and don’t want to be warned again by ticking the ‘I have a firewall solution’ box near the bottom. If you turn on Windows Firewall the red warning turns to blue (green in Vista) to show all is well, and a pop-up message informs you that Windows Firewall was successfully activated. Click Close to remove this message and OK to return to the Security Center summary screen.
Choosing the alternative firewall option turns the Security Center warning yellow and displays a Not Monitored label. This is fine, provided you really do have an alternative firewall. The colour coding of the Virus Protection section works in a similar way to the Firewall section, but with one big difference: there is no anti-virus protection built into Windows, so you have to source it from a third-party supplier. Windows is very good at finding and monitoring anti-virus programs, so if protection is reported as Not Found, you need to do something about it – read on to find out how.
If you don’t already have an anti-virus program and would rather not buy one, there’s an excellent free alternative in the form of Avira Antivir Personal, which can be downloaded from the web. Before downloading it, close Security Center by clicking the red cross in its top right-hand corner and then start Internet Explorer or your own favourite web browser. In the address bar near the top of the screen, type in www.computeractive.co.uk/2166627 and tap the Enter key and then click the Free Download link.
If Internet Explorer displays a yellow bar containing a security warning near the top of the screen, click on this warning and select Download File. When the File Download dialogue box appears, click the Save button and then select Desktop as the location for the file. Click Save to begin the download, which will take several minutes using a broadband connection. On completion, click Close to close the Download dialogue box and then close the web browser by clicking the cross in its top right-hand corner.
An icon for the downloaded program should now be visible on the Windows desktop. Double-click the icon to begin installing the program. If a Security Warning dialogue box appears, click Run, then in the Avira AntiVir dialogue box click Accept. Follow the installation instructions by clicking Next where necessary, making sure to select Complete rather than Custom installation. Entering details on the registration screen is optional; clear the two tickboxes at the top if you wish to remain anonymous.
When the installation is over, click to remove the tick from the Show Readme.txt box and then click the Finish button. When asked if you want to start an update now, click Yes and follow the prompts. After the update, Avira AntiVir makes a complete scan of your computer’s hard disk searching for existing viruses. This can take anything from a couple of minutes to an hour or more, depending on the capacity of the disk. When it finishes, click the End button. Avira AntiVir is now guarding your computer against future attacks.
The fact that Avira Antivir is active and up to date is indicated by an open umbrella icon displayed in the Notification Area in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. The program updates itself automatically at regular intervals, at which time it displays a screen inviting you to purchase the Premium version. Click OK to remove this screen. One of the advantages of the Premium upgrade is that it also protects against spyware and other unwanted programs, but similar protection is available free of charge using Windows Defender (see the box below).