Security

Microsoft offers consumers tips for safe computing

It is only right that Microsoft offers guidance about how to run Windows safely. But how effective is the company's advice?

It is only right that Microsoft offers guidance about how to run Windows safely. But how effective is the company's advice?

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Dealing with clients, I frequently find myself repeating the same speeches over and over again. Sometimes I feel like a broken record.

"You need to be backing up."

"Your computer is missing several critical updates."

"That e-mail isn't from your bank."

Basic safe computing principles are old hat to experienced techs like us, but they're not second nature to everyone. Even when a best practice is obvious, many people never follow through and actually heed it. Data backups are a good case in point. How many of your clients have come to you more than once with failed hard drives and data loss concerns? Several of my users are repeat offenders.

Since some users don't seem to retain the golden pieces of advice I offer, I try to keep an eye out for resources that might present some of the principles of safe computing in a more accessible manner. I've written before about US-CERT, the government's computer security authority. I think that organization offers a great library of advice for nontechnical users, but its articles can be rather dry reading. When I heard that Microsoft was setting up a Web site of their own to promote safe computing principles, I was hopeful that the company would provide something with polish and panache.

I don't know about either of those things, but Microsoft's Online Safety pages at least offer a multimedia alternative to US-CERT's text-only technical briefs.

Kids aren't going to be inclined to read the government's security tips, but they might be convinced to sit with mom and dad to watch a 2-minute movie that hits similar bullet points. It's not just children who can benefit from the animated videos and illustrated comics posted on Microsoft's site either. Anyone whose patience might be tried by reading a longer article can watch the brief animation and probably retain some useful principles. It just remains to be seen if they can then put into practice what they've seen.

What is good about Microsoft's Online Safety pages?
  • Their resources offer an overview of all the best practices.
  • There is some multimedia content, which makes the advice suited to people of different ages, skill levels, and learning styles.
  • There are step-by-step instructions explaining how to use some Windows Security tools, like the Backup Utility and the built-in firewall.
How can Microsoft improve on these resources?
  • Make them easier to find. There's no link on the main Microsoft.com page; you have to go to the Consumers section of the Security site. The layout of the information in the site could be clearer.
  • The media looks a little dated. The music and illustration styles used might come across as patronizing to some and laughable to the more sophisticated.
  • In my opinion, there isn't nearly enough emphasis placed on why it is important to perform frequent software updates.

I'm always in favor when companies offer users more assistance, and Microsoft's effort isn't an awful start. The Online Safety pages are something I might reference for users who need to cover the basics. I think that the quality of the content provided by US-CERT is better overall though.

To check out Microsoft's Online Safety pages, look at http://www.microsoft.com/protect/.

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