Limiting account privileges provides simple but effective protection when working online. Limited accounts (sometimes called standard accounts) allow you to do most daily activities but do not allow you to install software or make certain changes to the computer. Only accounts with administrative privileges can install software on the computer.
Many attacks take advantage of the fact that an administrator account is created by default (the “Owner” account) and that most people neglect to make any additional accounts on their computer. In general, when malicious attachments or links are clicked, any malware is downloaded and executed in the background. When using an administrator account, this all happens without your knowledge because you have full access to everything. If you accidently clicked that same link while using a limited account, the installation would fail because you, and therefore the malicious code, do not have the correct permissions.
How to Switch your Account from Administrator to Standard
If you already have an administrator account set up, you will probably want to switch your original account to a standard one and create a new administrator account. The main reason for this is over the years, you’ve been tweaking the settings on that original account to your liking. Imagine having to go back and do all that over again (let alone remembering what you did). However, you don’t want to switch your original account over just yet. Without a second administrator account to use, you will get locked out of changing any settings on your computer!
Here’s the order of steps you want to take:
- Create a new administrator account and set a password for it (make sure to remember this password). Instructions vary by operating system:
NOTE: Even if you are the only person using the computer, you will want a password on the administrator account. The reason is because we are accustomed to just clicking through prompts, so requiring you to enter a password makes you pause and think about what you are doing before blindly clicking yes and installing something. Plus if anyone else uses your computer, they cannot install anything without your knowledge.
- Log out of your original account.
- Test logging into the new administrator account to see that it works.
- Log back into your original account and change the settings to convert this account from an administrator to a standard.
Getting Administrator Rights When you Need It
You will need administrator rights to add new software/hardware and do certain types of tasks. When trying to install a program as a limited user, it may give you a pop-up message asking you if you want to elevate privileges and prompt you for a password. Enter your administrator password and proceed. If that doesn’t work to complete the install, or after installation the program is not working properly try:
- Closing out of the program.
- Right clicking on the program’s icon and select Run as Administrator.
- Enter the password and proceed.
If all else fails, you can also log out of your standard account and log in as administrator to complete what you need to.
NOTE: There are some programs that may not function properly while using a limited account. Microsoft provided a list of programs that give issues when using Windows XP, but this has gotten better with newer operating systems. They have provided a workaround for giving individual programs elevated rights, which you may find helpful.
The minor inconveniences you might experience with always using a limited account are better than having a big issue (like losing everything on your computer) due to malware.