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Using Windows Security Center (part 3) - Configuring Malware Protection

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Configuring Malware Protection

Some of the most common threats to standard desktop operating systems are collectively known as malware. These types of software can perform a wide array of unwanted operations on a computer. One example is a type of software that is installed on a computer with little or no notification to the end user. The program might automatically download and display advertisements from the Internet or collect and transmit information to another computer.

Viruses are programs that are generally designed to do damage. They might be installed through a security vulnerability or by tricking users into downloading and installing them. When run, they can cause serious system-related problems, including data corruption. Regardless of the details, these programs should clearly be avoided.

Antimalware products are available from Microsoft and a number of different vendors. These programs have been designed to protect systems against the installation and operation of malware by providing several layers of protection. For example, they might examine all downloaded programs and verify that users want to install them when they are launched. Another method is to scan the computer’s file system periodically, looking for signatures of known malware programs. These features often integrate with other products such as firewall configurations.

Microsoft designed Windows Security Center to show basic details related to the configuration of malware protection. There are two items that you can find in the details of this section:

  • Virus Protection

  • Spyware And Other Malware Protection

The default configuration of Windows Vista includes Windows Defender, which is designed to provide numerous security-related functions, including scanning for malware. It also relies on the Windows Update feature to download and install new malware definition updates regularly. You’ll learn about configuring Windows Defender in more detail later in this lesson.

As with the other sections in Windows Security Center, there are three main indications for the malware protection item:

  • Green Indicates that malware protection is installed, is up to date, and is configured properly.

  • Yellow Specifies that an antimalware configure setting is different from the recommended value, or that the antimalware software is outdated. The indicator also appears yellow if Windows Vista is unable to find compatible antimalware programs on the system.

  • Red This indicator specifies that an antivirus or antimalware program is not currently installed or is turned off. This leaves the computer potentially vulnerable to security-related problems.

Changing Antivirus Options

Windows Vista does not include an antivirus application. Therefore, unless a third-party hardware or software vendor has included a specific product that is able to detect and remove viruses, the default setting appears as Not Found. Third-party antivirus developers can add certain features that automatically assist users in ensuring that the features are properly configured.

For example, if an antivirus product is installed but its virus definitions are out of date, Windows Security Center can provide a direct link that launches the application and shows options for resolving the problem. Although the user can accomplish this task manually, it requires the user to find the relevant program and change the settings.

Note: Evaluating antivirus products

Numerous Windows-based antivirus products are available on the market. When evaluating features, users generally have the best experience with products that are certified for Windows Vista. These products are most likely to integrate properly with Windows Security Center. In addition to virus detection and removal capabilities, it’s helpful to keep in mind the performance effects of particular antivirus solutions. Some of these products can use significant amounts of memory, CPU, and disk resources, which can cause systems to slow down noticeably.


For Windows Security Center to be able to monitor the installation and configuration of an antivirus product, it must be designed with Windows Vista in mind. In some cases, you might have installed an antivirus product that is not automatically detected by Windows Security Center. In this case, you can click Show Me My Available Options in the details of the Malware Protection section. Figure 11 shows the two available options.

Figure 11. Changing antivirus options in Windows Security Center

The first option tells Windows Security Center that you have installed or will install an antivirus program and that you do not want to see any further prompts related to this configuration setting. The other option is not to monitor the status of antivirus software at all. Clicking this setting still makes the malware protection configuration appear in yellow, but you will not receive further alerts or details related to antivirus programs.

Configuring Windows Defender

In addition to monitoring antivirus programs, the malware protection section in Windows Security Center can detect the presence of antispyware or antimalware products. By default, Windows Defender is configured to provide this functionality. If users continue to use the default settings, they see that Windows Defender is listed in the details under Malware Protection.

In some cases, users might want to change the configuration settings of Windows Defender. Available options include details related to how frequently and when automatic spyware scans are performed. To change these settings, open Windows Defender from the Start menu. Click Tools, and then click Options to open the Options dialog box (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. Viewing configuration options in Windows Defender

The Options dialog box includes numerous settings that you can use to define how and when Windows Defender runs. The major sections and options include the following:

  • Automatic Scanning The settings in this section determine whether Windows Defender automatically scans the system based on a schedule. If automatic scanning is enabled, users can specify the days and times at which the scans will be performed. Additionally, there is an option to check for updated definition files automatically before performing the scan. Finally, if users want to remove or disable any spyware automatically that has been detected, they can choose to apply the default actions automatically.

  • Default Actions When Windows Defender detects malware, it automatically categorizes the item into an alert level. The possible levels are High, Medium, and Low. By default, the action that Windows Defender takes is based on settings defined in the definition files. You can override these default actions by selecting either Remove or Ignore as the default action for each alert level. The settings affect options that are displayed when Windows Defender finds malware as well as the automatic actions it takes during a scheduled scan.

  • Real-Time Protection Actions One of the most powerful features of Windows Defender is its ability to monitor for system modifications automatically that might be unauthorized. This feature, known as real-time protection, is enabled by default. Figure 13 shows the many different options that are available. In some cases, users might want to disable one or more of the security agents while still allowing real-time protection to be enabled. Other options include customizing how and when Windows Defender notifies the user when potential security issues occur.

    Figure 13. Viewing Real-Time Protection Options in Windows Defender
  • Advanced Options This section enables you to specify which types of files Windows Defender scans and to provide a list of exceptions. Exceptions might be useful if you have large files that contain only data or known information, and you want to reduce the usage of system resources during the scan process. Options are also available for creating a restore point before any detected malware is removed from the system.

  • Administrator Options These options are “master switches” for the functionality of Windows Defender. They allow you to specify whether Windows Defender is enabled and which users will be able to change its configuration.

For most users, the default settings of Windows Defender provide the ideal balance of security and usability. In some cases, particular applications or services might require settings to be temporarily modified. Alternatively, users might want to change options such as the default scan frequency to reduce potential performance impacts.

Instead of using Windows Defender, users also have the option of installing their own third-party antimalware products. If the program has been designed for compatibility with the Windows Security Center, its status and details should appear in this section. It is important to note that customers should generally use only one type of antimalware product at a time. Having more than one enabled can cause various compatibility issues.

Finally, if you have chosen not to install a particular antimalware solution (or if you are running a product that is not detected by Windows Security Center, you can click Show Me My Available Options under Malware Protection in Windows Security Center. As shown in Figure 14, there are two main options that are available:

  • Go Online To Get A Different Antispyware Program This option launches a Web browser and navigates to Microsoft’s third-party antispyware product page.

  • I Have An Antispyware Program That I’ll Monitor Myself Selecting this option effectively disables the Windows Security Center automatic spyware check. The user does not receive notifications if malware definitions are out of date or if there are other configuration issues.

Figure 14. Viewing available options when an antispyware product is not installed

Configuring Other Security Settings

The final section of the Windows Security Center console is titled Other Security Settings. The two main features that you manage here include Internet Security Settings and User Account Control (UAC). Internet Security Settings is based primarily on the configuration of Microsoft Internet Explorer, such as Internet zones, the phishing filter, and other options.

It is important to note that the overall status of the Other Security Settings section is based on the least secure option in the details. For example, if UAC is turned off, but Internet security settings are properly configured, the Other Security Settings item still appears red. You need to check into the details to determine which items are raising the warning.

Overall, Windows Security Center is a useful application for centrally monitoring and managing security settings. By including important details related to Windows Firewall, automatic updating, malware protection, and other security settings, it brings together important system information from numerous different security tools.

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