The Admin Account

One of the great mysteries of computers is the admin account. In the past computers were standalone; that is, used by only one person. Today's computers assume multiple people will be using them, even PCs with a single owner. This means having an overriding account to manage the others. Referred to as administrator, owner or root, it has complete control over your computer.

In reality your computer has two account types, administrator and standard (or limited). Limited users don't have full control; they can't alter system settings or make other changes. Unfortunately, in a holdover from the standalone days, that often means they can't do real-world tasks like burning CDs or updating antivirus either. For this reason most folks simply use their computers under the admin account. Indeed, computer stores configure consumers to use the admin account by default. When folks do use multiple accounts (say for themselves and their kids), those accounts often have full administrative rights.

Why is this important? Because every virus and Trojan horse wants admin access. It's why they will do anything to get you to click on bad links, including trick you into thinking your computer won't work properly if you don't. (We're going to talk more about how to spot fake links in May's Tech Tip Of The Month.) And some viruses don't require you to do anything at all. If you browse the wrong Web page and are using an admin account, your computer is, in the vernacular, pwned.

Your best bet is to use limited accounts when you can, administrative ones if you must, and security software to keep tabs on what your computer is doing at all times. To create limited accounts, go to Start, Control Panel, Users and Groups (Windows), or Apple menu, System Preferences, Accounts on a Mac. In my experience Windows Vista limited accounts work better than those in Windows XP, and Mac limited accounts work better than PC ones.

In May we're going to talk about the dollar figures behind Profiting From Cybercrime. If you have any computer questions click Comments below this article, and don't forget to subscribe to the email version of Tech Tips for bonus tips and product reviews.

Posted byTriona Guidry at 10:49 AM  

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