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Secure your Windows 10 machine in 6 easy steps, here's how

We've got a beginner’s guide to Windows 10 security that will help you keep your device safe.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
Rae Hodge
5 min read

Boosting Windows 10 security is easier than you think. 

SOPA Images

As the Windows 10 May 2021 update rolls out to devices, it's a good time to secure your Windows 10 machine. Whether you have a new device or one you've recently upgraded (you can still download Windows 10 for free, by the way, now that support for Windows 7 has ended), making sure you're system is fully protected doesn't have to be complicated. 

You can quickly enable some of the basic security features of the operating system -- and disable some of the more annoying ones -- without compromising your device, all within a few minutes. 

Here's how to do it. 

Read more: You can still download Windows 10 for free. Here's how

Create your save point

The first thing you should do with a new Windows 10 machine is enable a system restore. Think of it like a save point for your machine. If things go south while you're trying to set up a safer machine, you get to come back to this nice fresh install and start with a clean slate. Since it's disabled by default in Windows 10, you'll need to manually enable it by following these steps:   

1. Go to the Windows Cortana search box and type system restore

2. Select the Control Panel and click Create a restore point

3. When the System Properties dialog box appears, click the System Protection tab.

4. Select the drive you've got Windows installed on. For most people this is going to be the C drive

5. Click Configure

6. Click Turn on system protection, then click OK.

From here on out, you can always come back to the System Properties box and click System Restore to bring your machine back to this moment in time. 

Read more: The best antivirus protection of 2021 for Windows 10

Kill the bloatware

One of the most obnoxious things about getting a new Windows machine is that it's never really new. Even if your hands are the first to pull it out of its shiny box, both Microsoft and the manufacturer have already invariably stuffed your machine with barely-functional, unwanted, or trial-version software that will sit unused in your computer, taking up valuable memory space until it eventually becomes outdated and presents a quiet set of vulnerabilities. Let's kill those programs:

1. Go to Start, then to Settings, then to Apps

2. You should be looking at a list of all of your installed apps under your Apps & Features section. A right-click on any of them should present you with the option to uninstall them.

Read more: How to clean out junk files in Windows 10

Freshman orientation for your software

Now that you've done some bloatware pest control, you'll want to secure your other software and drivers by making sure they're up to date. Doing this can eliminate the risk of infection by entire classes and families of viruses and malware. The easiest way to do this is by downloading the Windows Update Assistant and following its prompts.

If you have any trouble with the automated process, there's a manual option:  

1. Go to Start, then to Settings. 

2. Select Update & Security, then select Windows Update. 

Read more: Windows 10 May 2021 update: Everything you need to know


Make sure all of your Windows 10 software is up to date to avoid security mishaps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Locals only

By default, logging in to Windows 10 means using your Microsoft account -- the same one you use for your Microsoft email. A feature of this type of login is that any changes you make to your settings while on your new Windows 10 machine will be automatically synced across all of your other Windows 10 devices. 

That might seem like a convenient perk. It's not. It's essentially removing a bulkhead against multidevice compromise in the event something (or someone) affects your Microsoft account. So let's make sure you've got a unique local account login to use only on your new Windows 10 machine:

Read more: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Save any work currently open, then close the program you're using. 

2. Go to Start, then Settings.

3. Click Accounts, then click Your email and accounts on the left-side column. 

4. Click the link that says Sign in with a local account instead

5. When the prompt appears, type the password you currently use to log into your Microsoft account (the same password you currently use to unlock your laptop), and click Next

6. A new prompt will ask you to create a username, password and password hint. Once you've entered the text, click Next

7. Click Sign out and finish

This will bring you back to the machine's login screen, where you can enter your new password to log back in. At which point, you'll likely also notice a much faster login. 

Read more: Top Windows 10 tips and tricks you need to know 

Shut down stalkerware

Windows 10 automatically tracks your location and monitors your behavior in order to sell advertising. Here's how to turn both of those features off to better protect your privacy :  

1. Go to Start, then Settings.

2. Click Privacy, the icon that looks like a padlock.

3. Click Location, then click the On switch to turn location tracking off. 

4. To disable ad tracking:

5. Go back to the Privacy screen you were just at. 

6. Turn off the setting for Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app activity.

Read more: How to disable your webcam in Windows 10

Enable your firewall and antivirus

If you've used Windows for a while now, you're familiar with the Windows Defender Security Center. It's a good first step toward monitoring the overall health of your computer, but it's not going to be enough. One other layer of security is already built into Windows 10, and you should take advantage of it by enabling firewall and antivirus protection. Here's how:  

1. Go back to your Control Panel, then to System and Security.

2. Click Windows Defender Firewall, then click Turn Windows Defender Firewall on or off in the sidebar.

3. Click the button that says Turn on Windows Defender Firewall under both the public network and private network settings. 

4. Tick the box that says Notify me when Windows Defender Firewall blocks a new app

Once your firewall is up, head over to CNET's roundup of the best antivirus software for Windows 10 and shop around until you find one that suits your needs. You can also check out How to run Microsoft's Windows Defender on Chrome and Firefox

Read more: Special report: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Watch this: How to take Windows 10 screenshots