As many techies out there, I’m also the primary technician and support personnel for my parents – mainly, my Mom.
Herein lays the problem.
My mom is not really a computer whiz. In fact she doesn’t know how to do much besides using Work, Email and the occasional game. Except one thing. If there’s one thing my mom is really good at when using the computer it is making it crash, crawl and beg for someone to just kill it.
She would click on every email link, site link or file shortcut in site (and there seem to be a lot of those around), and because she doesn’t know what’s “bad” and what’s OK to use, it’s just a matter of time until the computer becomes unusable and needs to be formatted and reinstalled.
Clearly, the situation takes some drastic measures which I outline here. If you will, this is my little guide on how I made my mom’s PC “Parent – Safe”. As a result, ever since I implemented this solution, there was not one virus, malware of spyware hogging the computer, and I can easily check in on her machine even if she’s not home.
Here’s what you do:
- Install a clean Windows XP on the machine
- Make sure automatic updates are set to “automatic download and install” mode
- Go to update.microsoft.com and get everything that is marked critical
- Make sure the firewall is on
Viruses and malware:
To solve the spam issue, I wanted my mom to have a good Anti-spam solution which is free. The best one I know is SpamBayes, but it only runs great on Outlook, not outlook express.
Install Outlook 2003 and configure it. Then install SpamBayes and configure it.
Teach your mom how to click the single button that is marked “delete as spam” or “Not spam”. My mom took a couple minutes to get it, but now she’s very happy.
I use Logmein.com’s excellent free service to connect to my machines from anywhere. So what I did is to install logmein.com’s client on my mom’s machine, and now wherever I am I can just go to the logmein site, and browse to my mom’s computer (think PC anywhere, but no need to have user intervention from the target computer once you install the client there.). It’s better than the various VNC stuff because those require an IP address to connect. With the logmein service I don’t need that. It’s too much of a hassle to have my mom’s machine use one of those free dns services out there. My solution works great. And she doesn’t even need to be there for it to work.
The ultimate solution to Preventing unwanted installations and malware
This last step (you should do it only after you’ve completed everything else on this list) is what gave me the confidence that my mom won’t do anything too risky on her machine ever again.
The idea is to set the account your parents use a “limited” account. This account can’t install anything, can’t delete anything that is somehow important, and can’t ruin your machine even if they say “yes” to all the dialog boxes a program may throw at them.
Unfortunately, the default user created in XP is an Administrator type account, so we’ll need to change that:
- click the start menu, then click on the user’s picture
- or just go to start-administrative -- manage users
- Create a new user account named “Admin”, set it as an administrator level account.
- Set the new “Admin” password to something easy that your parents could remember.
- Now change your parent’s *existing* account type to “limited account”.
- Don’t set a password for it.
Now, whenever they open the machine, the login screen will show two account, one that needs a password and one that does not. Always tell them “if you need to put a password in, it means you need to click the other user name instead of this one. The one with the password is –special- and you only use it if you want to install something deliberately”
Since my mom never “wants to install something deliberately” this works – she just needs to click on the user that does not as a password.
Log off and log on to the system with your paren’ts user.
You‘ll see that you can’t do anything, but all the services you installed (logmein, anti virus..) work great because you installed them as admin.
From now on, even if my mom clicks anything bad, it can’t really do anything, because it will run with the same permissions as the logged in user – which amount to very little. With spam and virus detectors, the machine becomes even safer.
I haven’t had a virus or malware problem for months now due to this solution.
Hope you find this as useful as I did.