Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
There are situations where running a limited user account is the right thing to do, but running as an administrator is often more practical.
What are your recommendations regarding User Account Control and operating a PC as an administrator in Windows 7? I've read many times that one shouldn't routinely operate a computer while logged in as an administrator, but when you set up Windows on a new computer, the first user that you create is automatically an administrator on that PC. That makes it easy to get through User Access Control prompts by just clicking Yes. Is that risky? If you create a non-administrator user and log in as that user, UAC quite often prompts you for the user name and password of an administrator. Is there a benefit to that?
You'll get a variety of opinions on this one.
I tend to fall on the side of pragmatism. What that means is that it depends on just how much you trust the user of your computer.
And it's probably not the type of "trust" that you think.
UAC was added in Windows Vista and made more palatable (meaning less annoying) in Windows 7.
There are two principals at play:
Even when logged in with an account that has administrative privileges, you do not actually run "as" the administrator by default.
When something needs to happen that requires administrative privileges, you are prompted for permission. If you're logged in as an account with administrative privileges, it's a simple OK/Cancel choice. If you're not logged in with an administrative-enabled account, you must also provide the administrator password in order to be able to choose OK.
This is extremely similar to security measures on other operating systems, including both MacOS and Linux.
The reasoning is simple: by not truly running as administrator, malware that you encounter will have a more difficult time infecting your machine. In general, they have to fool you into saying OK to the UAC prompt before they can infect the deeper levels of your system.
In addition, it can also be helpful in preventing accidental or non-malicious changes from happening to your system.
The question is simply this: do you trust whomever is using your computer to answer the UAC prompt correctly?
Will they know when to say no?
If not, then a limited-user account - without knowledge of the administrator password - is the way to go. That way, anything that might potentially affect the system will require not just confirmation, but confirmation by someone who would presumably understand the risks.
Put another way, it's perfect for the kids in the house who keep wanting to install and/or download all sorts of questionable software. A common example might be those who might not understand that the codec that's supposedly required to view the video that they just downloaded from a questionable site isn't a codec at all and that saying Yes won't play the video, but will instead install malware on your machine.
I'll probably get some flak for this, but if you know the administrator password and particularly if you're the only person who routinely uses the computer, I see no reason to annoy yourself with a limited account. The only practical difference is whether or not you'll need to supply that password in order to say OK. Because you know the password, you're empowered to make mistakes either way.
More important than using a limited account or not is to adopt a skeptical mindset.
Don't be in such a rush to get whatever it is that caused the UAC pop-up that you fail to take the time to look closely at it, understand it, and even research it, if necessary.
Personally, I love the UAC pop-up.
It's an important notification that whatever it is that I'm about to do has the potential to impact the overall security of my machine.
That's a great reminder.
And yes, even though I'm supposed to know what I'm doing, I've absolutely said No to UAC prompts that were unexpected, something that I clearly didn't want, or something that I just didn't understand.
Purveyors of malware are turning to social engineering and phishing more and more because of these types of barriers that technology can put in place. By tricking you into somehow thinking that a UAC prompt is appropriate, safe, or required, they can bypass any barrier and wreak all sorts of havoc.
Skepticism and education are the only answer.
As has been said time and time again, there is no software, no tool, no scanner, no operating system, no technique that can protect you from yourself.
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