Windows 7 : Understanding User Accounts and Permissions

10/22/2010 6:14:08 PM
The Windows 7 system of user accounts and passwords allows more than one person to use the same computer while providing the following safeguards:
  • Each user's information is kept private You prevent other users from reading or altering your documents, pictures, music, and other files by storing them in subfolders automatically set up within your user account folder. For example, if you manage your family's financial records on a home computer that is also used by your children to do their homework, you can set up separate accounts for your children so that they can't view confidential information or change your files.

  • Each user's working environment is protected You can personalize your environment in various ways, without worrying about other people making changes to your personal settings.

1. User Account Types

Windows 7 supports two levels of computer permissions: administrator and standard user. An administrator account has higher-level permissions than a standard user account, which means that an administrator account owner can perform tasks on your computer that a standard user account owner cannot.

Administrator account credentials are necessary to do things such as:

  • Create, change, and delete accounts.

  • Change settings that affect all computer users.

  • Change security-related settings.

  • Install and remove programs.

  • Access system files and files in other user account profiles.

Tasks that require administrator permission are indicated in windows and dialog boxes by a Windows security icon.

Standard user account credentials allow a user to do things that affect only his or her account, including:

  • Change or remove the password.

  • Change the user account picture.

  • Change the theme and desktop settings.

  • View files he or she created and stored in his or her personal folders, as well as files in the Public folders.

Tip: Windows creates a special account called Guest, which is inactive by default and disabled on computers that are part of a domain. You can activate the Guest account to give someone temporary, limited access to your computer without having to create a user account for that person.

Even if you have an administrator account, it is a good idea to create and use a standard user account for your day-to-day computing. If a malicious person or program infiltrates your computer while you're logged on as an administrator, there is a much higher risk of serious damage to the computer system than if you're logged on as a standard user. Through an administrator account, the person or program has access to all system files and settings, whereas a standard user doesn't have access to certain functions that can permanently damage the system.

2. User Account Control

User Account Control (UAC) protects your computer from changes to Windows system settings by requiring that an administrator expressly permit certain types of changes. Each area of the Windows interface that requires administrator permission is labeled with a security icon. When you attempt to access or change protected Windows settings, a User Account Control dialog box appears, asking for confirmation that Windows should continue the operation.

The appearance of the User Account Control dialog box varies depending on the type of user account you're logged on with and what you are trying to do.

If you're logged on with an administrator account, you can simply click the Yes button to continue the operation. If you're logged on with a standard user account, the dialog box lists the administrator accounts on the computer. To continue the operation, you click one of the administrator accounts, enter its password in the box that appears, and then click Yes.

Tip: If an administrator account doesn't have an associated password, you can continue the operation by simply clicking that account and then clicking Yes. For this reason, it's important to assign a password to each administrator account on the computer.

Windows doesn't save the credentials you enter in the User Account Control dialog box; they are valid for this operation only. Anyone who doesn't have access to administrator credentials can't perform the operation, which effectively prevents non-administrators from making changes you haven't authorized.

UAC has four levels of control. Only the first two are available when you're logged on with a standard user account, even if you have access to administrator credentials:

  • Always notify When a user or program initiates a change that requires administrator credentials, the desktop is dimmed and the User Account Control dialog box opens. You must click Yes or No, or close the dialog box before you can take any other action.

  • Notify for programs and dim the desktop This is the default setting. Unlike the Always Notify setting, this setting allows any user to make changes. Program changes are still restricted, however. When a program initiates a change that requires administrator credentials, the desktop dims and the User Account Control dialog box opens. You must respond to the dialog box before you can continue.

  • Notify for programs and don't dim the desktop Any user can make changes.

    When a program initiates a restricted action, the User Account Control dialog box opens. The restricted action will not be performed until you respond to the dialog box, but you can perform other tasks while the dialog box is open.

  • Never notify This is the equivalent of turning off UAC. Any user or program can make any changes to the computer without restriction.

To change the UAC setting:

  1. Display the System And Security window of Control Panel. In the Action Center subcategory, click Change User Account Control Settings.

    Tip: The security icon to the left of the command indicates that administrator credentials are required to complete this operation.

    The User Account Control Settings window opens.

    You can use the slider to select the level of control you want.

  2. Click above or below the slider, or drag it, to set UAC to the level you want, and then click OK.

    Tip: You must be logged on to an administrator account to select either of the two lowest settings. If you select the Never Notify setting, you must restart your computer to complete the process of turning off UAC.
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