5 handy tips on making Windows 7 more secure

Despite Windows 8 being out for quite some time now, most folks are still using Windows 7, as you're probably aware. And with that in mind, we've been busy running some features imparting tips for Windows 7 lately – and this is another instalment in the series.

In this article, we'll look at how to make Windows 7 more secure. For more tips on the OS, check out our tips to make Windows 7 easier to use, 11 tips and tricks to give Windows 7 a speed boost, and 5 neat Registry hacks for Windows 7.

Control what applications are used

A feature called AppLocker adds another layer of protection that limits the use of applications to a known list of safe programs. You can even set up rules for authorised applications to cover all future versions of a file so you don't have to reconfigure AppLocker for updated software. Launch AppLocker by typing GPEDIT.MSC in the Start menu Search bar and press Enter, then navigate to Computer Configuration > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Application Control Policies > AppLocker. From here you select Executable Rule, Windows Installer Rule and Script Rule. Then you can choose to apply this rule by Publisher, File hash or Path. Choosing Publisher, for example, will whitelist all apps from a specific digital signature, which will cover software updates as well. Choosing Path will restrict the execution of programs to a directory path.

Protect your data in the event your system goes missing

If you ever lose your laptop, you can rest assured that unauthorised users can't recover your hard disk data by using BitLocker, a feature included in Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate editions. BitLocker will protect your data as long as your computer was powered off when it went missing. Recovering data requires access to the BitLocker keys or passwords associated with the locked volumes.

Thankfully, locating recovery passwords and keys with Windows 7 is much easier than with the tools in Windows Vista. Make sure your BitLocker keys and passwords are backed up by going to Computer Configuration > Windows Settings > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > BitLocker Drive Encryption. Then choose the protected drive within the Operating System Drives node. Configure BitLocker so that passwords and keys are backed up to Active Directory when BitLocker protection is activated by enabling the following settings: "Save BitLocker recovery information to AD DS for OS drives settings," and "Do not enable BitLocker until recovery information is stored in AD DS for OS drives."

Encrypt your removable drives

Windows 7's new BitLocker To Go feature lets you protect removable drives without the need to buy special software. Be sure to carefully save the 40-digit recovery key, so you won't lose access even if you forget the passphrase. And bear in mind that the encrypted drive will open in read-only mode on pre-Windows 7 computers. Also, while only Enterprise and Ultimate editions can create BTG-encrypted drives, other editions can use them once created.

Keep your kids safe

Windows 7's Parental Controls let you limit how much computer time children have, their access to programs and games, and the times at which they can use certain programs. Access Parental Controls from the Control Panel > User Accounts and Family Safety. Then select or create a non-admin account for your child to use, and select what restrictions you wish to impose on that account. For added protection you can download the free Windows Live Family Safety, which lets you filter websites and monitor your child's activities while he or she is online.

Back up on a regular schedule

Window 7's Backup and Restore Centre feature lets you select folders, libraries, and drives to back up on a regular schedule. To use it click Back Up Your Computer from the Control Panel. From there you can back up files to an external drive, network, or DVD. You can change the backup schedule or manually back up files at any time.