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Windows 8 : Sharing and Securing with User Accounts - Types of User Accounts

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2/26/2014 1:49:24 AM

Windows 8 offers four basic types of user accounts: the built-in Administrator account, user accounts with administrative privileges, standard accounts, and a Guest account. They vary in how much privilege they grant to the person using the account.

With Windows 8, you also have the choice of setting up the user accounts as local or Microsoft accounts. You can read about these types of accounts in the following sections.

Microsoft accounts

With Microsoft accounts, you have the greatest flexibility for taking advantage of many of the newest Windows 8 features. To set up a Microsoft account, you must use a valid e-mail address. You can use an existing account, such as one you use at your office or a third-party account such as Yahoo! Mail or similar. If you do not have one, you can set up an e-mail account during the Windows 8 user account setup.

A Microsoft account provides the following features:

  • Allows you to log in to a computer on which you have not previously set up a user account. (Conversely, with local accounts, you must set up a local account on each computer on which you want to log in.)
  • Provides access to Microsoft Xbox Live and Windows Phone accounts.
  • Enables you to download apps from the Windows Store.
  • Syncs settings across multiple computers. For example, if you work on two or more computers, logging in with the same Microsoft account on each one will enable you to keep your favorites, history, sign-in info, and languages synced between the two computers.
  • Enables you to access your files and photos from multiple computers.

Local accounts

Local accounts are used when you do not need to keep computers synced. When you use local accounts, you set up accounts for each user that will be using a computer. If you need to set up one account that can be used on multiple Windows 8 computers, you must set up Microsoft accounts.

Local accounts are also limiting in that you cannot use them to access the Windows Store to download apps. Again, to access Windows Store apps, you must set up and use a Microsoft account.

The built-in administrator account

A single user account named Administrator is built into Windows 8. This is not the same as an administrative account you create yourself or see on the login screen. This account is hidden from normal view. It doesn’t show up on the usual login screen.

The built-in Administrator account has unlimited computer privileges. So while you’re logged in to that account, you can do anything and everything you want with the computer. Any programs you run while you are in that account can also do anything they want. That makes the account risky from a security standpoint, and very unwise to use unless absolutely necessary.

In high-security settings, a new computer is usually configured by a certified network or security administrator who logs in to the Administrator account to set up the computer for other users. There, the administrator configures accounts on the principle of least privilege, where each account is given only as much privilege as necessary to perform a specific job.

When the administrator is finished, he or she typically renames the built-in Administrator account and password-protects it to keep everyone else out. The account is always hidden from view, except from other administrators who know how to find it. All this is standard operating procedure in secure computing environments, although hardly the norm in home computing.

In Windows 8, you really don’t need to find, log in to, and use the built-in Administrator account unless you’re an advanced user with a specific need, in which case you can get to it through Safe Mode. As a regular home user, you can do everything you need to do from a regular user account that has administrative privileges.


Administrative user accounts

Most of the time when you hear reference to an Administrator account in Windows 8, that reference is to a regular user account that has administrative privileges. This is an account that has virtually all the power and privilege of the built-in Administrator account. But it also has a lot of security built in to help thwart security threats that might otherwise abuse that account’s privileges and do harm to your computer.

Ideally, you want to create one user account with administrative privileges on your computer. If you intend to implement parental controls, you’ll need to password-protect that account to keep children from disabling or changing parental controls.

Standard accounts

A standard user account is the kind of account everyone should use for day-to-day computer use. It has enough privilege to do day-to-day tasks such as run programs, work with documents, use e-mail, and browse the web. It doesn’t have enough privilege to make changes to the system that would affect other people’s user accounts. It doesn’t have enough privilege to allow children to override parental controls. And most important, it doesn’t have enough privilege to let malware such as viruses and worms make harmful changes to your system.

If you use a standard account all the time, and use a built-in administrative account only when absolutely necessary, you’ll go a long way toward keeping your computer safe from Internet security threats.

Guest account

The optional Guest account exists to allow people who don’t regularly use your computer to use it temporarily. Basically, it lets them check their e-mail, browse the web, and maybe play some games. It definitely won’t let them make changes to your user account or anyone else’s. Its limited privileges also help protect your system from any malicious software they might pick up while online.

 
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