Windows 8: New Security Features Explained

Dennis Faas's picture

Let's get this out of the way: Microsoft's decision to drastically change the Windows interface for Windows 8 remains highly controversial.

But there are benefits for users who make the switch to the new operating system (OS). Number one on that list: the all-new security features that Windows 8 offers.

For one, Windows 8 includes Windows Defender (otherwise know as Security Essentials). This free antivirus and antimalware security program takes over and protects a user's computer automatically, and remains in operation until some other antivirus program is installed.

While recent tests have shown that it doesn't provide quite as much security as other, subscription-based antivirus software programs, Windows Defender is certainly better than using no antivirus program at all.

Secure Boot Prevents Rootkits From Taking Hold

Microsoft has also changed the OS so that anti-malware software starts working earlier in the computer's boot-up process. As a result, Windows 8 does a better job of finding rootkit-based malware, which can be especially hard to remove.

This feature, known as Secure Boot, validates the boot signature of all boot components. If it's detected that a component has been tampered with, Windows 8's Windows Recovery Environment will automatically begin the process of fixing the issue.

Secure Boot is important because many malware programs target a computer during the boot process, when a system is most vulnerable to infection. By preventing rootkits from infecting a computer and actively evaluating component status during the boot-up process, Secure Boot improves a Windows PC's overall security.

For that reason alone Windows 8 should eventually appeal to corporations, government agencies, and other organizations, big and small.

But there are also security features that help keep a system clean after the boot-up process. Windows 8's SmartScreen filter automatically screens any executable (EXE) file you download via Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or another popular web browser.

When SmartScreen scans an EXE file, the program's signature is sent to Microsoft's own servers, where it's quickly evaluated. If malware is detected, Windows 8 won't run that executable file.

Given that so many malware infections take hold while we browse the Internet, SmartScreen could potentially save home and business users thousands of dollars in PC repair costs.

Windows 8 Apps 'Sandboxed'

A third new security feature allows the new operating system to isolate troublesome applications. Under Windows 8, applications are automatically 'sandboxed,' meaning the programs gain only restricted control over your computer.

This is extremely beneficial because it prevents malware that does get to run on your computer from spreading to other parts of your PC. In effect, Windows 8 uses the sandbox strategy to 'wall off' applications from doing more than minimal damage.

And guess what? You won't find sandboxing -- or the other security features -- built into Windows 7.

But is that enough to convince consumers that Windows 8 is worth purchasing? Only time will tell. But it is worth knowing what benefits come with upgrading to the new OS.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet