12 Steps to Increase Your Privacy on Windows 10

Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of personal cyber attacks. Unfortunately, that trend is only going to continue, so it’s more vital than ever to ensure your information is secure. We’ve put together 12 preventative steps for you to take to secure your Windows 10 platform, one of the most popular operating systems. Today, there are many third-party applications available that offer increased security for your Windows platform, and several of these solutions do offer accurate results tailored to specific needs you may encounter based on your computer usage. However, there are several steps you can take on your own prior to using a third-party solution that can help you increase your privacy right away.

1.Sign in Using a Local Account

Many Windows users link their Microsoft account directly to their Windows 10 user profile. However, you can increase your privacy and security by limiting access to only a local account. By signing in with a local account, you will decrease data sharing from your account. Prior to taking this step, make sure you have access to any data you need, as changing this setting will stop data sharing across your devices that have Windows 10 installed.

This is accessed through: Settings > Accounts > Your info

Fig 1: Local Account Sign In

2. Set a Password Instead of a Pin

Set a password for your log in. Avoid using a pin as that is shorter in length and just numbers, making it easier to hack. Instead, use a password that contains a mixture of letters, numbers and special characters. Your password should be a minimum of eight characters or more.

This is accessed through: Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options

Fig 2: Set a Password

Be smart in your password choice. Avoid common names or passwords associated with you such as your name, nickname, company, dog’s name, partner’s name, birthday, home address or other identifying information.

Your password is your first line of defense. Here are some suggestions to help you choose a strong password for your account.

Do’s:

Create unique passwords that use a combination of words, numbers, symbols, and both upper and lower-case letters.

Strong Example:           _N3veR-*Gu3$seD!!

Weak Example:            Password1

Don’ts:
– Do not use your network username as your password.
– Don’t use easily guessed passwords, such as “password” or “user.”
– Do not choose passwords based upon details that may not be as confidential as you’d expect, such as your birth date, your Social Security, phone number, or names of family members.
– Avoid using simple adjacent keyboard combinations: For example, “qwerty” and “asdzxc” and “123456” are horrible passwords and are trivial to crack.

3. Enable the “Use random hardware addresses” Setting

One of the best parts of modern technology is having the ability to connect your computer to the internet via WiFi. It connects quickly, there are no cords, and you can enjoy speedy internet browsing. However, you must be smart about it.

Here’s a quick tip when you are at your local cafe enjoying your pumpkin spice latte: lower tracking on your computer from different WiFi networks by enabling the setting ‘Use random hardware addresses” on your machine.

This is accessed through: Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi

Fig 3: Use Random hardware addresses

4. Disable “Wi-Fi Sense” Setting

By now you probably realize your data might not be as secure as you’d like. This next tip will help reduce anxiety about security threats because your computer will no longer automatically connect to an unknown network, which is one place where data can easily be exposed.

By turning off “Wi-Fi Sense” under Network & Internet, you can prevent your computer from connecting automatically to any open networks.

This is accessed through: Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi

Fig 4: Turn off Wi-Fi Sense

5. Disable Cortana

Cortana is a cool feature. Who doesn’t dream about talking to their computer, let alone commanding it to perform certain commands and lookups? Most people don’t know, however, that using Cortana sends commands and data about files for your local search back to Microsoft, which can be a privacy concern.

The good news is that you can opt out of Cortona if you are concerned about Microsoft of other companies having access to the details of your personal files.

The bad news is that Microsoft has removed the capability to disable this setting through the user interface now. In order to disable Cortana, you must:

  1. Open regedit
  2. Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Policies > Microsoft > Windows
  3. A new key will likely need to be created here. Title it “Windows Search”.
  4. Create a DWORD (32-bit) Value within this key and title it “AllowCortana” and set it to 0 (this is the default).
  5. This change requires the current user to log out before it is applied.

Fig 5: Cortana Registry Settings

6. Turn off Feedback and Diagnostic Limitations

The default setting on Windows 10 for information about your computer functionality is turned on for both feedback and diagnostics. Turn off this feature “Basic: Send data necessary to keep Windows up to date and secure” and remove remote access. This will reduce the amount of information sent to Microsoft.

This is accessed through: Settings > Privacy > Feedback & diagnostics

 Fig 6: Turn off Feedback and Diagnostics

7. Keep Your Location Private

Certain applications would like to know your location, so they can better assist you. However, you can configure which applications know your location by simply turning the location feature on or off. You can also disable this feature entirely.

This is accessed through: Settings > Privacy > Location

 Fig 7: Turn off Location

8. Check Your Settings After Every Windows 10 Update

As we all know,Windows is famous for constantly updating. Although these updates are of value, as a user, please keep in mind what these updates might bring about. The biggest concern is that some updates might restore some privacy settings back to default or grant more access to your personal data. We recommend checking your privacy settings and looking for new items after each update.

9. Turn Off Privacy Settings that Share Personal Information
Windows 10 has several features that collect and share personal details. The advertising ID function allows applications to access a unique identifier tied to the current user, allowing advertisers to better track usage habits of users. The language list feature allows applications to access the available languages list of the user, which can provide geographic and social background on the current user. The Start menu tracking sends usage details to Microsoft regarding how the Start menu is used. Suggested content allows Microsoft to recommend apps to the user, and at this time, privacy concerns around this feature are simply not known. We recommend turning off these settings.

This is accessed through: Settings > Privacy > General

 Fig 8a: General Privacy Settings

10. Keep Account Information Private
Windows 10 has a feature that allows you to decide which applications have access to your name, picture, and other account information. Again, we believe the best practice is to turn this feature off.

This is accessed through: Settings > Privacy > Account info

 Fig 8b: Keep Account Info Private

11. Disable Syncing
Your Windows 10 might be compatible with other devices, allowing you to synchronize your data with other unknown devices. Turning off this feature can prevent sensitive data from being shared.

This is accessed through: Settings > Privacy > Other devices

 Fig 8c: Turn off syncing.

12. Limit User Access

Finally, one of the most important steps to thoroughly securing your machine and data is to limit the usage of your computer. There is no better privacy control than physically controlling access to your Windows 10 machine.

If you are committed to staying on track with your cybersecurity efforts to maintain your privacy and secure your devices and data, you will find these 12 simple steps will help you do so and give you the added value of peace of mind.

About the Authors

Ben Dimick is a manager of information security at Tevora.

Esteban Guzman is an information security associate at Tevora.