This is a follow up to my earlier blog post, Limiting Internet Use to Protect Your Company.
Many of my MLS, association, and brokerage clients have computers in their offices that they allow visitors to use or which are used by employees for limited purposes. Windows Vista Home and Ultimate editions have easy to use controls that you can use to increase the manageability and security of those computers as well as lower the amount of maintenance they need as a result of user activities.
I’m referring to the “Parental Controls” features, which can be accessed through the main Windows menu, selecting Control Panel, and then Parental Controls. Assuming that you only allow your visitors and employees to access computers using a non-Administrative account – an Administrator account would let them change these settings at will – you can use Parental Controls to enforce useful policies for a specific user’s login account. These policies include restricting web use to specific sites or types of web sites, putting time limits on when the computer can be used, and allowing or blocking specific programs.
The Web Filter allows you to limit use to specific web sites that you specify. This is a very powerful feature because if you only intend a computer to be used to access the MLS system, your organization’s web site, or other specific sites, you can restrict the user to those “white-listed” sites only. If you do that, the chance of them visiting inappropriate sites or downloading malware is greatly reduced. You can also specify specifically that the user can not download any files to the computer. Not letting users save unwanted files decreases how often staff must ‘clean’ the computers, providing a management cost savings. Vista also comes with a web filter that attempts to block sites based on different types of content (e.g. pornography, hate speech, etc.), however I’m not confident that these filters are foolproof. But if you have a policy regarding harassment or other Internet misuse the least you can do is to enable this type of filtering, perfect or not.
Time limits are useful if you have users that you only expect to use the computer during a specific time of day and/or when the computer use can be supervised. It’s easy to set specific days and hours when the computer can or cannot be used.
The Parental Controls that allow you to “Allow and block specific programs” (Application Restrictions) are also very easy to use. If you limit computer use to only those applications that are needed it increases the computer security by making it somewhat harder for users to install and use unapproved software and for malware to be accidentally executed by the user. Not letting users clog up computers with unwanted programs also decreases how often staff has the ‘clean’ the computers – additional management cost savings.
There are a number of additional features in the Parental Controls as well, including usage reporting and game-blocking features. Just remember, no one tool will be a silver bullet when it comes to security – but if you have deployed Windows Vista Home or Ultimate editions in your business you may find Parental Controls a useful tool to increase the manageability and security of your computers.
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