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An unprotected computer can be compromised within minutes of being connected to the Internet.

When you take delivery of a new computer, it's oh-so-tempting to open the box, plug it in and get to work immediately. But that's usually not a great idea. First, you need to make sure the machine is properly set up and secured before hooking it up to your network.

Even before the box is unpacked, the first thing to do is collect any disks and license codes for the software you plan to install. A basic thing, yes, but if you're replacing an older computer and migrating its software to the new machine, sometimes those bits and pieces can prove elusive.

And if you're changing operating systems – say from Windows XP to Windows 7 – then be sure to check that the software you plan to run on the new machine is compatible with the new system.

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(Assuming that your company does not have a standard "image" – i.e. a preconfigured operating system and software collection that's "stamped" on the hard disk to ensure machines are set up identically – then setup is a manual task. However, these tips can apply equally when you're starting up from or creating a standard image. The examples below pertain to the Windows 7 system, but the general principles apply to any operating system.)

Make sure you check the hardware – including device drivers. Many an otherwise perfectly usable device has been retired because its manufacturer did not release updated software when a new OS was launched. For example, I have an older printer whose scanning and copying functions ceased to work under Windows 7.

After all that, go ahead and open the box and turn on your new toy. With some operating systems – we're looking at you, Windows 7 – you face half an hour of waiting while the system initializes. When asked, give the machine a name that can stick with it throughout the hardware's life, and can be linked with the purchase record. This will make asset management easier over time.

Once initial setup completes, the real work starts.

First things first – install anti-malware software. You may have already chosen a company standard, preferably something that can be centrally managed; if not, now is the perfect time to start. Windows 7 will grump at you about it and offer to help you find a product, such as Microsoft's own Security Essentials. Your hardware vendor may also sell subscriptions to commercial anti-malware products, and might even pre-install them for you.

Regardless of how you acquire the software, don't delay when it comes to installation. An unprotected computer is often compromised within minutes of connecting to the Internet.

Continue the theme by catching up on patching. Vendors tend to ship machines with fixed versions of the operating system pre-loaded, and they are only up to date for hours after they're created, at best. By the time they land on your desk, they're woefully behind the times. Hit the update site and grab all of the security patches, as well as any updates to drivers and system software.

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Windows 7 will automatically grab critical updates and recommend others if you accept its default settings; go into the Action Centre and have a peek to determine whether you need the recommended patches. The whole process can take some time, not to mention several reboots, but it's worth every second.

Once the computer is secured, you can start loading software. Install those applications you so carefully collected – and then go to their update sites and grab the latest patches for them. A secure operating system with insecure apps is still vulnerable.

Next, consider the utilities you may need: perhaps a second browser such as Firefox, Chrome or Safari, a Flash player or a PDF reader or writer. Download fresh copies from their vendors' sites to ensure it's all up to date. Some time during this process, you will probably also want to install a printer or other peripheral, which may require another trip to an update site.

Presumably, you've been doing all this updating from the administrator account that Windows automatically created, but that's not the account you should be working in from day to day. Create a user account without administrative privileges for standard operations, and make sure both it and the administrator account have strong passwords. Microsoft offers tips on how to create memorable but strong passwords and a tool to check your choices here.

Are we done yet?

Not quite. The last thing you need to do, before copying over your personal files, is set up backups. Windows 7 will not only prompt you to do so, it will give you the option to create and save a system image that will let you quickly restore your machine to its current state in the event of a hard disk failure or other catastrophe. It also lets you set up automated scheduled backups of your data. All you need to choose is frequency, destination, and what files need to be protected.

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Now copy any data files into the appropriate locations (in Windows 7, build your directories under the My Documents folder) and you're done.

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