What is Windows Security Center?
Security Center is a Control Panel applet (mini-program) which monitors the most important security settings on your computer. It checks to see that there is an antivirus program installed, running, and up to date, that a firewall program is running, and that Automatic Updates are correctly configured. In Windows Vista, it also checks for antispyware protection and other system security settings.
How do I use it to check if my computer is secure?
Open Control Panel, and double-click Security Center (if you have Windows Vista, you may need to click Classic View before you can see it). If all is well, each of the three or four elements will be marked as “On” or "OK" in green, like this:
NB: you need to check the details of the Firewall and Virus Protection/Malware Protection to see that you have only ONE antivirus program and ONE firewall. Please see the Antivirus/Firewall pages of this site (links on the left). If any of the core security elements is switched off or malfunctioning, Windows will show you a warning in red. Two examples are shown below:
What should I do if Windows Security Center reports a problem?
In some cases, such as the firewall or automatic updates being switched off, there will be a "Turn on" button visible within the warning panel. Just click this, and the problem should be solved. For other scenarios, see the individual pages on antivirus/firewall/Windows Update (links on the left). If you are unable to resolve a problem reported by Windows Security Center, we advise you to ask an expert for help, as your computer could otherwise be at risk.
Vista Security Center tells me User Account Control is turned off. Should I worry?
If you use Windows XP, you can ignore this paragraph. Vista User Account Control pops up an annoying dialog box when you try to change any system settings, or even open a program that might be used to change settings! It can be a pain, we agree. The thing is, it does actually protect your computer, and so we recommend that you keep it switched on. If one of those annoying prompts pops up for no obvious reason (i.e. you weren't trying to change settings or install a program), chances are a malicious program has got into your computer from the Internet and is trying to install itself, so make sure you click Cancel, as this will block the installation and keep your computer safe.
What if I can’t see anything in Security Center?
If you have a security suite such as Norton or McAfee, Windows Security Center may effectively be disabled and replaced by a similar applet from the manufacturer. If this is the case, look for something like “Norton Security Center” in the Start Menu, under All Programs. This should give you the same information.