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Security & privacy

Good news: Your PC just got safer from would-be hackers

Are you living in fear of hackers recently? We understand if you feel that way. After all, with so many stories of cyberattacks and data breaches in the news each week, browsing the web in 2020 can feel like walking into a minefield.

Of course, there are still steps that anyone can take to protect their computer. Staying one step ahead of cybercriminals means being proactive and harnessing the right resources to block malware and phishing attempts. Tap or click here to see our favorite online antivirus programs.

Even though cybersecurity news has been pretty dark for the past several months, there are still positive developments brewing beneath the surface. Case in point, Microsoft has quietly added a new update to Windows 10 that prevents hackers from disabling Microsoft Defender through the system registry. Here’s how you can take advantage of this safeguard.

Microsoft gets serious about its registry

The Windows registry is a vital part of the operating system — as well as an easy way for hackers with access to your system to make changes and ruin your computer.

Previously, an exploit in the Windows registry allowed hackers to disable Defender, Microsoft’s built-in anti-malware program. With Defender off, malware could run rampant through the system and lead to stolen data and personal information.

But this threat is now a thing of the past thanks to a quiet update on Microsoft’s part. In the latest update to Microsoft Defender, the “DisableAntiSpyware” registry setting has been permanently disabled, meaning that no virus or hacker can take down your defenses without you knowing.

Tap or click here to see everything included in Microsoft’s latest Patch Tuesday update

This setting persisted for as long as it did as a legacy option for users who wanted to install other antivirus programs alongside Microsoft Defender. But in light of this new update, this is no longer necessary, and users can install other programs without the need for Defender to shut down.

But the update for Defender isn’t the only one you can get today. A new Windows 10 update (version KB4566116) has also been released to address a number of glitches that have stuck around since the last update. This includes problems with unlocking the screen, launching applications and crashing Settings menus.

The best part about these updates: They’re both free and easy to install. Just click on the start menu on the bottom left of your screen, click the Settings icon and open the menu labeled Update & Security. If an update is available, install it to get the latest patches for Windows 10 and Microsoft Defender. If not, it likely already installed over Automatic Updates.

What’s the deal with the registry? Can I make other changes to my system with it?

The registry is an incredibly powerful tool that can unlock some cool features on your computer. But tread cautiously: Haphazardly editing the registry can permanently damage your operating system, which requires a full reinstallation to fix.

If you want to mess around with the registry, make sure to take time and back it up before getting started.

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1. Make every second count

See your system clock in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen? For most Windows users, it’s missing a critical feature found on many modern digital clocks: Seconds. Fortunately, you can adjust the registry so your system clock displays seconds alongside minutes and hours in a few easy steps.

By default, the taskbar of Windows 10 shows only the hour and minutes and does not provide a built-in option to also show the seconds.

To display seconds on the system clock, follow these steps:

  1. Open Windows Search by clicking the magnifying glass
  2. Type in Registry Editor and click to open it once it appears.
  3. When asked permission to launch the editor, click Yes.
  4. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced using the system’s tree menu.
  5. Right-click on Advanced or its background and choose New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.
  6. Name the key you just created “ShowSecondsInSystemClock”.
  7. Double-click on the value and change it to 1.
  8. Click on “OK.
  9. Close out of the Registry editor.
  10. Sign out and sign back in or restart your computer to save your changes. Your system clock should now display seconds.

2. Stop your system from searching the web

Your Windows search feature is useful, but it has an annoying downside: It searches the web every time, which can slow you down if you’re trying to locate a file on your PC. This registry hack will put a stop to that:

  1. Open Windows Search by clicking the magnifying glass
  2. Type in Registry Editor and click to open it once it appears.
  3. When asked permission to launch the editor, click Yes.
  4. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Search using the system’s tree menu.
  5. Right-click on Search and choose New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.
  6. Name the key you just created “BingSearchEnabled”.
  7. Double-click on the value and change it to 0.
  8. Under the same area, locate CortanaConsent.
  9. Double-click it and change the value to 0.
  10. Click on “OK.
  11. Close out of the Registry editor.
  12. Sign out and sign back in or restart your computer to save your changes.

Editing the registry is the territory of power users, but it’s less scary to do than you might expect. The registry is a pathway to unlocking a plethora of unique personalized tweaks you can use on your system, which is exactly why it’s so valuable to hackers. Make sure to get those updates as soon as you possibly can!

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