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“Your computer may be at risk” Popup Error Messages

What do these “Your computer may be at risk” error messages mean?

According to Microsoft, Windows XP Service Pack two now includes a special feature called “Windows Security Center”.  Based in the Control Panel, the Security Center monitors your computer’s security status in three main areas:  Your anti-virus software’s live update status, your Windows firewall settings, and how up to date your system is with the latest Microsoft security patches and updates. 

When you receive a popup error message in your desktop’s system tray located by the clock, you can click the message for more details as to what the specific issue is.

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What types of problems lead to the ‘risk’ errors?

The Windows Security Center errors may tell you that action is required to deal with the following:

Your antivirus software’s active protection feature may be turned off, meaning that it’s not set up to intercept viruses at the time they’re introduced to your system or that your anti-virus software isn’t up to date with the latest virus protection definitions.  In either case, you should launch your anti-virus software’s interface and switch on the appropriate feature.

*In some cases, even though you have anti-virus installed, up to date and switched on, the Windows Security Center isn’t set up to work with your anti-virus application and therefore can’t read it’s status correctly.  In this case, launching the Security Center and selecting the “I’ll manage my anti-virus myself” will turn off the “Your computer may be at risk” error messages.

If you have the Windows Firewall turned off, the Windows Security Center will likely give you the “your computer may be at risk” warning.  The Windows Firewall is only a one-way firewall, meaning that it blocks incoming malicious traffic, but doesn’t block data traffic from leaving your computer.  You may have chosen to use third-party firewall software that blocks dangerous traffic going in and out of your computer.  As with the self-managed anti-virus option, selecting “I’ll manage firewall settings myself” should do the trick. The “your computer may be at risk” errors will not appear again for this reason.

If you haven’t run Windows Updates recently, or have Automatic Updates turned off, you will likely receive the “your computer may be at risk” errors.  It’s always a good idea to enable Automatic Windows Updates to keep your computer protected against the latest vulnerabilities Microsoft has been able to patch.  Enable Automatic Updates at this point, and the errors should go away.

What the Windows Security Center DOESN’T protect you against:

Microsoft has not yet added anti-spyware capability to the Windows Security Center.  With the prevalence of spyware and adware, this is an essential feature that Windows is currently missing.  In addition to anti-virus software it is essential to regularly (think: weekly) scan for spyware and adware on your system. 

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