5 Security Tips to Consider When Using a Microsoft Account

Chris Hoffman 09-01-2014

Microsoft wants Windows 8 users to log into their computers with a Microsoft account How Microsoft Overhauled User Accounts In Windows 8 What's up with user accounts in Windows 8? It's not complicated - Microsoft wants everyone to use an online account to sign into their desktop operating system. Sure, they offer an offline equivalent, but they... Read More , not a standard old local user account. You can’t use much of the new user interface without a Microsoft account — you can’t even upgrade to Windows 8.1 How To Safely Upgrade To Windows 8.1 Are horror stories of how Windows 8.1 upgrades went horribly wrong keeping you from upgrading yourself? If you are longing to try Windows 8.1, you can now learn from other people's lessons and upgrade safely! Read More without one. Along with this new focus on Microsoft accounts comes new security concerns. The account you use to log into your computer is now an online account and you need to worry about securing it.


There are advantages to using a Microsoft account, as it allows you to sync your settings, files, apps, and other data How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 Storing data remotely and syncing them across devices has never been so easy, especially if you're using Windows 8.1. SkyDrive received a significant update, improving its integration with Windows and adding interesting new features. Read More between your computers. You log into Macs and iPads with an Apple ID, Android devices and Chromebooks with a Google account, and now Windows with a Microsoft account.

Set a Strong, Unique Password

Microsoft accounts aren’t necessarily new. Many old types of accounts have been rebranded as Microsoft accounts. Whether it’s an old Hotmail account, a Windows Live ID, .NET Passport, Zune, Xbox Live, or any other old type of account run by Microsoft, it’s now a Microsoft account.

Because of this, there’s a good chance many Windows users are logging in with old accounts. Some Windows users may be logging into their Windows 8 systems with Hotmail accounts they created back in 1999, 15 years ago Go Back in Time: How 12 Big Websites Looked Years Ago Travel back in time and revisit the past by seeing how these notable and popular websites looked like all those years ago. Read More . A lot has happened in 15 years when it comes to password security.

It’s important to treat these new accounts seriously, with modern password practices. You should be using a strong password How to Create a Strong Password That You Will Not Forget Do you know how to create and remember a good password? Here are some tips and tricks to maintain strong, separate passwords for all of your online accounts. Read More for your Microsoft account — but, most importantly, you should be using a unique password for your Microsoft account. Don’t re-use passwords, as a password leak at one site will make your account’s password worthless. If you need help managing passwords, you may want to use a password manager Password Management Guide Don't feel overwhelmed by passwords, or simply use the same one on every site just so you'll remember them: design your own password management strategy. Read More .

You can modify your Microsoft account’s password and other security information by logging into the Microsoft account dashboard at



Enable Two-Step Verification

Microsoft allows you to enable two-step verification, also known as two-factor authentication What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More , to help secure your account. When someone attempts to log in with your username and password, they’ll need an additional verification code — for example, a code sent to you via and SMS message or generated via an app on your phone. To set this up, visit the Microsoft account dashboard and click the Security info tab.

From here, you can enable two-step verification and set up alternate ways Microsoft can contact you, such as phone numbers and alternate email addresses. You can use several different methods for two-step authentication, such as an SMS message or an authenticator app. If you have an iPhone or Android phone, you can even use the Google Authenticator app to generate verification codes for your Microsoft account.

This page also contains the other options you’d expect for managing two-factor authentication, such as per-app passwords for apps that don’t support two-factor authentications, recovery codes you can use to regain access to your account, and a list of trusted devices that don’t need verification codes.



Enter Recovery Information

From the same Security info page, you also have the ability to provide phone numbers and email addresses where Microsoft can reach you. Whether or not you want to use two-step verification, you should ensure that this information is correct. If you ever lose your password and can’t log in, you’ll be able to regain access to your account, if you have access to a phone number or email address specified here.

For this reason, it’s important to enter your data correctly, so you can regain access to your account. It’s also important to make sure no one else can gain access to your account — ensure the information is up to date and remove any email addresses or phone numbers you no longer have access to from here.



Have Security Notifications Delivered to Your Phone

Microsoft can send security notifications to your phone for important security events, such as when someone tries to gain access to your account. By default, these are emailed to your primary email address. However, you can also have them sent via SMS to your phone so you can get them immediately.

To set this up, visit the Notifications > Security page on the Microsoft account dashboard site. If you don’t see a phone number you can use, you’ll have to enter it elsewhere on the dashboard first.


Monitor Recent Activity

Microsoft recently added a Recent activity page to the Microsoft account dashboard. If you’ve used Gmail, it will seem familiar. The Recent Activity page lists where you’ve used your account, where you’ve logged in from, and other things that have happened. You’ll likely see that you’ve successfully logged in from your home location recently. If you see that someone successfully logged in from elsewhere, or that there are attempts to log in with incorrect passwords from a foreign location, you may have a problem. You can inform Microsoft that a login attempt is not you via a link from this page.


Note that the times displayed here depend on the time zone you enter on your Personal info page.


The Most Important Tip

The most important security tip we can give you is that you should treat your Microsoft account like the online account that it is. You can’t just log into your computer with the password “password” anymore — at least, not if you want to use a Microsoft account. This is insecure and means people can gain access to your Microsoft account and its data from anywhere in the world. Instead, you’ll have to treat your Microsoft account like you’d treat any other online service.

Luckily, there are ways to make this process less obnoxious. After you log into a device once, you can make it a trusted device and you won’t have to re-enter a two-step verification code each time. You can also set up a picture password How To Change, Reset, And Picturize Your Windows 8 Password Windows 8 brings quite a few password-related changes. It uses Microsoft accounts by default, which means that your log in password is the same as the password for your Microsoft account online. You can reset... Read More or PIN on your Windows 8 device, so you can easily log in again without having to re-enter a long, complicated password. You’ll only be hassled the first time you log into a device.

Image Credit: K?rlis Dambr?ns on Flickr

Related topics: Password, Windows 8.

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  2. Yoi
    April 28, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Thought this was going to be about personal security ... i.e. how Microsoft online accounts can be used to track the user. Or how your computer backups at Microsoft OneDrive may be vulnerable.

  3. Emma L
    January 15, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    I've enabled two-factor authentication with Microsoft in the past, but for some reason neither the text messages nor the emails never seem to be coming through. No idea what is causing the problem, but as it is I'm forced to skip the two-factor authentication, even though I generally enable it wherever I can. With other services I haven't had such problems.

  4. Tom
    January 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    You dont need MS online account to updates to 8.1 -- do a search, I suspect there's a good few articles about it -- dunno can I add a link here? Search for "Quick Tip: Change to a local account in Windows 8.1" (techrepublic).
    The advantages so far, of using an MS account dont seem very persuasive...

  5. Bruno C
    January 10, 2014 at 2:04 am

    "You can’t use much of the new user interface without a Microsoft account — you can’t even upgrade to Windows 8.1 without one."

    I've updated some notebooks to Windows 8.1 using a local user account. If I remember correctly, after updating the installation asks you to switch to a MS account or to create a new one. The option to keep the local user account is found at the bottom of screen that shows up after you click to create a new account.

  6. Vicki
    January 10, 2014 at 1:37 am

    Best to open a new account

  7. Alex Z
    January 9, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Very nice post with simple walk through to accomplish important tasks. Glad that MUO did not go Microsoft-bashing for introducing this concept (they are really playing a catch-up wit Apple on this). The tools that MS provides to handle this are quite easy to use and a lot more than one can get from other online ID (Apple ID comes to mind) management sites. I use PC and Mac side-by-side for work and play and find that it's a "leapfrog" trend with major hardware/software brands and they all are about the same, but more importantly - really happy to see that all give us tools to manage the security