How to require strong passwords on your shared Windows PC

You can make sure that everyone who uses a shared Windows PC at your home or business creates a password that can't easily be cracked.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Sharing a computer with multiple people can be challenging, especially when it comes to protecting that PC against security risks. Whether you use a shared PC at home, in a home office, or in a small business, you want to ensure that everyone who uses that machine follows proper security guidelines, and that especially applies to passwords.

Creating a strong and complex password is one of the best ways to protect your account and your PC from any type of compromise or other security threat. You can certainly make sure that your own password is hard to crack, but how can you coax other people who use the same PC to do likewise?

Large companies and enterprises typically set up domains and rely on Group Policy to set password policies. But your average home or even small office isn't likely to go through the trouble of creating and managing domains. No problem. You can still protect your shared computer by using the local security policy in Windows. Available in Windows 10 and 11, the local security policy helps you control a variety of security options for all users of the PC, including password length and complexity.

Many of the settings offered by the local security policy are geared toward domain-based computers. But if you simply want to control a single computer, you can ignore the network-specific settings and focus on the ones for passwords. Using the policy this way will help you better protect a PC shared in a home, a home office, or a small business office. Let's see how this works.

How to set local security policy in Windows

The local security policy is accessible from Windows 10 and 11 and works the same in both versions. You can open or access the local security policy using a few different methods. But the quickest way is through the Search tool. Click the Search field or icon, type secpol.msc, and then press Enter. The local security policy window pops up (Figure 1).

The local security policy in Windows

Set minimum password length

First, you can ensure that anyone who has an account on this computer uses a password of a certain length. Click the right arrow for Account Policies and then select Password Policy. Among the eight options here, double-click the one for Minimum Password Length.

Click the Explain tab to see the details of this setting. By default, the minimum length can be as many as 14 characters. Switch back to the Local Security Setting Tab and enter a number up to 14 to specify the minimum length for a password. Click OK when done (Figure 2).

Set the minimum password length

Set password complexity

More important than password length is complexity, which means requiring users of this shared PC to use passwords with uppercase and lowercase characters, numbers, and non-alphanumeric characters. Double-click the option for Password must meet complexity requirements.

Click the Explain tab to see the requirements for this one. If this policy is enabled, the password can't contain the user's account name and must be at least six characters long. It also must contain characters from any three of the following categories: Uppercase characters, lowercase characters, any number 0 through 9, and non-alphanumeric characters such as ! or #. Go back to the Local Security Setting tab and click the button for Enabled. Click OK (Figure 3).

Enable password complexity

Require password changes

Next, you can make sure that people must change their passwords periodically. Double-click the option for Maximum Password Age. Select the Explain tab to learn how this setting works. Return to the Local Security Setting tab and enter a number to determine how many days someone can use a password before it expires. Depending on your environment, 90 days is typically a good timeframe, so that people have to change their passwords every three months. Click OK (Figure 4).

Set the number of days until a password expires

Enforce password history

Faced with the challenge of changing their passwords periodically, many people will simply recycle older passwords. You can limit this tendency by enforcing a password history. Click the option for Enforce password history. Click the Explain tab to see how this plays out. At the Local Security Setting screen, enter a number between 0 and 24, with 0 meaning that no password will be remembered and 24 meaning that the past two dozen passwords will be remembered and therefore unable to be reused. Click OK (Figure 5).

Enforce a password history

Set lockout policy

Next, you can protect your PC's accounts from compromise by locking them out if the wrong password is entered too many times. Select the setting for Account Lockout Policy and double-click the option for Account lockout threshold.

Click the Explain tab to read the details on this one. Return to the Local Security Setting screen and enter a number between 0 and 999. The number will determine how many times an incorrect password can be entered before the account is locked out. A locked out account then must be reset by an administrator account on that PC. Click OK.

Based on the number you choose, you may see suggestions for the other two options: Account lockout duration and Reset account lockout counter. These two options determine how long the account will be locked out following the specified number of wrong password attempts. Click OK to accept the suggested settings (Figure 6).

Set lockout policy

How strict should you make the password and lockout requirements on your shared PC? That depends on the location and the people using it. For a home PC used by family members, you may want to keep the settings less restrictive. But for a business PC used by employees, you might tighten the requirements. Of course, you can always adjust the settings if they turn out to be too loose or too tight.

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