Written by David Balaban

Cortana is a smart digital assistant integrated in Windows 10. It can recognize a user’s voice, sync phone notifications with a computer, set reminders, and answer questions based on data from Bing, Microsoft’s proprietary search engine. Even with the original setup unaltered, Cortana is a handy tool that can make your life easier. Not everyone knows, though, that a bit of customization can take its high-tech potential up a notch and harden the not-so-great MS user security.

Keep Cortana ready to respond at all times

Similarly to competing products – Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and Amazon Alexa – Cortana has a wake phrase. By default, your device is configured to react when you say “Hey Cortana.” If you go to Cortana settings in Windows 10, you can modify the associated parameters.

Go to the Start menu, select Settings and proceed to the Cortana section. Then, click on the Talk to Cortana option in the left-hand part of the window. Locate the parameter that goes, “Let Cortana respond to Hey Cortana.” If the switch is in the Off position, toggle it on.

Once this feature is enabled, several more options show up underneath it. One of them prevents the machine from sleeping when it’s plugged in so that it instantly reacts to the “Hey Cortana” phrase. Make sure this setting is enabled to save time when interacting with your device.

Make Cortana respond to no one but you

When you are using your Windows 10 device in a place with a lot of people around, you don’t want it to react to somebody else’s voice. In order to thwart scenarios where another person can give commands to your computer, go ahead and tweak some settings.

Go back to the Talk to Cortana controls under Windows 10 Settings. You will see two radio buttons, namely “Respond when anyone says Hey Cortana” and “Try to respond only to me”. The former is enabled by default. To take advantage of the latter, though, you need to click on the “Learn how I say Hey Cortana” first and follow further instructions that appear. You will be given six phrases to repeat, doing which will help the system get familiar with your voice. When done with the training, you will be able to select the second radio button and enjoy Cortana’s voice recognition feature.

Explore the permissions

You are always better off scrutinizing access permissions of the applications you use a lot, especially ones as sophisticated as Cortana. This virtual assistant normally accesses various data on your machine in order to enhance your experience and improve its own functionality.

To familiarize yourself with the scope of these permissions and revise them, go to Settings, select Cortana, and click on Permissions & History. On the pane that opens, you can modify what Cortana knows about you in the cloud and, most importantly, control the data it can access from the current device and other devices.

Click on the link that says, “Manage the information Cortana can access from this device.” On the linked-to screen, you can define access permissions related to your contacts, calendar, and email. Also, there is an option to grant access to your web surfing history – this one will improve the accuracy of search results by making them more personalized. Notice that each one of these permissions has a brief explanation next to it regarding what exactly Cortana will be authorized to do if the item is toggled on.

Define a keyboard shortcut

Sometimes it’s not convenient to pronounce the “Hey Cortana” phrase every time you want to activate the virtual assistant. There is an option that addresses scenarios like that, allowing you to set a keyboard shortcut to make the program listen to you. Here’s how to do it: go to the Talk to Cortana pane, find the Keyboard Shortcut subsection, and enable the functionality by sliding the switch to the right. This will let you wake Cortana by pressing the Windows key and C button simultaneously.

Keep Cortana responsive even with the screen locked

The obvious benefit of using the lock screen boils down to security and privacy as it prevents unsanctioned access to your machine, requiring credentials that only you know. In Windows 10, the lock screen is a flexible entity that allows you to change its background image and add some extra applications to it. You can get Cortana embedded in it as well.

Once again, go to the Talk to Cortana interface under the program’s settings and scroll down to the Lock Screen section. Spot the function called “Use Cortana even when my device is locked” and switch it on. The Lock Screen area also allows you to indicate what information the virtual assistant can use when the screen is locked, so take your time and examine those privileges too.

Specify SafeSearch filters

Cortana goes equipped with SafeSearch, a feature reminiscent of the classic parental controls delivered by most Internet Security suites. You can configure it to filter out adult content from web results so that your kids don’t bump into something embarrassing on the Internet.

Go to the Permissions & History pane under Cortana settings and locate the SafeSearch area there. You will see three radio buttons for different filtering modes: Strict, Moderate, and Off. The Moderate parameter is the default one. It excludes adult images and videos from search results but allows text content to be displayed. You can keep this one toggled on or enable another option based on your preferences.

The above settings are a no-brainer to navigate and customize, but the results will definitely improve your experience and add an extra layer of security to your computing routine.

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