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Securing the Workstation : Applying the Castle Defense System (part 3) - Hardening the system - User Account Control

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3.2 User Account Control

User Account Control is a new feature in Vista. It lets you know each time an administrative task or a task that requires elevated privileges is performed on a computer. Part of the reason for UAC is that when people run with administrative privileges, it is possible for malicious code to execute with high privileges without your knowledge. When you run with UAC, you always know when any event requires elevated privileges because UAC always requests acceptance for the operation. In fact, UAC can display two different types of prompts, as shown in Figures 4 and 5. The prompt in Figure 4 appears when you are already logged on as an administrator. In this case, you only need to approve or decline the operation. The prompt in Figure 5 appears when you are logged on as a standard user. In this case, you must provide both an administrative user name and the corresponding password to allow the operation. A third prompt, shown in Figure 6, appears when a program wants to access administrative rights on your behalf. Here you decide to approve or decline the operation. This third prompt is similar to the one you would see when malicious code tries to infect your system.

As you can see, UAC has its uses and should be part of any Vista security strategy. In fact, your administrators should always run with a standard user account and access their administrative account only when they need to perform a task that requires elevation. To do this, they need to work with the Run As Administrator command, which is available through the context menu of any shortcut.

Figure 4. Working with UAC as an Administrator

Figure 5. Working with UAC as a standard user

Figure 6. Accepting or Denying an Elevation Operation on behalf of a program

Because of its ability to protect your systems, you should not deactivate UAC. You should, however, configure it properly to avoid UAC prompts for your normal users. UAC is configured through Group Policy under Security Settings => Local Policies => Security Options as can be seen in Figure 7. The best way to configure this is to set the User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for standard users: Automatically deny elevation requests to on so that end users will not see any UAC prompts.

Figure 7. Working with the Group Policy Settings for UAC

UAC also disables the default administrator account. Leave this account as is and provide different administrative accounts for your technicians. Taking this step gives you the best opportunity to lock down your computer systems and therefore reduce the number of support calls related to modifications to the base settings you configure for your Vista systems. In some cases, locked down environments have seen a 500 percent reduction in calls related to system configurations. This reduction rate makes a good case for keeping your systems locked as tight as you can. In addition, Vista now lets standard users perform many tasks they could not in previous versions of Windows. They can install signed software, signed software updates, printers, and change clock settings, to name a few. There is no reason to run an unlocked environment when you run Windows Vista.

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