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Security in Windows Vista : Architectural and Internal Windows Vista Security Improvements (part 2)

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Authorization Manager

Authorization Manager (AzMan.msc) is now included with Windows Vista. Windows Authorization Manager (AzMan) is an application Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) framework for applications that integrate the AzMan framework. AzMan provides a Role-based MMC user interface and development interfaces. AzMan has the following benefits for application administrators and developers:

  • Common RBAC Administration An easy-to-use, common, role-based administrative experience; administrators learn fewer authorization models and require less training.

  • Natural Role-based Development Model Easy to integrate with native or managed applications; provides broad RBAC management and enforcement functionality.

  • Flexible Authorization Rules Offers the ability to define membership through dynamic Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) queries or custom rules.

  • Centralized Administration Multiple applications can be managed centrally and leverage common application groups.

  • Flexible Storage Options Policy can be stored in Active Directory, XML files, or SQL Server.

  • Platform Integration and Alignment Offers support for platform features such as Active Directory groups and attributes and Windows security auditing, as well as assurance of proper integration of system access control objects such as the NT access token and better alignment for future Windows access control features and products.

  • Reduced Software Development and Maintenance Costs Developers avoid the expense or tradeoffs of custom access control. AzMan does the expensive work of a full-featured authorization solution, including a complete RBAC model, policy storage (within Active Directory, SQL, or XML), an MMC user interface, built-in application group support, rule and query support, integrated system auditing, and performance optimizations.

  • Enhanced Security Platform technologies are rigorously tested, broadly used, and continually refined. A common RBAC model leverages administrators’ existing knowledge, resulting in fewer access control mistakes.

Previously, developers had to create a custom user interface for enabling administrators to control security features of an application. Alternatively, organizations had to rely on developers to make changes to the code to enforce authorization restrictions. AzMan provides abstractions that allow developers to integrate low-level application operations and preserve the ability of application administrators to define roles and tasks without requiring code changes.

Authorization Manager is also included with Windows Server 2003 and can be installed on Windows XP computers. For more information about Authorization Manager, refer to the Windows Server 2003 Help and Support.

Network Access Protection Client

Most networks have perimeter firewalls to help protect the internal network from worms, viruses, and other attackers. However, attackers can penetrate your network through remote access connections (such as a VPN) or by infecting a mobile PC, and then spreading to other internal computers after the mobile PC connects to your local area network (LAN).

Windows Vista, when connecting to a Windows Server Code-Name “Longhorn” infrastructure, supports Network Access Protection (NAP) to reduce the risk of attackers entering through remote access and LAN connections using Windows Vista’s built-in NAP client software. If a Windows Vista computer lacks current security updates, virus signatures, or otherwise fails to meet your requirements for a healthy computer, NAP can block the computer from reaching your internal network.

However, if a computer fails to meet the requirements to join your network, the user doesn’t have to be left frustrated. Client computers can be directed to an isolated quarantine network to download updates, antivirus signatures, or configuration settings required to comply with your health requirements policy. Within minutes, a potentially vulnerable computer can be protected and once again allowed to connect to your network.

NAP is an extensible platform that provides an infrastructure and API for health-policy enforcement. Independent hardware and software vendors can plug their security solutions into NAP so that IT administrators can choose the security solutions that meet their unique needs. NAP helps to ensure that every machine on the network makes full use of those custom solutions.

Microsoft will also release NAP client support for Windows XP SP2. For more information about Network Access Protection, see http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itsolutions/network/nap/default.mspx.

Web Services for Management

Web Services for Management (WS-Management) makes Windows Vista easier to manage remotely. An industry-standard web services protocol for protected remote management of hardware and software components, WS-Management—along with the proper software tools—allows administrators to remotely run scripts and perform other management tasks. In Windows Vista, communications can be both encrypted and authenticated, limiting security risks. Microsoft management tools such as Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 use WS-Management to provide safe and secure management of both hardware and software.

Crypto Next Generation (CNG) Services

Cryptography is a critical component of Windows authentication and authorization services, which use cryptography for encryption, hashing, and digital signatures. Windows Vista delivers Crypto Next Generation (CNG) services, which was requested by many governments and organizations. CNG allows new algorithms to be added to Windows for use in Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) and Internet Protocol security (IPsec). Windows Vista also includes a new security processor to enable trust decisions for services such as rights management.

For organizations that are required to use specific cryptography algorithms and approved libraries, CNG is an absolute requirement.

Data Execution Prevention (DEP)

One of the most commonly used techniques for exploiting vulnerabilities in software is the buffer overflow attack. A buffer overflow occurs when an application attempts to store too much data in a buffer, and memory not allocated to the buffer is overwritten. An attacker might be able to intentionally induce a buffer overflow by entering more data than the application expects. A particularly crafty attacker can even enter data that instructs the operating system to run the attacker’s malicious code with the application’s privileges.

Perhaps the most well-known buffer overflow exploit in recent years is the CodeRed worm, which exploited a vulnerability in an Index Server Internet Server Application Programming Interface (ISAPI) application shipped as part of an earlier version of Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) to run malicious software. The impact of the CodeRed worm was tremendous, and could have been prevented by the presence of Data Execution Prevention (DEP).

DEP marks sections of memory as containing either data or application code. The operating system will not run code contained in memory marked for data. User input—and data received across a network—should always be stored as data, and would therefore not be eligible to run as an application.

32-bit versions of Windows Vista include a software implementation of DEP that can prevent memory not marked for execution from running. 64-bit versions of Windows Vista work with the 64-bit processor’s built-in DEP capabilities to enforce this security at the hardware layer, where it would be very difficult for an attacker to circumvent.


DEP provides an important layer of security for protection from malicious software. However, it must be used alongside other technologies, such as Windows Defender, to provide sufficient protection to meet business requirements.

As Figure 2 shows, DEP is enabled by default in both 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows Vista. By default, DEP protects only essential Windows programs and services to provide optimal compatibility. For additional security, you can protect all programs and services.

Figure 2. You can enable or disable DEP from the Performance Options dialog box or from Group Policy settings.

Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR)

Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) is another defense capability in Windows Vista that makes it harder for malicious code to exploit a system function. Whenever a Windows Vista computer is rebooted, ASLR randomly assigns executable images (.dll and .exe files) included as part of the operating system to one of 256 possible locations in memory. This makes it harder for exploit code to locate and therefore take advantage of functionality inside the executables.

Windows Vista also introduces improvements in heap buffer overrun detection that are even more rigorous than those introduced in Windows XP SP2. When signs of heap buffer tampering are detected, the operating system can immediately terminate the affected program, limiting damage that might result from the tampering. This protection technology is enabled for operating system components, including built-in system services, and can also be leveraged by ISVs through a single API call.

New Logon Architecture

Logging onto Windows provides access to local resources (including EFS-encrypted files) and, in Active Directory environments, protected network resources. Many organizations require more than a user name and password to authenticate users. For example, they might require multifactor authentication using both a password and biometric identification or a one-time password token.

In Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows, implementing custom authentication methods required developers to completely rewrite the Graphical Identification and Authentication (GINA) interface. Often, the effort required did not justify the benefits provided by strong authentication, and the project was abandoned. Additionally, Windows XP only supported a single GINA.

With Windows Vista, developers can now provide custom authentication methods by creating a new Credential Provider. This requires significantly less development effort, meaning more organizations will offer custom authentication methods for Windows Vista.

The new architecture also enables Credential Providers to be event-driven and integrated throughout the user experience. For example, the same code used to implement a fingerprint authentication scheme at the Windows logon screen can be used to prompt the user for a fingerprint when accessing a particular corporate resource. The same prompt also can be used by applications that use the new credential user interface API.

Additionally, the Windows logon user interface can use multiple Credential Providers simultaneously, providing greater flexibility for environments that might have different authentication requirements for different users.

Rights Management Services (RMS)

Microsoft Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) is an information-protection technology that works with RMS-enabled applications to help safeguard digital information from unauthorized use both inside and outside your private network. RMS provides persistent usage policies (also known as usage rights and conditions) that remain with a file no matter where it goes. RMS persistently protects any binary format of data, so the usage rights remain with the information—even in transport—rather than merely residing on an organization’s network.

RMS works by encrypting documents and then providing decryption keys only to authorized users with an approved RMS client. To be approved, the RMS client must enforce the usage rights assigned to a document. For example, if the document owner has specified that the contents of the document should not be copied, forwarded, or printed, the RMS client will not allow the user to take these actions.

In Windows Vista, RMS is now integrated with the new XML Paper Specification (XPS) format. XPS is an open, cross-platform document format that helps customers effortlessly create, share, print, archive, and protect rich digital documents. With a new print driver that outputs XPS, any application can produce XPS documents that can be protected with RMS. This basic functionality will significantly broaden the range of information that can be protected by RMS.

The 2007 Microsoft Office system provides even deeper integration with RMS through new developments in Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint administrators can set access policies for the SharePoint document libraries on a per-user basis that will be inherited by RMS policies. This means that users who have “view-only” rights to access the content will have that “view-only” access (no print, copy, or paste) enforced by RMS, even when the document has been removed from the SharePoint site. Enterprise customers can set usage policies that are enforced not only when the document is at rest, but also when the information is outside the direct control of the enterprise.

While the Rights Management Services components are built into Windows Vista, they can only be used with a rights management infrastructure and an application that supports RMS, such as Microsoft Office. The RMS client can also be installed on Windows 2000 and later operating systems. 

Multiple Local Group Policy Objects

As an administrator, you can now apply multiple Local Group Policy objects to a single computer. This simplifies configuration management, because you can create separate Group Policy objects for different roles and apply them individually, just as you can in with Active Directory Group Policy objects. For example, you might have a Group Policy object for computers that are members of the Marketing group, and a separate Group Policy object for mobile computers. If you need to configure a mobile computer for a member of the Marketing group, you can simply apply both local Group Policy objects, rather than creating a single local Group Policy object that combines all of the settings.

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