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Securing the Workstation : Beginning with Basic Security

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4/30/2013 4:58:14 PM

Microsoft, as the provider of Windows, offers several tools and guidelines to secure the information your systems host as well as securing the systems themselves. One excellent example is the Windows Vista Security Guide. It offers a structured way for you to further protect your systems beyond the base protections enabled when you install Windows. However, securing a computer system is more than just applying a set of configurations to the system; it also involves a comprehensive administrative outlook on how systems are used and how people are responsible for them.


Look up the Windows Vista Security Guide at www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsvista/security/guide.mspx.

Microsoft has gone the extra mile to protect their systems just because they are so often under attack. In fact, one of the most important efforts Microsoft has made in terms of security with Windows Vista is to submit the operating system for evaluation against industry standards for security. One of these is the Common Criteria. Vista has been evaluated against the Common Criteria and has passed this security evaluation. Organizations that have very tight security requirements, for example, the Federal Government, can rely on Vista's built-in security features to create highly secure environments. Of course, this level of security is not for everyone, but it is comforting to know that should you require it, you can secure your systems thoroughly.


More information is available on the Common Criteria at www.commoncriteriaportal.org.

Vista also supports Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) approved cryptographic algorithms to secure client/server communications. For even tighter security, Vista implements the Suite B cryptographic algorithms defined by the U.S. government. Because of this, it supports data encryption, digital signatures, key exchanges as well as hashing, which can let third-party vendors create more comprehensive security solutions.


More information on Suite B can be found at www.nsa.gov/ia/industry/crypto_suite_b.cfm. In addition, a good resource site for security and vulnerability information is http://oval.mitre.org/.

Security deals with almost every single aspect of your network. The ultimate goal of your security strategy should always be to protect the information that is stored on your systems. Sometimes this information is the information that makes your organization run; other times, it is your own personal information you want to protect at all times.

Your security strategy should aim to cover the following aspects of computer activity:

  • Each person that enters your network must be identified.

  • Each person who has access to your organization's premises must be cleared and you must provide them with only appropriate levels of access once they are authorized.

  • Your security strategy must implement non-repudiation principles, or otherwise make sure that when someone modifies something it is the person who is authorized to do so.

  • Information in your network must be protected at the appropriate level. For example, confidential information must be kept confidential at all times.

  • Information must also be available when it is needed.

  • Information must have a high degree of integrity.

  • Network activity must be monitored to some degree so that you know that traffic patterns are approved traffic patterns.

  • Access to your systems must be audited so that you know who is doing what when.

  • Your security strategy must be surrounded by the appropriate administrative activities to ensure it is maintained at all times.

Although this list is not comprehensive, it does identify the type of preoccupation you must have in mind when putting together your security strategy. In addition, you need to consider the scope of interaction users will have with your network:

  • Local: When people log on to a system, they interact with it at the local level.

  • Intranet: When people log on to your network, they can interact with all of the systems that are connected with each other. Most often, users will interact with servers offering services and may interact with each other. When the network is internal, it is called the Intranet.

  • Internet: Users will interact with public systems that may or may not belong to you.

  • Extranet: When users connect to your network from outside your premises or when partners interact with components of your network, they interact with your Extranet — a network that is under your control, but that is not part of the internal network.

Whatever its scope, security is an activity (like all IT activities) that relies on three key elements: people, PCs, and processes.

  • People are both the executors and the users of the security process.

  • PCs represent the technology people use to manage information.

  • Processes make up the administrative aspects of the security strategy. They include workflow patterns, procedures, and standards used for the application of security.

Each of these three key elements must integrate with the other to create a strong security strategy.

1. Designing a security policy

Begin your security design for Vista with the design of your security policy. Your policy will encompass several aspects, but at the very least it should cover every aspect of computing, each of the different scopes of interaction, and it should be built upon sound principles and administrative practices. Don't wait until you are the victim of an attack. Act now so if you are attacked, you can mitigate the impact.

Look to your business model. Analyze the processes that make your organization run and identify those that are critical to its operation. This is much like business continuity. Many organizations who do not have a business continuity strategy in place will fail in the event of a major disaster to their datacenter. Although it won't be PC security that will cause a disaster of this magnitude, it is through the PC that most malicious attackers have access to your systems. Consider it as the first point of interaction or the Point of Access to Secure Services (PASS). This is why it must be secured.

Most organizations will already have some form of security policy in place, if so; use it as the starting point of the elaboration of your Vista security strategy. Then update it with new settings and features. Identify which standards you want to implement; include both technical and non-technical processes. For example, you might include technical security parameters when you prepare computers for delivery to end users. In another instance, you might make sure your end users never share their passwords with anyone from within or without your organization. Then, after you have the entire strategy defined, communicate it to your users and provide continuous security communications.

2. Using the Castle Defense System

One good way to make security simpler for everyone in your organization is to use a security model. For example, we have been using the Castle Defense System (CDS) security model for several years now. This model is easy to understand because everyone is more or less familiar with the concepts inherent in the protection of medieval castles. Using a descriptive illustration lets you show your end users, including management, that computer security is a multilayered activity that does not rest only on your shoulders.

In the days when the world was younger, it was also more dangerous. To protect themselves and their belongings, people built castles with multiple layers of protection. There are at least five different layers of protection in all castles. The first layer is the moat. It protects the castle by creating a physical barrier to entry. When the drawbridge is up, no one can enter and when it is down, only authorized people have access. The second level is the walls themselves. They are high and cannot be climbed except under duress. On top of the walls are crenellations that let archers defend from attackers. The third level is the courtyard; it is designed to let defenders fend off attackers because it does not offer cover from their arrows. The fourth level, the castle itself, offers a second massive layer of defense should the walls be breached. Finally, you have the vault that is designed to protect the crown jewels from attackers.

This rudimentary description gives a good impression of how you should defend your own "crown jewels" and ensure that they are protected at all times. It is a good analogy with which you can drive home the concept of multilayered security strategies.

When you transform it into a computer protection mechanism, the Castle Defense System also includes five layers of defense. In addition, like the castle, you begin the in-depth defense strategy from within and expand it to cover all aspects of computer security, as shown in Figure 1.

These five layers include:

  • Layer 1: Critical Information. Identify what you want to protect.

  • Layer 2: Physical Protection. Implement some physical level of protection for your offices.

  • Layer 3: Operating System Hardening. Address the computer systems themselves.

  • Layer 4: Information Access. Apply controls to the people whom you trust to interact with computers within your network.

  • Layer 5: External Access. Control how people outside your own domain can interact with your network and the systems it contains.

And because you must work with people, PCs, and processes, two additional aspects — people and processes — must be included in the CDS to round out your illustration of a complete defense and security strategy.

Using this layered approach also makes it easier to identify what needs to be covered. Of course, before you can design or review your security strategy, you must have a thorough understanding of your own organization. You also need to have a good understanding of the technical components of your IT infrastructure to ensure that you cover them all.

As far as PC security is concerned, you need to address each of the five layers with respect to what does apply and what doesn't apply to these endpoint systems.


The Castle Defense System also applies to servers. For information on how to apply the CDS to server infrastructures, look up Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference by Ruest and Ruest from McGraw-Hill Osborne.

Figure 1. The five layers of the Castle Defense System

3. Building a security plan

Each security strategy includes a security plan. The plan must address more than the security policy itself. It must address how you will manage and update the security policy. In fact, the plan builds upon the first activity — security policy definition — to provide you with a complete approach to security. The next parts of the plan address every day approaches to ongoing security. They include:

  • Defense planning: Mostly a budgeting and project management activity that ensures you will continue to update your defenses.

  • Security monitoring: An activity focused on continuous monitoring of your network to ensure nothing untoward is occurring.

  • Security testing: A final activity that ensures that the protection mechanisms you have in place are appropriate for your requirements.

The security plan and its interaction with the Castle Defense System are shown in Figure 2. As you can see, it is a continuous cycle that comes back to the policy definition when complete. If your testing determines that modifications are required, then you must update the policy, include the update in your planning, continue to monitor the update, and test it and so on. Security is never final and must always be an ongoing activity.

Figure 2. Security management activities

One key focus of the security plan is the understanding of the types of threats you face. Although you may not face all of the known threats, you will face some; therefore, it is better to understand as many as possible so that if they occur, you can to recognize them. Several types of threats exist, including:

  • Accidental security breach: This type of threat often occurs because people are just not aware that they must protect your systems. For example, users from all over the world give out their passwords to people they trust. The next thing you know someone is impersonating the user because they have access to their account. You should make sure your users are aware that they should never give out their password to anyone.

  • Internal attack: Often this attack stems from giving users too much access. This usually occurs because IT administrators believe that anyone having access to the internal network is a trusted person. Because of this, internal resources are not explicitly protected. Therefore, when contractors have access to your network, they also have access to all of your crown jewels.

  • Social engineering attack: This attack derives from people impersonating someone users will trust. For example, sending someone a message from the "Internal Help Desk" and asking them for their credentials is a very common form of social engineering. Make sure that your users don't fall prey to this type of attack. Teach them to always call back if they are not sure they are actually talking to the help desk.

  • Organizational attack: This attack is launched from a competitor — one who wants to have access to your confidential information to gain a competitive advantage over you and your organization.

  • Automated attacks: These attacks are the most common attack type you and your end users will face. Automated programs scan computer ports at various addresses until one of them responds. Then, when they get a response, they begin to identify what type of opening the user has left on. Systems that do not run personal firewalls are excellent examples of the victims of this attack type.

  • Denial of Service (or Distributed Denial of Service) attack: This threat relies on multiple systems to try to overwhelm a service you offer. For example, if someone can overwhelm your Domain Naming Service (DNS), then users may no longer be able to find your organization on the Web.

  • Viral attacks: Viruses or other malicious code is inserted into the organization and begins to infect systems. This is often due to the fact that organizations do not run locked down computer environments. When a user runs with local administrative privileges, anything that can take control of their machine will automatically have the same privileges. Locking down systems prevents many of these attacks.

  • Malicious e-mails and phishing: These attacks try to fool your users into doing something that will compromise your systems. The best defense for this type of attack is a strong offence: make sure your users are educated and won't fall prey to stupid gimmicks.

Although they do not all apply to the PC, each type of attack must be addressed by your security plan.


More information on attack types and defense strategies can be found at Microsoft Security Central at www.microsoft.com/security/default.mspx. Microsoft also publishes a Threats and Countermeasures document at www.microsoft.com/technet/security/guidance/serversecurity/tcg/tcgch00.mspx#EDD. You should also consider accessing Microsoft's Threat Analysis and Modeling Tool (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=86405). This tool lets you enter information about your organization to produce a rich list of the potential threats you may face. The results will let you better understand which aspects of the layers of the CDS you need to concentrate on for your systems.

4. Using the Windows Vista Security Guide

One of the best resources you can rely on to secure your PCs is the Windows Vista Security Guide. This guide includes both textual information as well as tools that help you implement security on PCs running Vista. It assumes that you are running a network in an Active Directory (AD) domain and that you have access to Group Policy to centrally control change on your PCs. It provides a GPO Accelerator — a tool that can generate either Local or Group Policies to further protect systems. When using Group Policy, the tool relies on a specific organizational unit (OU) structure, one where PCs are categorized according to type and are secured according to role.


Microsoft publishes a Group Policy Best Practices Analyzer which can be used to validate all of the GPOs in your network. Find the GPO BPA at http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=940122.

No security strategy for Windows Vista is complete without including contents from this guide. Make sure that you review it fully and incorporate its recommendations in the security strategy you prepare for your PCs.

5. Learning Windows Vista security features

Windows Vista includes a host of new features, many of which are focused on security. In fact, Microsoft's goal with Vista was to rewrite the Windows code to remove as many security flaws as possible. Although it is evident that Microsoft's new Trusted Computing Initiative has borne some fruit, it is almost impossible for an organization to go over millions of lines of code and remove every single flaw that it contains, especially when all too many experts are only happy to prove that they missed something. Despite this, Vista is much more secure than any other Windows operating system has ever been and, with the application of its security features in a judicious manner, you'll be able to make sure breaches of security won't happen in your network.

New security features in Vista include:

  • Service Hardening: Microsoft has reduced the amount of privilege system services include by default. By creating new, restricted services, Vista will not allow attackers who take control of a service to perform tasks for which the service is not designed.

  • Data Execution Prevention (DEP): A system which is built into most modern processors. DEP stops code from using certain memory areas to run malicious software. Vista integrates directly with DEP to ensure that the famous buffer overrun flaw is mitigated on the PCs it runs on.

  • x64 editions: 64-bit editions of Vista also offer more protection than their x86 counterparts. Device drivers must be signed by their manufacturer before they can be installed. This ensures that it has not been tampered with from the time it was written to the time you install it. In addition, x64 systems include PatchGuard, a system that prevents code from modifying the Windows Kernel and ensures that your system runs as it was intended.

  • User Account Control (UAC): With UAC, everyone runs with a standard user token when using Vista, even administrators. UAC makes it easier to run locked down systems because everyone is locked down by default.

  • The Vista Credential Manager: This tool powers the logon architecture, removing the older graphical identification and authentication (GINA) architecture and making it easier for security providers to integrate to the logon process.

  • Smart Cards: The new Credential Manager also makes it easier to integrate Smart Cards to the logon process and with the new cryptographic service provider (CSP), the deployment of smart cards is greatly simplified.

  • Network Access Protection (NAP): This service is built into Vista from the start. You can use the Vista NAP client to integrate with either Cisco's Network Access Control or use a Windows Server 2008 backend to create a full NAP infrastructure. NAP protects your networks by quarantining systems that do not pass health status validations. Once quarantined, systems are updated, and when they have a clean bill of health are allowed access to full network resources.

  • Windows Security Center: This Center provides you with a single integrated control panel for all things secure. If clearly outlines the status of updates, antivirus, anti-malware, and other security features on the Vista system.

  • Windows Defender: A tool which provides built-in protection for malware including spyware and rootkits. Defender automatically obtains updates from Microsoft.com and provides one easy way to clean infected systems.

  • Windows Firewall with Advanced Security: A tool which lets you completely control the inbound and outbound connections on any Vista PC. The Windows Firewall can be completely configured through Group Policy and can provide conditional behavior, letting you configure one behavior for systems connected to the internal network and another for systems that are traveling.

  • The Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool: A tool that runs each month on your systems to ensure no malicious software is lurking in its depths.

  • Internet Explorer version 7: This version of IE also includes a host of security advancements. Its Protected Mode automatically reduces its attack surface when surfing on the Internet. Its ActiveX Opt-In option lets you control the behavior of unauthorized ActiveX code. Other protections include URL handling and cross-domain scripting barriers. The new Fix My Settings command lets users rapidly return to a working IE environment. Also, its new security status bar lets users immediately know it the site is secure (green) or if the site is potentially unsafe (red). And the built-in Phishing Filter lets you know if a site is authentic or not.

  • BitLocker Full Drive Encryption: BitLocker lets you protect the entire system on portable computers so that no content can be stolen in the event of a computer loss.

  • Rights Management Client: The integrated client also helps protect user data by controlling how others can use the information you create.

  • The Encrypting File System (EFS): EFS can now integrate with smart cards and provide more complete protection for information stored on any PC.

  • USB Device Controls: These settings are managed through Group Policy and allow you to completely control which devices can be plugged into your Vista systems. This lets you control who can or cannot use removable disks to copy data from your network.

  • Software Restriction Policies: A tool that lets you control what software is allowed to run in your network. You should apply this to any software installations or scripts you want to allow to run in your network and block all other code from execution.

  • Temporary and Offline Files: These files can now be protected through EFS as well as protecting files while in transit through the Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). This means that the contents of folders such as %tmp% and %temp% is protected at all times, even when the user logs off from the system.

This list includes a series of features that build on all of the security elements Microsoft put into Windows XP especially after the delivery of Service Pack 2. These features make it easier for you to deploy completely secure endpoints.

However, security does not only come from the client. It must be married with services that are rendered by servers. These services differ depending on whether your network is running Windows Server 2003 or 2008. The ideal and most secure combination is obviously Windows Server 2008 with Windows Vista. Nevertheless, running a Windows Server system with Vista should give you access to additional security components.

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