Category Archives: 6897

A better, more reliable, work-around for the Microsoft Video Control Vulnerability

For the past few days I've been following the Microsoft Video Control Vulnerability with interest. Basically, it's another vulnerable ActiveX control that needs killbitted. Last night, Microsoft posted a work-around which involves using a Group Policy ADM template (ADM is the template format that was deprecated in Vista and Windows Server 2008). Unfortunately, the template tattoos the registry, which is not really recommended.

I contemplated for a while writing a work-around for this issue, but then remembered that I actually did; almost three years ago. The workaround I wrote then, for another ActiveX vulnerability will not tattoo the registry, and will be much simpler to deploy with an Enterprise Management System. Just take the CLSIDs from the advisory (there are 45 of them) and run my script that many times with the -k switch. If you wish to revert the change, run the same script with the -r switch.

What I Learned from Attending the Windows Launch Event Today

Today I attended the Microsoft 2008 server wave launch event in Seattle. In the process I learned a number of things:

  1. The launch event apparently does not need to coincide with actually launching anything. Server 2008 launched a couple of months ago. Visual Studio 2008 launched in November 2007, and SQL Server 2008, the third part of the tri-fecta that comprised the launch, will not actually launch until the third quarter this year.
  2. The primary purpose of launch events is apparently to get free junk, and in some cases, other stuff, from a collection of vendors you have never heard of and don't care about. I hung out in the "Ask the Experts" booth for a while, with fellow MVP Alun Jones. I think we answered more questions about "so, what free stuff do you give away" or "would you like to scan my badge for your drawing" than we did on any other topic. We did not actually have any drawing, nor any free stuff to give away other than actual knowledge, or at least, opinions. We answered precious few security questions.
  3. Explaining to people that you are a security "expert" apparently does not stop them from asking you questions about SharePoint.
  4. What the one sausage said to the other sausage in the frying pan (yeah, it was bad, and it is not really worth the bits to relay it)
  5. Windows Firewall with Advanced Security stops malware from spreading on your network. Yes, that's right. I went to the security presentation and, apparently, in conjunction with System Center, Windows Firewall will somehow cause malware to ask for permission before sending your credit card to Russia and your bank account to China. Had I not known already that no host-based firewall can stop malware running  on a computer from sending anything to anyone I might actually have been convinced by this claim. As it were, I was just kind of appalled that Microsoft now officially makes the same ludicrous and impossible claims that the security vendors do.
  6. Network Access Protection (NAP) provides "Secure Access Control" to your network. Apparently it does this by giving your computer a bogus IP address. This means that the domain admin that logs on to a workstation cannot disable the built-in firewall. Yes, that is correct, during the demo, the presenter actually logged on to a Vista client using a domain admin account (bad), and then claimed that NAP can stop the locally logged on user from doing whatever that user possibly pleases to do (untrue).

At that point, I decided I had had enough marketing shill for one day. The event was interesting, and I think most of the attendees got some value out of it in that they learned a little about some new features. however, the NAP issue deserves some additional commentary.

In case you did not know, NAP is a policy compliance feature in Windows Server 2008. It will ask well-meaning clients to provide their state of health before they get to communicate on the network. It can use three different "enforcement" mechanisms. One is DHCP based. The client simply does not get a proper lease. One is IPsec based – the client does not get the proper material to negotiate IPsec security associations. And the third is 802.1x-based – the switch won't open the port to the correct network until the client is considered good.

As you can probably tell, the DHCP based "enforcement" is extremely weak. The user on the client, or some piece of malware, can simply configure a valid IP address and go to town on the network. 802.1x can be easily defeated by installing a hub in front of the switch, letting a legitimate client open the switch port, and then stealing the port by setting your MAC address on a rogue host on the same hub to the same address as the legitimate client. The IPsec enforcement is considerably more difficult to circumvent, but you can still do it by making the NAP client lie.

The short story then, is that NAP still relies on the client to tell the Network Policy Server (NPS) what its state is. If the client lies, the NPS server has no way to know the difference, and will trust it. I actually helped design NAP, years ago, and this was a weakness we were very aware of then, but saw no way around. Yet, NAP is still valuable. It is a great technology to ensure that compliant clients stay compliant; that non-malilcious clients have all the necessary policies deployed, the right patches installed, the correct anti-malware software running and updated, and so on. Every network security administrator should definitely spend some time with NAP and consider whether it could provide another valuable tool in their arsenal.

However, NAP does NOT provide "Secure Access Control" to the network. It does not do so because it cannot provide true security. It cannot prevent malicious clients from getting on the network. Unless it is used with IPsec enforcement, in conjunction with Server and/or Domain Isolation, it also cannot prevent a malicious client from communicating with any other computer on the network. None of that makes it useless, nor does it mean that it is not a security technology. Policy enforcement, even when only on clients that choose to comply, is still a security concern, and a valid objective. Keeping managed clients managed is important. However, it is also really important that we understand the limitations of the technologies we are using, which is why I wrote this post.

Q&A with Amazon about the Server 2008 Security Resource Kit

Yesterday the editor from the IT section at sent me some questions about the Windows Server 2008 Security Resource Kit. The answers will eventually go on the book detail page.

The questions, particularly questions 3 – 6, were interesting and thought-provoking, so I thought I would post them here as well.

Question 1:
The credentials of the contributors to Windows Server 2008 Security Resource Kit are quite impressive (six of the 12 are Microsoft MVPs, and the others are all either current or former product group employees at Microsoft). How important was it to assemble such a group for this title?

Answer 1:
In my opinion, it was necessary. Server products are necessarily complex, and security, by its very nature, requires a very broad understanding of the product. Developing that understanding in a single person is possible, but very time consuming and still does not lead to the breadth of perspective that you find in a group of people. No single person can truly understand both what it is like to implement Active Directory in a 50,000 seat organization, and how to run a 50-seat small business network long-term, and neither of them is probably going to also be one of the world's foremost experts on implementing public key cryptography infrastructures. By putting together this world-wide team of experts (representing four countries on three continents) we were able to produce a resource that had far more depth and breadth of knowledge than would otherwise have been possible, and you get the expertise of 12 of the foremost experts on Windows Security in a single package.

Question 2:
What extras are available on the Resource Kit CD?

Answer 2:
First, you get a bonus chapter on Rights Management Services, as well as an electronic copy of the entire book. I am very excited about the electronic copy because it provides a searchable way to read the book. These types of books are always used as references and being able to search it is very valuable.

You also get some tools that may come in handy for managing servers. Scripting Guru Ed Wilson wrote some custom PowerShell scripts specifically for this book to manage user accounts and other security related aspects of your deployment. In addition, I wrote a couple of tools for the book. One is my password generator, which I first made available several years ago. It enables you to manage unique administrator account passwords and service account passwords on hundreds or thousands of servers on a network. I also included my elevation tools, which allow you to launch an elevated instance of Windows Explorer, as well as elevating any command you want from the command line. Having worked with User Account Control (UAC) daily for about two years I find that one of the biggest impediments to running under UAC is the multiple prompts you get when you perform many file operations. As an administrator, that is a very common task. Elevating Windows Explorer lets you do those operations with a single elevation prompt, and still leave UAC turned on.

Question 3:
Comparing the two programs, what are some of the fundamental differences between Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003?

Answer 3:
To me, the biggest difference is the fact that while Windows Server 2003 was built under the security best practices of 2002, Windows Server 2008 incorporates all the secure development practices Microsoft learned in the five years since. The field of secure software development has progressed immensely between 2002 and 2007, and incorporating them will make Windows Server 2008 much more able to stand up to the threats we will see in the next five years. By the way, it is with a heavy heart that I say that, as I worked hard on security in Windows Server 2003, but it is true.

Apart from the engineering process, the first thing people will notice is the completely new management model in Windows Server 2008. Instead of installing a lot of separate components, you now deploy roles to the server. This makes a lot of sense because the roles are what you bought the server to fill. By implementing that metaphor in the management tools the risk for misconfiguration is greatly reduced.

The new kernel features are also very important and will make a big difference for many. First, the new virtualization features are fundamentally going to change how we build and run data centers. The improvements in security, reliability, and performance in the kernel features, such as thread scheduling, and in the networking features, such as the new network file system, also are going to be valuable to many.

Question 4:
What do you feel is the biggest security oversight made by network admins?

Answer 4:
Put a slightly different way, the area where I see the most room for improvement is in security posture management. Administrators are far too focused on vulnerabilities and on the types of "hardening" tweaks that were useful in the 1990s, when software shipped wide open by default. Today, those things are not nearly as important as it is to manage the security posture of your servers. Far too many administrators still believe in the perimeter and fail to recognize that just about every organizational network today is semi-hostile, at best. The biggest security oversight is not to analyze and manage the threats posed to servers by other actors on the network. The Security Resource Kit goes into depth in discussing what I refer to as Network Threat Modeling, as the analysis phase of Server and Domain Isolation – probably the most powerful security tool in the arsenal today. Yet, the proportion of networks that use these tools is infinitesimal.

Question 5:
What are your thoughts on the constant hype surrounding potential security flaws in Vista?

Answer 5:
As I have written elsewhere ( I fail to see any data backing up the argument. Certainly, there have been flaws in Vista – and anyone who expected it to be flawless was unrealistic – but the improvements are tremendous over Windows XP. Windows Vista has about half as many critical problems as Windows XP in the same time-frame. I'm not sure that it would have been reasonable to expect it to perform much better than that given how large and complex modern software is and how fast the security landscape is moving.

Therefore, I have to think that the reasons for the hype are something other than data. The popular press seems to operate on the assumption that complaining about Microsoft generates advertising revenue, and they are probably correct. The fact of the matter today is that a significant portion of the software industry, specifically the security portion, has built its business almost exclusively on selling software that purports to protect Microsoft's customers from Microsoft's screw-ups. It is simply terrifying to it, and a grave threat to its business model, that Microsoft should actually manage to produce software, and particularly operating systems, that are so secure they do not need most of the products that portion of the industry sells.

The popular press, being a largely advertising funded business, has happily latched on to this perception and boosted the unsubstantiated claims of Windows Vista's vulnerability to the benefit of their major advertisers. It is truly a sick eco-system that harms the customer in both the short and long term. The threats today, as I mentioned above, are trending toward the types of things that the security software industry cannot protect against. The new threats are against people, and the focus needs to shift to helping people make better security decisions and take responsibility for their own actions. Unfortunately, the current unsubstantiated hype about Windows Vista is not about protecting customers, it is about selling unnecessary security software and inculcating users and IT managers alike in the belief that they must buy third party software to run Windows safely; a belief that, with a few notable exceptions, such as anti-virus software, is falsified  by the data. In fact, the hype has even lead to a huge growth industry in malicious, fake, security software. I have seen a lot of people lured by the hype into buying security software that is not security software at all, but simply malware in disguise. The average consumer, inundated with hype, is unable to make out what to really believe. This sick ecosystem is harmful and the press and the pundits are not helping, but only increasing the hype.

Question 6:
In your opinion, which network faces the biggest security risks today:  the small office with multiple power users or large corporation with a large LUA base?

Answer 6:
The unmanaged networks. I have seen very well managed and very secure networks in both small and large organizations, and I have seen poorly managed and very insecure networks in both as well. It is not really a matter of size but of how much time and effort is put into the security aspects of it. One of the largest weaknesses seems to be training. Security today is about end-points. The attacks are against people far more prevalent than those against technology and vulnerabilities. We need to, as an industry, understand how to push the security out to the assets that we are trying to protect. In the past we have centralized security because it was a way to centralize management of security. The challenge now is to de-centralize security, while still permitting centralized management. This is a non-trivial task, but it must be done. As a starting point, I dare every IT manager to start analyzing the risks to his or her network, and specifically, what it is they want the network to be used for. Once you understand what it is you want the network to provide you have a chance to work on making it provide that and nothing else. To me, that is the most important thing we can do. A properly staffed IT group, with adequate training and resources to train its users, an organizational mandate to protect the organization's assets, and a keen understanding of the business they serve will build a network that is adequately secured regardless of the size of the network. Windows Server 2008 certainly provides some very powerful technologies to help you manage security in your network, but while that is a necessary component, it is insufficient by itself. At a very base level, it is about the people and the processes you have, more than about the technology. Technology will help, but it is just a tool that your people will implement using a process that helps or hurts.

Resource Kit Done!

Last Friday the last of the Windows Server 2008 Security Resource Kit finally went to press! This was a project I had not really planned and so, to complete it in time, I brought in an amazing crew of co-authors. Together, we managed to put together 17 chapters on how to manage security in one of the most exciting products this year.

 The contributors to the Security Resource Kit are:

  • Jimmy Andersson – Principal Advisor at Q Advice AB and Microsoft Active Directory MVP
  • Susan Bradley – Small Business Server MVP
  • Darren Canavor – Software Architect in the Windows Security group at Microsoft
  • Kurt Dillard – Consultant, and former Program Manager in the Microsoft Solutions for Security group
  • Eric Fitzgerald – Currently on the Forefront team, and formerly program manager for the auditing sub-system in Windows
  • Roger Grimes – Consultant in the ACE team at Microsoft
  • Byron Hynes – Enterprise Technology Strategist at Microsoft
  • Alun Jones – Creator of WFTPD, and Microsoft Security MVP
  • Brian Komar – President of IdentIT, Inc and Microsoft Security MVP
  • Brian Lich – Senior Technical Writer at Microsoft
  • Darren Mar-Elia – Founder and CTO of SDM Software, and Microsoft Group Policy MVP

The book has 16 chapters plus a bonus chapter on Rights Management Services on the CD. The chapters in the book are:

  1. Subjects, Users, and Other Actors
  2. Authenticators and Authentication Protocols
  3. Objects: The Stuff You Want
  4. Understanding UAC
  5. Windows Firewall(s)
  6. Services
  7. Group Policy
  8. Auditing
  9. Designing Active Directory Domain Services for Security
  10. Implementing Active Directory Certificate Services
  11. Securing Server Roles
  12. Patch Management
  13. Managing Security Dependencies to Secure Your Network
  14. Securing the Branch Office
  15. Small Business Considerations
  16. Securing Server Applications

As with my Protect Your Windows Network book, there are some assorted goodies on the CD. The first one is a much improved version of the command line elevation tool that I wrote for Windows Vista Security. It now includes not just command line elevation capability, but I also added the ability to launch an elevated Windows Explorer window. The easiest way to do that is by right-clicking the folder and selecting "Elevate Explorer Here" as shown here:

The ability to elevate Windows Explorer was not included in Windows Vista, nor in Windows Server 2008, because Explorer is not really designed to be run in multiple instances in the same session. However, I find that it works quite well in spite of that, and it is extremely useful when you need to perform multiple file operations requiring elevation.

Note the little green dot in the window above. It shows me what privileges I am running with and is provided by Aaron Margosis' most excellent Privbar tool. I highly recommend using it with the Elevation Tools so you can keep track of which windows are elevated.

The Security Resource Kit CD also comes with 15 custom-written PowerShell scripts, and an electronic version of the entire book, as well as some assorted other pieces.

All in all, I am really happy with it. I hope you will like it too.