Feeds

Windows security begins at the desktop

Beware malware and careless users

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

The risks of desktop computing are now well known. They stem from the growth in financially motivated malware, which aims to steal from the user or from the user's employer.

Malware does this through viruses, worms and Trojans carried by emails, infected websites and so on. However, the tools to combat such attacks are now mature and malware is not a very profitable route into companies savvy enough to have deployed modern security systems and to keep their systems patched and updated.

Assume the worst

An alternative method is to hoodwink users into providing information, in effect working round the technological barriers.

It exploits the assumption made by many corporations that behind the firewall, the actions of employees are benign, or at least unlikely to be malicious. That is an unwise assumption.

Malicious intent can't always be discounted

Apart from the disgruntled employee, there is also the one who inadvertently inserts an infected USB memory device, perhaps aiming to capture passwords, into a PC and spreads the contagion to others on the network, compromising the entire company. Even here, malicious intent can't always be discounted.

Locking down the desktop is essential so that unencrypted USB devices – which includes smartphones – cannot be read.

Windows offers plenty of other ways in the local and group policy editors to prohibit users from performing potentially dangerous tasks such as installing software.

Strong and very long

Passwords are the first line of defence against outsiders. They are not the best way of securing the desktop, so they need to be strong, changed regularly but not too frequently, unique and at least eight characters long.

Note that passwords don't have to be so obscure that the user has to write them down. They just need to be not easily susceptible to automated dictionary hacks. Think of them as pass phrases rather than words.

You should consider implementing a form of two-factor authentication. Devices can include tokens or smart cards, or even users' mobile phones. There are plenty of third-party products out there to supplement Windows' in-built security.

Hard disks should be encrypted using Windows 7's BitLocker technology, which protects against the operating system being bypassed and data being read directly off the drive.

BitLocker also does integrity checking of early boot components to help ensure that the system has not been tampered with. If the machine is TPM 1.2-compliant, that is all you need to do. A USB key can store the BitLocker key on machines that are not TPM-compliant.

Patches and other updates need to be centrally managed and pushed out regularly to users.

For machines that are members of a domain, most of the above can be enforced fairly simply using the group policy editor.

USB ports can be locked down using an administrative template that contains a group policy template, although you should also create a local security policy which applies when the machine is off the network.

Digging deep

Get hold of Microsoft SysInternals too. They are powerful, invaluable tools for digging around in desktop systems, especially for security purposes.

Finally, you need to document your desktop security policies and who is responsible for what. Easy to forget perhaps, but you also need to inform users about what the policies are, why they are is there and how to comply with them.

Then they can mostly manage their own passwords and system security, lifting the burden from IT.

Maintaining security is a huge and never-ending task so this has necessarily been a very short tour of the highlights. Remember that everything is easier with user buy-in. ®

Reducing security risks from open source software

More from The Register

next story
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.