The results of Gates' Trustworthy Computing initiative

Windows Server security services - many would like you to think that's an oxymoron. But there's no question that Windows Server 2003 will be the most secure operating system ever to come out of Redmond.

In January 2002, Bill Gates sent out the famous "Trustworthy Computing" memo to all Microsoft employees. As result, all development on Windows Server 2003 was halted for two months while program managers, engineers and programmers were led through exercises designed to improve their perception of security as it pertained to their product.

Everyone involved with the operating system had to stop and evaluate the security implications of their code. Out of that came a new vision of the importance of secure computing to Microsoft's customers. Perhaps the best illustration of that will be the "out-of-the-box" behavior of Windows Server 2003.

Traditionally, Microsoft products have shipped with their default behavior designed to provide a completely open environment exploiting all of the user-friendly features of the operating system, service or application. Beginning with Win 2K3 that will no longer be the case. Nevertheless, the network manager still must remain vigilant about security.

You cannot connect a server to a network and have it be 100% secure.

The network security manager needs to remember that they need to keep the cost of breaking security higher than the value of the assets that is being secured. Microsoft is now willing to help you and that hasn't always been true. The best example is what Redmond is calling the "Security Configuration Manager" tool set. There's no single application called a Security Configuration Manager, but a plethora of individual tools that define the security configuration and ease its administration.

These include:

* Security Templates, which define a security policy in a template. These templates can be applied to Group Policy or to your local computer. Windows Server 2003 contains a multitude of example templates that you can implement directly or modify to fit your needs.

* Security Settings Extension to Group Policy, which allows you to edit easily and efficiently individual security settings on a domain, site, or organizational unit.

* Local Security Policy, the same functionality for individual security settings on your local computer.

* Secedit Commands, a command line interface that can automate security configuration tasks.

While policies and templates do make it easier to work with security, privileges, rights and trust it can sometimes be an overwhelming task to figure out why the system is behaving the way it is. To me, then, the most important new tool is the Security Configuration and Analysis (SCA) snap-in (for the Microsoft Management Console). This tool allows you to see the effect that a security template will have. Too many times, a manager intent on tightening security has managed to lock himself out of a part of the system. Worse, not knowing the consequences of a particular policy could leave you vulnerable to a user who isn't necessarily larcenous, just inquisitive. Uss the SCA early and often when planning security templates and policies!

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Dave Kearns

Network World
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