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ITL Bulletin for November 2005




ITL Bulletin for November 2005
ITL Bulletin for November 2005



Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon  

ITL Bulletin for November 2005

SECURING MICROSOFT WINDOWS XP SYSTEMS: NIST RECOMMENDATIONS 
FOR USING A SECURITY CONFIGURATION CHECKLIST
Shirley Radack, Editor
Computer Security Division
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Technology Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce

Organizations can strengthen the security of their local Windows XP
workstations, mobile computers, and telecommuter systems when their
system administrators apply information technology (IT) security
configuration checklists as part of an established security program.
NIST's Information Technology Laboratory has issued guidance to assist
the trained and experienced system administrators who are responsible
for the administration and security of Windows XP systems that are
used in a variety of environments including the small office, the home
office, and managed enterprise settings.

Checklists of security settings are useful tools that have been
developed to guide IT administrators and security personnel in
selecting effective security settings that will reduce the risks of
Internet connections and protect systems from attacks. A checklist,
sometimes called a security configuration guide, lockdown guide,
hardening guide, security technical implementation guide, or
benchmark, is basically a series of instructions for configuring an IT
product to an operational environment.  Checklists can be effective in
reducing vulnerabilities to systems, especially for small
organizations with limited resources. IT vendors often create
checklists for their own products, but other organizations such as
consortia, academic groups, and government agencies have also
developed them.

The NIST Checklist Program

Working with other government agencies, with IT product vendors, and
with private industry, NIST is managing a program to make checklists
readily available and to encourage the exchange of information about
checklists. The Cyber Security Research and Development Act of 2002
designated NIST "to develop and revise, as necessary, a checklist
setting forth settings and option selections that minimize the
security risks associated with each computer hardware or software
system that is, or is likely to become, widely used within the Federal
Government." NIST's checklist program supports the development, test,
review, and dissemination of information about security configuration
checklists for IT products, such as operating systems, database
systems, web servers, e-mail servers, firewalls, routers, intrusion
detection systems, virtual private networks servers, biometric
devices, smart cards, telecommunication switching devices, and web
browsers. For more information about this effort, see NIST Special
Publication (SP) 800-70, Security Configuration Checklists Program for
IT Products, the June 2005 bulletin in the ITL bulletin series, and
the checklists website: http://csrc.nist.gov/checklists/index.html. 

Guidance for Securing Microsoft Windows XP Systems for IT
Professionals: A NIST Security Configuration Checklist

NIST's Information Technology Laboratory has published Special
Publication (SP) 800-68, Guidance for Securing Microsoft Windows XP
Systems for IT Professionals: A NIST Security Configuration Checklist:
Recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The guide assists IT professionals, and particularly Windows XP system
administrators and information security personnel, in securing Windows
XP Professional systems running Service Pack 2 (SP2). Released in
August 2004, Service Pack 2 contains changes that affect the security
of Windows XP Professional systems and is considered a major upgrade
to those systems. The recommendations in the guide do not apply to
Windows XP Home systems running Service Pack 2.  NIST plans to develop
separate guidance for these systems.

Written by Murugiah Souppaya, Karen Kent, and Paul M.  Johnson, NIST
SP 800-68 discusses the security components offered by Windows XP
Professional SP2 and provides guidance on installing, backing up, and
patching Windows XP systems. It also discusses security policy
configurations, presents an overview of the settings in accompanying
security templates, and provides information on how to apply
additional security settings that are not included in the security
templates. Tested and secure settings are recommended for popular
office productivity applications, web browsers, e-mail clients,
personal firewalls, anti-virus software, and spyware detection and
removal utilities on Windows XP systems to protect these systems
against viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and other types of malicious
code.

The Windows XP checklist guide is available in electronic format from
the NIST Computer Security Resource Center at
http://csrc.nist.gov/itsec/. Also available from this web page is NIST 
SP 800-43, The Systems Administration Guidance for Windows 2000
Professional, which recommends tested secure settings and includes
configuration templates and security checklists for Windows 2000
Professional systems.  NIST SP 800-43 provides detailed information
about the security features of the Windows 2000 Professional system,
security configuration guidelines for popular applications, and
security configuration guidelines for the operating system.

Operational Environments

NIST has identified four types of operational environments to help
developers to target their checklists to the security baselines that
are associated with the different environments. Users can select the
checklists that are most appropriate for their operating environments.
NIST SP 800-68 recommends secure settings for Windows XP workstations
in these four types of operational environments.

* Small Office/Home Office (SOHO), sometimes called Standalone,
  describes small, informal computer installations that are used for
  home or business purposes.  SOHO encompasses a variety of
  small-scale environments and devices, ranging from laptops, mobile
  devices, or home computers, to telecommuting systems located on
  broadband networks, to small businesses and small branch offices of
  a company. These environments, which generally focus on
  functionality and ease of use, may be less secure than the others,
  and may be supported by less experienced system administrators.

* Enterprise environments are sometimes referred to as managed
  environments that are structured in terms of hardware and software
  configurations. These environments, consisting of centrally managed
  workstations and servers, are usually protected from Internet
  threats by firewalls and other network security devices. Generally,
  a skilled staff supports users and provides security from initial
  system deployment through system maintenance. The structure and the
  staff contribute to the implementation and maintenance of consistent
  security practices.

* Specialized Security-Limited Functionality environments are at high
  risk of attack or data exposure, and therefore security takes
  precedence over usability.  These environments include computers
  that are usually limited in their functionality to specific
  specialized purposes and that may contain highly confidential
  information, such as personnel records, medical records, and
  financial information. These computers also may perform vital
  organizational functions such as accounting and payroll processing.
  Providing sufficiently strong protection for these systems often
  involves a substantial tradeoff between security and functionality
  based on the premise that more than strictly necessary functionality
  provides more opportunity for exploitation. This can result in a
  significant reduction in system functionality and a higher risk of
  applications breaking, thus causing increased costs for system
  support. Because of the tradeoffs and complexities, a
  security-limited environment is not recommended for most SOHO users
  who are managing their own systems but may want better security. In
  most cases, the specialized security-limited functionality
  environment is not suitable for widespread enterprise usage.

* Legacy environments contain older systems or applications that often
  use older, less secure communication mechanisms.  Other systems
  operating in a legacy environment may need less restrictive security
  settings so that they can communicate with legacy systems and
  applications. Using legacy services increases the potential risk of
  security breaches, as does lowering the security profile of other
  systems that need to interact with legacy systems. Legacy
  environments may exist within the SOHO and the enterprise
  environments, and in rare cases, within specialized security-limited
  functionality environments as well.

Security Templates

The guide for Windows XP systems includes security templates to enable
system administrators to apply the security recommendations rapidly.
The templates are text-based configuration files that specify values
for security-relevant system settings, and that involve Windows XP
policy areas, including password policy, account lockout policy,
auditing policy, user rights assignment, system security options,
event log policy, system service settings, and file permissions. The
NIST template for Specialized Security-Limited Functionality
environments represents the consensus settings from the Center for
Internet Security (CIS), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA),
Microsoft, NIST, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the United
States Air Force (USAF). The other NIST templates are based on
Microsoft's templates and recommendations.

The templates and additional settings have been tested for their
impact on both security and functionality. The NIST Windows XP
Security Templates were developed to strengthen the security of
Windows XP workstation configurations.  However, since every system
and environment is unique, system administrators should perform their
own testing.  Specific settings may have to be modified because they
might reduce the functionality or usability of a system, interfere
with legacy applications, or conflict with local policies.

The templates should be thoroughly tested on representative systems
before widespread deployment, and a full system backup should be
performed before the recommendations are applied. To apply the
templates to systems, administrators can use the Security
Configuration and Analysis Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in
for a local system, compare a template's settings to the existing
settings on a system, and identify discrepancies. In a Windows XP
domain environment, the Group Policy Editor can be used to distribute
security settings quickly from templates to computers in an Active
Directory Organizational Unit (OU).  Also the Group Policy Management
Console (GPMC) can be used to manage Group Policy for multiple
domains, and to import, edit, and apply security templates to Windows
systems throughout an enterprise.

NIST Recommendations

System administrators should begin the process of securing Windows XP
workstations from a clean formatted state. The installation process
should be performed on a secure network segment or off the
organization's network until the security configuration is completed,
all patches are applied, and strong passwords are set for all
accounts.  After systems have been installed and securely configured,
they should be regularly monitored and patched when software
vulnerabilities are identified, and when new patches, policies, and
procedures are issued.

The recommendations include measures for testing and configuring
common Windows applications, such as office productivity tools, web
browsers, e-mail clients, personal firewalls, anti-virus software, and
spy-ware detection and removal utilities. This list is not intended to
be a complete list of applications to install on Windows XP, nor does
NIST endorse particular products. The configuration settings for
applications focus on deterring viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and
other malicious code. The recommendations can help to protect Windows
XP systems from malicious code when the applications are being used.

The settings and recommendations assist organizations in making their
Windows XP systems more secure, and provide system administrators with
the information necessary to modify the settings and to comply with
local policy or special situations. The baseline recommendations and
settings provide a high level of security for Windows XP Professional
systems when used in conjunction with a sound and comprehensive local
security policy and other relevant security controls. The
recommendations are also appropriate for managed environments that are
configuring and deploying laptops for mobile users and desktop
computers for telecommuters.

NIST recommends that the IT professionals using the Windows XP
checklist review all of the material provided in the guide, as well as
the recommended references. Decisions to install and patch the
operating system, to use and modify the security templates, and to
apply additional controls should be made in accordance with the
principles of sound system administration.

Using Checklists as Security Controls

The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)  requires that
federal agencies carry out a risk-based approach to information
security. To support agencies in conducting their information security
programs, FISMA called for NIST to develop federal standards for the
security categorization of federal information and information systems
according to risk levels, and for minimum security requirements for
information and information systems in each security category. Two
Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) have been developed.
FIPS 199, Standards for the Security Categorization of Federal
Information and Information Systems, issued in February 2004, assists
agencies in categorizing their information and information systems as
low-impact, moderate-impact, or high-impact for the security
objectives of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Soon to be
issued in final form, FIPS 200, Minimum Security Requirements for
Federal Information and Information Systems, helps agencies provide
appropriate levels of information security based on levels of risk. In
applying the provisions of FIPS 200, agencies will categorize their
systems as required by FIPS 199, and then select an appropriate set of
security controls from NIST SP 800-53, Recommended Security Controls
for Federal Information Systems, to satisfy their minimum security
requirements.

Organizations using the Windows XP security guide, its security
templates, and its other general prescriptive recommendations should
be able to meet the baseline system configuration requirements for
Windows XP systems. The controls are consistent with the management,
operational, and technical security controls described in NIST SP
800-53, and they provide a high level of security for Windows XP
systems when used in conjunction with sound local security policies.
Organizations should:

* Protect each system based on the potential impact to the system of a
  loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability.

* Reduce the opportunities that attackers have to breach a system by
  limiting functionality according to the principle of least privilege
  and resolving security weaknesses.

* Select security controls that provide a reasonably secure solution
  while supporting the needed functionality and usability.

* Use multiple layers of security so that if one layer fails or
  otherwise cannot counteract a certain threat, other layers might
  prevent the threat from successfully breaching the system.

* Conduct risk assessments to identify threats against systems and
  determine the effectiveness of existing security controls in
  counteracting the threats. Perform risk mitigation to decide whether
  and what additional measures should be implemented.

* Document procedures for implementing and maintaining security
  controls, and maintain other security-related policies and
  documentation that affect the configuration, maintenance,
  and use of systems and applications, such as acceptable use
  policy, configuration management policy, and IT contingency plans.

* Test all security controls to determine what impact they have on
  system security, functionality, and usability, and address any
  significant issues.

* Monitor and maintain systems on a regular basis so that security
  issues can be identified and mitigated promptly.  Actions that may
  be needed include acquiring and installing software updates;
  monitoring event logs; providing remote system administration and
  assistance; monitoring changes to operating system and software
  settings; protecting and sanitizing media; responding promptly to
  suspected incidents; performing vulnerability assessments; disabling
  and deleting unused user accounts; and maintaining hardware.

More Information

The NIST publications mentioned in this bulletin, as well as other
publications needed for the secure management of systems, are
available in electronic format from the NIST Computer Security
Resource Center at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications. 

Disclaimer

Any mention of commercial products or reference to commercial
organizations is for information only; it does not imply
recommendation or endorsement by NIST nor does it imply that the
products mentioned are necessarily the best available for the purpose.


Elizabeth B. Lennon
Writer/Editor
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8900
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8900
Telephone (301) 975-2832
Fax (301) 975-2378




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