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1/19/2011
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Microsoft Releases Vulnerability Analysis Tool

Attack Surface Analyzer, available as a free beta, assesses operating system weaknesses which emerge after an install or an attack.

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On Wednesday, Microsoft released a free, beta version of Attack Surface Analyzer, together with numerous updates for previously released secure development tools.

According to Microsoft, Attack Surface Analyzer -- already used by its internal product teams for the past five years -- catalogs numerous changes made to the operating system during the installation of new software. "Some of the checks performed by the tool include analysis of changed or newly added files, registry keys, services, ActiveX Controls, listening ports, access control lists, and other parameters that affect a computer's attack surface," blogged David Ladd, principal security program manager for secure development at Microsoft.

The tool, which can be used with a built-in wizard or via the command line, will collect attack surface data from applications running on Windows 7, Windows Vista, or for server-based applications, Windows Server 2008 R1 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

Microsoft is pitching Attack Surface Analyzer as a proactive tool for developers to see how their code changes the attack surface of Windows, for IT managers to see the aggregate attack surface change produced by a client build, and for IT auditors to assess the security risk of any given application. In addition, security incident responders can use the tool to assess the results of an attack, provided they've created -- prior to any attack -- a baseline scan of the system to be studied.

The tool must be installed on a freshly built operating system, at which point users run a baseline scan. Next, they install an application or applications, enabling any and all options that may make the program easier to attack, such as letting a program install a Windows Service or drivers, or allowing it to bypass the Windows Firewall. Next, users run Attack Surface Analyzer again to create a "product scan" that shows how the operating system attack surface has changed.

After addressing any issues, the tool must once again be reinstalled on a freshly built operating system that's free from any previous application artifacts. "As you may need to repeat the process a number of times, we recommend using a virtual machine with 'undo disks,' differencing disks, or the ability to revert to a prior virtual machine snapshot/configuration to perform your attack surface assessments," said Microsoft.

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