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2/3/2009
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Windows Security Improved By Denial Of Administrative Rights

Configuring users to operate without administrative rights mitigates 92% of "critical" Microsoft vulnerabilities and 69% of last year's published vulnerabilities, according to a report.

To make Microsoft Windows more secure, organizations should trust Windows users less.

In a report released Tuesday, BeyondTrust, a company that sells computer privilege management software, concludes that, indeed, computer privileges should be managed.

This unsurprising finding is borne out by the company's analysis of the 80 security bulletins, addressing 150 vulnerabilities, that Microsoft published in 2008. The company found that configuring users to operate without administrative rights mitigates the impact of 92% of "critical" Microsoft vulnerabilities and 69% of last year's published vulnerabilities.

The removal of administrative rights has significant impact on the vulnerability of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, the company claims, making it harder to exploit 94% of Office vulnerabilities and 89% of Internet Explorer vulnerabilities.

Microsoft's own data indicates that 75% of Windows machines run with a single account and full administrative privileges.

Microsoft has been aware for years that user accounts with administrative rights can be abused. That's why it introduced User Account Control in Windows Vista. But the implementation of UAC has been widely criticized as annoying and ineffective. A Microsoft employee reportedly said last year that UAC was supposed to annoy users.

Microsoft last month published a blog post explaining changes to UAC in Windows 7. It said the company's forthcoming operating system would reduce the number of UAC warning prompts and offer users greater control over UAC.

Last week, blogger Long Zheng published a critique of the company's new approach, claiming that Microsoft's effort to make UAC less annoying makes UAC vulnerable to being disabled.

Among the Windows users posting comments about Microsoft's changes to UAC, the response is mixed. Some praise UAC, others condemn it, and others express mixed feelings.

Computer security is like that. Not everyone is going to be happy, no matter what you do. Reducing administrative rights among users may help. It may also drive users to work in less-restrictive environments when possible, such as at home, and that may create other security risks.

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