An In-Depth Look Into Windows Security in 2003
by Mirko Zorz - Monday, 22 December 2003.
When it comes to security predictions for next year, basically everyone says it's going to be worst than this year despite the increased spending on security and some progress made when it comes to security awareness. Let's take a look at some interesting happenings that made the news during 2003 when it comes to Microsoft security and perhaps you'll be able to judge for yourself what 2004 will bring.

The experts that voice their opinion for this article are Russ Cooper (Surgeon General of TruSecure Corporation/NTBugtraq Editor), Ed Skoudis (a security geek who is focused on computer attacks and defenses, author of "Counter Hack" and "Malware: Fighting Malicious Code") and Arne Vidstrom (a security researcher and author of many security tools for Windows).

It's January and things don't look good

Just as we were getting used to writing 2003 instead of 2002 in our letters, here comes the Slammer worm and all hell breaks loose as thousands of computers are infected worldwide.

This, however, was not Microsoft's fault since a patch was available several months ago before the worm was unleashed. This has put the issue of irresponsible users into the spotlight while others said the reason why some servers weren't patched is because administrators are worried about the side-effects that come with a patch.

Russ Cooper said: "Firstly, SQL patches have been notoriously difficult to install, so I would argue that despite the availability of a patch, its lack of installation was not entirely the user's fault. Further, MSDE (Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine) inclusion in 3rd party software had never been tracked by Microsoft. This resulted in many people being vulnerable to Slammer who never knew they needed a patch. The method the SQL group has used to handle the SQL vs. MSDE issue have been very poor, with KB articles typically only being found by searching for SQL rather than MSDE. Finally the SQL Server Resolution Service, the service targeted by Slammer, isn't even mentioned in the SQL 7.0 documentation either as being present, installed, or enabled by default."

Lessons learned according to Cooper: "What Slammer showed us more than anything was the need to embrace more basic controls, such as "Default Deny". There's little reason to expose the SSRS to the Internet without any restrictions. Some hosting providers have argued that their customers required access to the service and, therefore, they exposed it directly to the Internet. While this might seem reasonable, the additional cost of locking down such connection points to, at least, an identifiable IP address range surely couldn't put them out of business compared to the risks they put the entire Internet at. Of course the same holds true for businesses, but there the problem was more of a problem with the "Default Installation". We have long known that default installations are inherently insecure. Knowing what you're installing, and installing only what you know, are crucial to achieving baseline security. The habit of simply accepting the defaults and no additional steps is yet another reason problems like this occur."

"Another aspect of "Default Deny" is the enforcement of *Outbound* rules as well as inbound. Habit says that inbound is what we fear, yet outbound is left entirely untouched. Slammer demonstrated just how harshly such a policy can affect the Internet. There was no reason for those systems to initiate connections outbound on UDP 1434, even if we accept there was a need to allow the inbound connections from other infected hosts. Ergo, had such rules been in place, machines would have gotten infected but would not have propagated the worm." Cooper added.

Why don't we patch?


What's the real cost of a security breach?

The majority of business decision makers admit that their organisation will suffer an information security breach and that the cost of recovery could start from around $1 million.

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