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Managing Client Protection : User Account Control (part 4) - How to Configure User Account Control

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8. How to Configure User Account Control

You can use Group Policy settings to granularly configure UAC behavior. Additionally, you can disable UAC by using the Control Panel, msconfig.exe, or by directly editing registry settings. The sections that follow describe each of these techniques in more detail.

Group Policy settings

You can configure UAC using local or Active Directory Group Policy settings located in the following node:

Computer Configuration\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Local Policies\Security Options

You can configure the following settings:

  • User Account Control: Admin Approval Mode for the Built-in Administrator account This policy applies only to the built-in Administrator account, and not to other accounts that are members of the local Administrators group. When you enable this policy setting, the built-in Administrator account has UAC Admin Approval Mode enabled, just like other administrative accounts. When you disable the setting, the built-in Administrator account behaves just like it did in Windows XP, and all processes run using Administrator privileges. This setting is disabled by default.

    Note

    To minimize the risk of abusing the built-in Administrator account, the account is disabled by default. If Windows Vista determines during an upgrade from Windows XP that the built-in Administrator is the only active local administrator account, Windows Vista leaves the account enabled and places the account in Admin Approval Mode. The built-in Administrator account, by default, cannot log on to the computer in safe mode. If the last local administrator account is inadvertently demoted, disabled, or deleted, safe mode will allow the disabled built-in Administrator account to log on for disaster recovery.


  • User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for administrators in Admin Approval Mode By default, this setting is set to Prompt For Consent, which causes the UAC prompt to appear any time a process needs more than standard User privileges. Change this setting to Prompt For Consent to cause Admin Approval Mode UAC prompts to behave like prompts for standard users, requiring the user to type an administrative password instead of simply clicking Continue. Change this setting to Elevate Without Prompting to automatically provide administrative privileges, effectively disabling UAC for administrative accounts. Choosing Elevate Without Prompting significantly reduces the security protection provided by Windows Vista, and might allow malicious software to install itself or make changes to the system without the administrator’s knowledge.

  • User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for standard users By default, this setting is Prompt For Credentials in workgroup environments and Automatically Deny Elevation Requests in domain environments. Prompt For Credentials causes UAC to prompt the user to enter an administrative user name and password. You can change this to Automatically Deny Elevation Requests to disable the UAC prompt. Disabling the prompt can improve security; however, the user might experience application failures because of denied privileges. If users do not have access to administrative credentials, you should disable the elevation prompt, because the user would not be able to provide credentials anyway. If you do not disable the prompt, users are likely to call the support center to ask for administrative credentials.

  • User Account Control: Detect application installations and prompt for elevation By default, this setting is enabled in workgroup environments and disabled in domain environments. When enabled, UAC will prompt for administrative credentials when the user attempts to install an application that makes changes to protected aspects of the system. When disabled, the prompt won’t appear. Domain environments that use delegated installation technologies such as Group Policy Software Install (GPSI) or SMS can safely disable this feature because installation processes can automatically escalate privileges without user intervention.

  • User Account Control: Only elevate executables that are signed and validated If your environment requires all applications to be signed and validated with a trusted certificate, including internally developed applications, you can enable this policy to greatly increase security in your organization. When this policy is enabled, Windows Vista will refuse to run any executable that isn’t signed with a trusted certificate, such as a certificate generated by an internal Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). All software with the Certified For Windows Vista logo must be signed with an Authenticode certificate, though you might have to configure your domain PKI to trust the certificate. This setting is disabled by default, which allows users to run any executable, including potentially malicious software.

  • User Account Control: Only elevate UIAccess applications that are installed in secure locations This setting, which is enabled by default, causes Windows Vista to grant user interface access (required for opening windows and doing almost anything useful) to only those applications launched from Program Files, from \Windows\System32\, or from a subdirectory. Enabling this setting effectively prevents non-administrators from downloading and running an application, because non-administrators won’t have the privileges necessary to copy an executable file to one of those folders.

  • User Account Control: Run all administrators in Admin Approval Mode This setting, enabled by default, causes all accounts with administrator privileges except for the local Administrator account to use Admin Approval Mode. If you disable this setting, Admin Approval Mode is disabled for administrative accounts, and the Security Center will display a warning message.

  • User Account Control: Switch to the secure desktop when prompting for elevation This setting, enabled by default, causes the screen to darken when a UAC prompt appears. If the appearance of the entire desktop changes, it is very difficult for malware that hasn’t been previously installed to impersonate a UAC prompt. Some users might find the secure desktop annoying, and you can disable this setting to minimize that annoyance. However, disabling this setting decreases security by making it possible for other applications to impersonate a UAC prompt.

  • User Account Control: Virtualize file and registry write failures to per-user locations This setting, enabled by default, improves compatibility with applications not developed for UAC by redirecting requests for protected resources.

To disable UAC, set the User Account Control: Behavior Of The Elevation Prompt For Administrator In Admin Approval Mode setting to No Prompt. Then, disable the User Account Control: Detect Application Installations And Prompt For Elevation and User Account Control: Run All Administrators In Admin Approval Mode settings. Finally, set User Account Control: Behavior Of The Elevation Prompt For Standard Users setting to Automatically Deny Elevation Requests.

Additionally, you can configure the credential user interface using the following two Group Policy settings located at Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Credential User Interface:

  • Require Trusted Path For Credential Entry If you enable this setting, Windows Vista requires the user to enter credentials using a trusted path, which requires the user to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete. This helps prevent a Trojan horse program or other types of malicious code from stealing the user’s Windows credentials. This policy affects non-logon authentication tasks only. As a security best practice, you should enable this policy to reduce the risk of malware tricking the user into typing her password. However, users who need elevated privileges regularly will find it annoying and time-consuming. Figures 8, 9, and 10 show the dialog boxes that appear each time a user must elevate privileges when this setting is enabled.

    Figure 8. The first of three prompts that the user must respond to when you require a trusted path for administrative credentials.

    Figure 9. The second of three prompts that the user must respond to when you require a trusted path for administrative credentials.

    Figure 10. The third of three prompts that the user must respond to when you require a trusted path for administrative credentials.

  • Enumerate Administrator Accounts On Elevation By default, this setting is disabled, which causes the UAC prompt to list all administrator accounts displayed when a users attempts to elevate a running application. If you enable this setting, users are required to type both a user name and password to elevate their privileges.

Control Panel

Group Policy is the best way to configure UAC in Active Directory environments. In workgroup environments, you can disable UAC on a single computer by using Control Panel:

1.
In Control Panel, click User Accounts And Family Safety.

2.
Click User Accounts.

3.
Click Turn User Account Control On Or Off.

Note

Though the link appears on a single user’s Control Panel page, it will affect all users.

4.
Clear the Use User Account Control (UAC) To Help Protect Your Computer check box, and then click OK.

5.
When prompted, restart your computer.

To re-enable UAC, repeat these steps and select the Use User Account Control (UAC) To Help Protect Your Computer check box.

Msconfig.exe

Msconfig.exe is a troubleshooting tool that can be useful for temporarily disabling UAC to determine whether UAC is causing an application compatibility problem. To make the change, msonfig.exe simply modifies the registry value. To disable UAC with msconfig.exe, follow these steps:

1.
Click Start, type msconfig and then press Enter.

The System Configuration tool opens.

2.
Click the Tools tab.

3.
Click Disable UAC, and then click Launch.

4.
A command window appears, and shortly thereafter, a notification bubble appears informing you that UAC is disabled. Restart your computer to apply the change.

To re-enable UAC with msconfig.exe, follow the preceding steps, clicking Enable UAC instead of Disable UAC.

Registry

To disable UAC using the registry, change the following registry value to 0:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System\EnableLUA

Note

During the early Windows Vista beta period, UAC was known as Limited User Account or Limited User Access (LUA).


To re-enable UAC, change that registry value to 1. Restart the computer to apply the change.

9. How to Configure Auditing for Privilege Elevation

You can enable auditing for privilege elevation so that every time a user provide administrative credentials or an administrators clicks Continue at a UAC prompt, an event is added to the Security event log. To enable privilege elevation auditing, enable success auditing for both the Audit Process Tracking and Audit Privilege Use settings in the Local Policies\Audit Policy node of Group Policy. Note that you should only enable auditing when testing applications or troubleshooting problems; enabling these types of auditing can generate an excessive number of events and negatively affect computer performance.

To enable auditing on a single computer, use the Local Security Policy console. To enable auditing on multiple computers within a domain, use Group Policy settings. In Group Policy, auditing settings are located within Computer Configuration\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Local Policies\Audit Policy node. After changing auditing settings, you must restart the computer for the change to take effect.

After enabling Audit Privilege Use, you can monitor Event IDs 4648 and 4624 in the Security event log to determine when users elevate privileges using the UAC consent dialog. Event ID 4648 will always precede 4624, and will have a process name that includes Consent.exe, the UAC consent dialog. These events will not appear if a user cancels the UAC consent dialog. Events with Event ID 4673 will appear if the user cancels a consent dialog; however, that same event will appear under different circumstances as well.

After enabling Audit Process Tracking, you can monitor Event ID 4688 to determine when administrators make use of Admin Approval Mode to provide full administrator privileges to processes. The description for this event includes several useful pieces of information:

  • Security ID The user name and domain of the current user.

  • New Process Name The path to the executable file being run. For more information about the new process, look for an event with Event ID 4696 occurring at the same time.

  • Token Elevation Type A number from 1 to 3 indicating the type of elevation being requested:

    • Type 1 (TokenElevationTypeDefault) is used only if UAC is disabled or if the user is the built-in Administrator account or a service account. This type does not generate a UAC prompt.

    • Type 2 (TokenElevationTypeFull) is used when the application requires (and is granted) elevated privileges. This is the only type that generates a UAC prompt. This type can also be generated if a user starts an application using RunAs, or if a previously elevated process creates a new process.

    • Type 3 (TokenElevationTypeLimited) is used when the application runs using standard privileges. This type does not require a UAC prompt.

Note that many events with Event ID 4688 won’t be applications launched by the user. Most of these events are generated by background processes and services that require no interaction with the user. To find the most interesting events, filter the Security event log using Event ID 4688. Then, use the Find tool to search for the phrase “TokenElevationTypeFull”. 

10. Other UAC Event Logs

Besides security auditing (which is not enabled by default), UAC provides two additional logs within Event Viewer:

  • Applications and Services Logs\Microsoft\Windows\UAC\Operational Logs UAC errors, such as processes that fail to handle elevation requirements correctly.

  • Applications and Services Logs\Microsoft\Windows\UAC-FileVirtualization\Operational Logs UAC virtualization details, such as virtualized files that are created or deleted.

If you are experiencing a problem and you think it might be related to UAC, check these logs to see if there is any related information.

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