AN Example-Windows XP

Windows XP

Microsoft Windows XP is a general-purpose operating system designed to support a variety of security features and methods. In this section, we examine features that Windows XP uses to perform security functions. For more information and background on Windows XP, see Chapter 22. The Windows XP security model is based on the notion of user accounts.

Windows XP allows the creation of any number of user accounts, which can be grouped in any manner. Access to system objects can then be permitted or denied as desired. Users are identified to the system by a unique security ID. When a user logs on, Windows XP creates a security access token that includes the security ID for the user, security IDs for any groups of which the user is a member, and a list of any special privileges that the user has.

Examples of special privileges include backing up files and directories, shutting down the computer, logging on interactively, and changing the system clock. Every process that Windows XP runs on behalf of a user will receive a copy of the access token. The system uses the security IDs in the access token to permit or deny access to system objects whenever the user, or a process on behalf of the user, attempts to access the object.

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 Authentication of a user account is typically accomplished via a user name and password, although the modular design of Windows XP allows the development of custom authentication packages. For example, a retinal (or eye) scanner might be used to verify that the user is who she says she is. Windows XP uses the idea of a subject to ensure that programs run by a user do not get greater access to the system than the user is authorized to have.

A subject is used to track and manage permissions for each program that a user runs; it is composed of the user's access token and the program acting on behalf of the user. Since Windows XP operates with a client-server model, two classes of subjects are used to control access: simple subjects and server subjects. An example of a simple subject is the typical application program that a user executes after she logs on. The simple subject is assigned a security context based on the security access token of the user.

A server subject is a process implemented as a protected server that uses the security context of the client when acting on the client's behalf. As mentioned in Section 15.7, auditing is a useful security technique. Windows XP has built-in auditing that allows many common security threats to be monitored. Examples include failure auditing for login and logoff events to detect random password break-ins, success auditing for login and logoff events to detect login activity at strange hours, success and failure write-access auditing for executable files to track a virus outbreak, and success and failure auditing for file access to detect access to sensitive files.

 Security attributes of an object in Windows XP are described by a security descriptor. The security descriptor contains the security ID of the owner of the object (who can change the access permissions), a group security ID used only by the POSIX subsystem, a discretionary access-control list that identifies which users or groups are allowed (and which are not allowed) access, and a system access-control list that controls which atiditing messages the system will generate. For example, the security descriptor of the file might have owner avi and this discretionary access-control list:

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• avi—all access

 • group cs—read-write access

• user cliff—no access In addition,

AN Example-Windows XP

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t might have a system access-control list of audit writes by everyone. An access-control list is composed of access-control entries that contain the security ID of the individual and an access mask that defines all possible actions on the object, with a value of AccessAUowed or AccessDenied for each action.

 Files in Windows XP may have the following access types: ReadData, WriteData, AppendData, Execute, ReadExtendedAttribute, WriteExtendedAttribute, ReadAttributes, and WriteAttributes. We can see how this allows a fine degree of control over access to objects. Windows XP classifies objects as either container objects or noncontainer objects.

Container objects, such as directories, can logically contain other objects. By default, when an object is created within a container object, the new object inherits permissions from the parent object. Similarly, if the user copies a file from one directory to a new directory, the file will inherit the permissions of the destination directory. Noncontainer objects inherit no other permissions. Furthermore, if a permission is changed on a directory, the new permissions do not automatically apply to existing files and subdirectories; the user may explicitly apply them if she so desires.

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The system administrator can prohibit printing to a printer on the system for all or part of a day and can use the Windows XP Performance Monitor to help her spot approaching problems. In general, Windows XP does a good job of providing features to help ensure a secure computing environment. Many of these features are not enabled by default, however, which may be one reason for the myriad security breaches on Windows XP systems.

Another reason is the vast number of services Windows XP starts at system boot time and the number of applications that typically are installed on a Windows XP system. For a real multiuser environment, the system administrator should forrnulate a security plan and implement it, using the features that Windows XP provides and other security tools.

Frequently Asked Questions

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