Running as Admin

Mike makes an excellent suggestion in the comments for an often overlooked security measure. I’m going to reprint it verbatim:

The “what you should do” list… is a good idea. May I suggest a further item… “make sure anyone else using your machine uses a non-admin account.”

This malware won’t install on XP on a non-admin account, so people need to be aware of that and to take appropriate steps.

Actually, Microsoft’s security model is broken:

  1. “admin” is effectively “root”;
  2. many programs are poorly written and outdated and consequently won’t run for limited users;
  3. the system doesn’t invite the user to setup a non-admin account for use on installation on XP, so most people are not aware of the issue.

The Sony malware pretty effectively circumvents any security model, because it uses social engineering to persuade an user to grant it what privileges it needs to install. However, casual installation of such software is more difficult under a Unix security model.

Excellent points. I’m curious to see if there are good guidelines for running without administrative privileges on Windows. I’ve found one decent series of articles that outlines some possibilities, but I seem to recall internal discussions from my days at Microsoft that some OS level engineering is needed to make this really doable. Anyone have more info?

Once I have something that is reasonably prescriptive about how to live your life in Windows without full administrative privileges I’ll happily point to it.

9 Responses to “Running as Admin”

  1. lefty Says:

    Is a good point, Microsoft should have thought about the average understanding of their adverage user about security, and built around that, rather than on shiny new features, but bit late now.

    Personally the Mac OSX system of running as user, but allowing easy access to admin for installing is better. True, the average user would react similar to what they do on the web by just clicking yes, (things like blank passwords etc) but at least if it the default, then they are more secure than Windows is at present.

  2. Geek27 Says:

    Aaron has many tips and tricks to running as a limited user and switching accounts. He also made a webcast earlier in the year- very cool.
    http://blogs.msdn.com/aaron%5Fmargosis/

    Wiki on nonadmin:
    http://nonadmin.editme.com/

    Instant fast user switching utility (free):
    http://www.stefan-kuhr.de/supsu/main.php3

  3. Bob Says:

    There is a Non-Admin Blog. It is described as “a community site for PC users who want to run as non-administrator (also known as least-privileged user accounts or limited-user accounts).”

    Google search on non-admin reveals other “non-admin” websites.

  4. Mike Says:

    Thanks for saying my suggestion was excellent.

    BTW, did you see the follow-up investigation of the possible breach of the LGPL copyright? It looks pretty certain that copyright was violated:

    http://www.the-interweb.com/serendipity/index.php?/archives/52-Is-Sony-in-violation-of-the-LGPL-Part-II.html

    Oh dear, Sony … and you’ve been telling us you believe in copyright. Did that mean: not really but we say we do when it suits us? How about a public apology for what your trusted subcontractor has done here?

  5. Ryan Says:

    Story makes MSNBC on tv. nice 4 minute segment that aired at 12:45 EST

    http://video.msn.com/v/us/v.htm?g=053615d9-5645-4c12-9ffa-5530dea3b107&f=copy

  6. Ryan Says:

    looks like the majority of people really do care

    How concerned are you by reports that Sony had installed anti-piracy software onto its CDs that left computers vulnerable to hackers? * 441 responses

    Very concerned 68%
    Somewhat concerned 22%
    Not concerned 10%

    video and poll can be found here http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6862172/

  7. Mike Says:

    US-CERT recommends the following precautions:

    * Do not run your system with administrative privileges. Without administrative privileges, the XCP DRM software will not install.

    * Use caution when installing software. Do not install software from sources that you do not expect to contain software, such as an audio CD.

    * Read the EULA (End User License Agreement) if you do decide to install software. This document can contain information about what the software may do.

    http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/004167.php

    http://www.us-cert.gov/current/current_activity.html

  8. Yeah Right Says:

    I hate it when people simply say “Don’t run as Admin”. It isn’t so simple. Not with Windows, it isn’t.

    I’ve tried. And tried. Oh, how I tried! I have even written lists of tips on the topic, to help other users run with limited user credentials.

    The problem isn’t so much with Windows, it’s with third-party software; a great deal of it just can’t handle being run under a context with limited credentials. Early on in my attempt to run as a Limited User, the first software title that absolutely would not run was–take a guess–Microsoft Money! I inquired to Microsoft, and they said “You need to run it as Administrator.” Nice.

    I’ve encountered many, many other problems as well, with software as innocuous as an email client (problematic due to a need to modify restricted registry keys, and INI files in its install directory). Sure, you can work around this some of the time by modding ACLs, but then it becomes a full-time hobby.

    It’s not unlike the person who spends oodles of time, money, and aggravation on anti-malware software; at some point, the problem becomes the security measures being taken, more than the threats they’re supposed to mitigate.

  9. Bob Says:

    Taking time to modify ACLs (or just taking time searching Google on how to run a program X as non-admin) is definitely worth the result. I do not have an antivirus monitor running, but I do not have viruses either. But some have both.

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