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Before we analyze the different types of dependencies and how to mitigate them, we need to understand which types of dependencies are acceptable and which are not.
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Acceptable dependencies can be summed up by the following statement, from Protect Your Windows Network: A less sensitive system may depend on a more sensitive system for its security. Computers and systems in general can be divided into classes based on their security sensitivity. A system that is more sensitive has higher security requirements, while one that is less sensitive needs less security. The specific set of classes in any particular environment is irrelevant to the general discussion; only the fact that there are inherent classifications is important. For the sake of argument, let us assume that we have two classes of systems: workstations and DCs. The DCs, obviously, are far more sensitive than the workstations. If you control a workstation, theoretically you should have access to only the data used on that workstation. However, if you control a DC, you have the keys to the kingdom you have complete access to everything in the forest. In that case, it is acceptable for the workstations to depend on the DCs for their security. The DCs class is far more sensitive than the workstations, and must be correspondingly better protected. This is a form of an acceptable dependency. The same argument can be made for user accounts. It is acceptable for an administrator to compromise data owned by a user. This is what it means to be an administrator in the first place. Administrators have unfettered (although not always direct and obvious) access to the computer and everything on it. If we understand that and manage the computers appropriately, this is not a problem. Software can be analyzed the same way. A less sensitive piece of software, such as a Web browser, may use and depend on a more sensitive piece of software for its security, such as the operating system itself. That is acceptable. If the operating system has a bug, the fact that the Web browser is now vulnerable to some new problem is really not surprising and is probably rather low on the list of worries. This also helps us understand where bug fixes go. The bug should be fixed as close to the problem as possible, to have the maximum protective impact. Rather than work around the problem in the Web browser, fix it in the operating system. Alternatively, rewrite the Web browser to reduce its dependencies on functionality in the operating system. This latter approach is appropriate if the functionality in the operating system was never intended to be used in the way it is being used, or if the functionality is not designed to protect against the particular attack the Web browser is suffering from.
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Unacceptable dependencies should by now be obvious. Again, quoting from Protect Your Windows Network: A more sensitive system must never depend on a less sensitive system for its security.
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If we again think in terms of classes of sensitivity, this statement is easily understood. If a compromise of a workstation means that the domain controller s security has been breached, we have a serious security problem on our hands. As mentioned earlier, it is impossible to protect a network if its aggregate security is dependent on the security of every single computer in that network. The likelihood that the network is secure is inversely exponentially related to the size of the network. A network of any reasonable size is, for all practical purposes, never entirely secure. This makes it paramount that more sensitive systems are protected from less sensitive ones. This argument can easily be extended to user accounts and software. For example, the new Terminal Services client for Windows permits storage of user names and passwords for virtually transparent Terminal Services logon. Those credentials are stored using the Credential Manager API, protected by the credentials used for the primary log-on session. To see how this can create a security dependency, let us analyze the case of a network administrator logging on to his personal workstation. He uses this workstation for e-mail, Web browsing, and other typical information worker tasks. Naturally, he uses a low-privileged domain account for this purpose. At some point during the day he connects to one of the domain controllers to perform some form of management. He uses the Terminal Services client to do this, and elects to store his password to make future connections easier. This results in at least one, possibly two, unacceptable security dependencies. The first is that his domain administrative account credentials are now protected by his low-privileged information worker credentials. If his low-privileged user account is compromised, his domain administrative user account is also compromised, and thus the entire domain is compromised. The second dependency results from the fact that he typed a domain administrative credential on a non-domain controller. Unless his personal workstation is protected at least as well as the domain controllers and that is hard to believe we have a dependency situation in which the security of the domain controllers depends on the security of this user s personal workstation. If, for example, a disgruntled employee in the same office has installed a hardware keystroke logger on the network administrator s workstation, the domain administrative credentials are now stored on that keystroke logger. Anytime you type a domain administrative credential on a non-domain controller you have exposed to entire domain to any security flaws on the non-domain controller. For instance, if an attacker inserts a removable drive into a computer where a Domain Administrator is currently logged on, or has ever logged on, or will ever log on, that Domain Administrator is compromised, and by extension the entire domain is compromised. It is absolutely imperative that you understand how these dependencies work so that you can avoid letting them compromise your network. It means, for example, that you should be very careful which computers you use to administer sensitive computers in the network. The foregoing analysis leads us to two very concrete pieces of advice. First, never use a computer to enter, retrieve, process, or store data that is more sensitive than the computer itself. Remember, every piece of data handled by a computer should be considered accessible to everyone who has ever used that computer, or who will ever use that computer. Saving credentials on
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13:
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