Standard Account vs Admin Account

Discussion in 'other security issues & news' started by Nighthawk15, Jul 19, 2008.

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  1. Nighthawk15

    Nighthawk15 Registered Member

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    My question is not strictly about AV programs but this seems like the most relevant section....

    In Windows Vista, are most of you on standard or Admin accounts? I think this is very important from a pseudo-sandboxing point of view (perhaps as important as any other measure such as AV,AS,AM,firewalls etc).

    In XP, admin accounts were dangerous and using standard accounts was much safer (and very restrictive).

    In Vista, with UAC OFF, it's a bit like XP in that the admin accounts have full privelage whereas the standard accounts are incapable of even the most routine tasks (with UAC OFF, you cannot even increase your privelage temporarily or run things as admin).

    With UAC on, the standard users can run all tasks(installations/important changes) by being prompted to enter admin passwords. However, with UAC on, the same sort of protection is offered to admin accounts too; the notification window pops up.

    So my question then is, for windows vista with UAC ON, is there any possible advantage to running a standard account instead of an admin one(like the XP days)? Does it offer any greater protection (however small or trivial) or is the admin account with UAC just as safe.

    Note: If it helps, 99% of my infections are USB drive/Flash drive acquired and almost nothing infects me from the internet. [I'm assuming this is the case for most home computers?]

    Thank you very much
     
  2. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    I've been back and forth on this same question also. I'm running as protected admin now without having any malware trouble. Have had a few websites try to install something, but the UAC alerted me and I declined. I think the standard user does have the advantage of a partial virtualized registry. As I understand it this protects the Vista core from being corrupted. Very good question for Vista users.

    If you're the only one using your computer you could use a standard account with an admin blank password. That would obviously cut down on typing. :D
     
  3. MrBrian

    MrBrian Registered Member

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    From http://msinfluentials.com/blogs/jes...-about-vista-features-what-uac-really-is.aspx:

     
  4. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    So if I run "best" security practices, then why use UAC? Shouldn't I simply turn UAC off?

    Great article...thanks for the info. I just ordered his Vista security book.
     
  5. sukarof

    sukarof Registered Member

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    I´m on a standard account. I have UAC turned off and I use Surun and Software Restriction Policies.
     
  6. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    I'm going to try using standard account with UAC turned off and see if I notice any performance change.
     
  7. Osaban

    Osaban Registered Member

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    I run on admin account and UAC on. I think one the great improvements of Vista over XP has been in the security department, but most people tend to to turn UAC off (!?) complaining about too many alerts. It doesn't bother me (I don't get so many alerts anyway), and apparently UAC is also very effective against rootkits (sorry I can't supply any link, they were testing rootkits on a Vista system, and surprisingly UAC stopped most of them).
     
  8. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    Since the above mentioned article suggests best security practices is to use a Vista standard account and not elevate privileges from that same account, but go to the admin account to install software, then I'm going to try that with the caveat of also turning UAC off to notice any performance improvements.


    Additional:

    I know this is subjective, but so far I have "felt" a slight sluggishness go away since making the above change.

    This particular setup may be what I've been looking for. Done a lot of experimenting with performance vs security setups.
     
  9. Rmus

    Rmus Exploit Analyst

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    Here is one writeup. I noted this comment:

    http://www.neowin.net/news/main/08/05/25/tests-find-vistas-uac-nails-rootkits
    Unfortunately this prevention protection is not talked about much.

    I investigated Vista's UAC protection in another thread, and asked a couple of people to test -- one provided the screenshot:

    https://www.wilderssecurity.com/showpost.php?p=1277832&postcount=124

    --
     
  10. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    @Rmus:

    Yep, it's been a confusing topic for me. Most of the time I've stayed with admin and UAC on. I never considered using the standard account with the UAC turned off. So I'm going to give that a go for awhile. Already liking Vista's response to turning it off.

    In fact, I've downloaded antivir free to feel the effects on performance. I already have Window Defender turned on and system restore turned off. :blink:
     
  11. MrBrian

    MrBrian Registered Member

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    You're welcome :).

    I've also read that turning off UAC also turns off the file and registry virtualization that allows some programs to work with a standard account without problems. Thus there might be good reason to keep UAC on even if you don't intend to elevate.
     
  12. MrBrian

    MrBrian Registered Member

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    Turning off UAC also disables Internet Explorer protected mode.
     
  13. Osaban

    Osaban Registered Member

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    Quite remarkable, UAC behaves as a basic AntiExecutable. Could one rely on it completely as an antiexecutable? It'd be nice if somebody skilled enough ran some thorough tests of UAC.
     
  14. Rmus

    Rmus Exploit Analyst

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    I made several drive-by download tests that various people used. Unfortunately, they require IE6 and so wouldn't work on Vista.

    But the use of AutoRun.inf to trigger a download -- both on CD and USB stick -- was successfully blocked by Vista's UAC.

    One of the tests uses a spoofed executable -- which would be interesting to see how Vista responds.

    Also MrBrian's script tests he showed in another thread would be nice to try.

    --
     
  15. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    Well after trying out my aforementioned setup (standard acc. with no UAC) I returned to protected admin (UAC turned back on). I did start having glitches with a game and NVidia card. :'(


    So I'm back to good security practice instead of best. I'll have to decide whether to go for better or stick with good security practice. :doubt:
     
  16. Nighthawk15

    Nighthawk15 Registered Member

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    I live in a residential college and all the "shady" hacker/IT types keep Vista in admin mode with UAC off. Mostly because they want full control and don't care much about security from a LUA perspective. However they recommend keeping UAC on for regular users. One of them said what applied to XP doesn't apply to vista and for the vast majority of cases;

    Admin with UAC on = Standard User with UAC on, so basically UAC removes the distinction *almost*.

    With UAC off, the Admin and standard accounts revert to XP style. However, one of them said that

    Admin with UAC on might be safer than standard user with UAC off. He himself runs linux but said on XP, even standard users had write access to 5-6 registry locations, so in vista if those priveleges remain, then standard user with UAC off would not be notified if those locations are modified whereas an admin (or standard user) with UAC on would be. Something to the same effect has been said in this thread:

    https://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=196737
    [post no.25 by tlu]

    Combine this with the fact that if you use standard user with UAC on, you will have to keep entering your admin password and I'm beginning to think the safest way with Vista is actually Admin with UAC.

    To sum up, in my current understanding

    Admin with UAC ON >= Standard user with UAC ON > Standard user with UAC OFF> Admin with UAC OFF

    where > means safer than.
     
  17. sukarof

    sukarof Registered Member

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    This is confusing indeed. I try to read different blogs but I dont get any wiser...

    This is how understand it:
    In Vista the admin account is actually a limited user account until you give the concent to run the task via the UAC prompt. When you hit that UAC prompt your account is elevated to admin rights for that specific task.

    In LUA you run admin tasks as a totally different user and have to log into that user account to do the same thing as you do in Admin+UAC. Basicly the same as in old XP.
    Or am I missing something here?
    Please educate me someone coz I have been running Vista for a long time but I still havent fully understood what a LUA does different (safer or less safe) than UAC. (I am the only user of this computer so I dont mean the password in LUA now)
    In what way does Vista behave differently behind the scene in LUA (vs admin+UAC)?
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2008
  18. MrBrian

    MrBrian Registered Member

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    From Understanding and Configuring User Account Control in Windows Vista:

    I'm not sure what the reasoning behind the difference between the 'good' and 'better' recommendations from post #3 is, assuming that a user already knows the admin password. THe only difference I see so far is that, by default, the former requires just a click for elevation while the latter requires a password for elevation, and thus perhaps the first could be done more easily without thought.
     
  19. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    I guess I need to understand what is virtualized in the standard account and why. Does the partial virtualized registry and files create and even tighter container to protect Vista's core even more than running as protected Admin (UAC on)? Let me try and get clearer for myself here. Is there an additional security purpose for the virtualized registry, etc. in the standard account or is it a matter of simply assisting programs to run correctly? If there is a security purpose, then that would help me determine if I should run protected Admin or standard user. If the virtualized registry is simply for helping programs run correctly in the standard user account, then I'll stay with protected admin. :doubt:
     
  20. Dogbiscuit

    Dogbiscuit Guest

    Microsoft: UAC not a security feature
     
  21. PoetWarrior

    PoetWarrior Registered Member

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    @Dogbiscuit

    If you get a chance, check out the article mentioned in post #3 to read the debate between Microsoft's denial and others who disagree with MS and consider UAC a security feature of Vista. It's a great read. :)
     
  22. Dogbiscuit

    Dogbiscuit Guest

    Yes, thanks. It seems to me that regardless of nominclature, and regardless of the added protection, UAC wasn't designed to provide 'airtight' security (unlike a HIPS w/execution control), unless something has changed.

    And FWIW, I personally know for a fact that it's not that difficult to breach limted user accounts to gain administrator privileges. Which is why using a standard account with SRP (and a few registry modifications) is safer still than simply using standard accounts by themselves.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 20, 2008
  23. Rmus

    Rmus Exploit Analyst

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    Keep in mind that as Operating Systems evolve, the same two methods of delivering malware remain:

    1) Install by remote code execution --from the internet, removable media (USB), or unsuspecting "click" of spoofed malware in email

    2) Consent of the user -- program installed turns out to be infected.

    Until WinXP, the first method had to be dealt with by another application. Software Restriction Policies provide protection against this.

    WinVista and UAC seem to offer the same protection.

    But with WinVista and UAC, more emphasis has been given to the second method: how does UAC deal with/contain malware that executes? Lots of talk about "sandboxing" and "Integrity Levels" and "Elevated Previleges." Such as:

    PsExec, User Account Control and Security Boundaries
    http://blogs.technet.com/markrussinovich/archive/2007/02/12/638372.aspx

    But some have questioned its effectiveness in this area:

    The official blog of the invisiblethings.org
    http://theinvisiblethings.blogspot.com/2007/02/running-vista-every-day.html

    Yet others are adament UAC should act in the manner of a HIPS-type product. Here, for instance, a comment following this blog:

    http://theinvisiblethings.blogspot.com/2007/02/vista-security-model-big-joke.html
    Another comment puts into perspective the two methods of attack:

    And so, we are left pretty much in the same state of affairs.

    Attack Method 1 is easy to deal with by various solutions, from the OS (SRP, UAC) to 3rd party applications

    Attack Method 2 boils down to, "How do I know the program is safe?" No Operating System Configurations, this account or that account, no other technological device can make that decision or be 100% sure.

    Only the user can answer and determine and make that decision to her/his satisfaction and comfort, and level of trust.

    --
     
  24. MrBrian

    MrBrian Registered Member

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    Here is a nice article from Microsoft that answers your question. The virtualization is there so that programs that write to Program Files and Windows and HKLM in the registry are redirected so that they'll work in a standard user account. If you turn UAC off, I believe you lose this virtualization, a loss which malware could also take advantage of. But turning off UAC also disables Vista's integrity levels, I believe, which has security implications such as neutering protected mode for Internet Explorer. Here is a non-Microsoft post that makes these same claims, but I'll see if I can find a more official source. From the last source:

     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2008
  25. MrBrian

    MrBrian Registered Member

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    Bingo! I just found the answer to the difference between the 'good' and 'better' recommendations (which is our topic here), in the Microsoft article mentioned in my last post:

    Thus, there is good reason to use a standard account instead of an administrator account in Vista.

    By the way, it's also recommended in the same article that elevation from a standard account should be configured to require CTRL+ALT+DEL:

     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2008
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