Security in Context: The BeyondTrust Blog

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Bringing you news and commentary on solutions and strategies for protecting critical IT infrastructure in the context of your business.

PowerBroker for Windows 6.6 Tamper Protection

Posted July 18, 2014    Morey Haber

I have a bone to pick: Stopping an administrator from performing an action on a system is futile endeavor. As an administrator, there is always a way to circumvent a solution’s from tampered protection. Really! By default, Windows administrators have unrestricted access to the system – and even though an application, hardened configuration, or group policy may be designed to prevent common methods of tampering, there is always a way.

Simple tools like SysInternals can be used to kill processes regardless of password protection. Administrators can also configure, install, or even disable other programs to allow access to the operating system or application – often producing undesirable results. Once you’re an administrator, the boxing gloves come off and you can really do anything you want. Fortunately, PowerBroker for Windows helps organizations to enforce standard user privileges and never permit users to have direct administrative access – unless absolutely needed (which is where PowerBroker Password Safe can assist). But I digress …

Back to the bone-picking: Tools claiming to stop administrators from taking certain actions are using marketing fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) to make over-zealous claims about their product capabilities. While these tools may stop the most common methods (e.g., user interface or command line) for performing tasks such as uninstalling applications or adding user accounts, they don’t address other vectors providing avenues to perform the same tasks. Any savvy hacker or administrator can figure these out in a few minutes. And, no, BeyondTrust solutions aren’t immune either.

So, to make my point, what good is tamper protection? In PowerBroker for Windows 6.6, we still went ahead and enhanced our tamper protection. However, our tamper protection is not only designed to stop administrators from performing tasks they shouldn’t; it’s also designed to stop applications with elevated privileges from performing those tasks. For instance, it prevents applications from using PowerBroker for Windows privilege elevation to stop uninstallation of third-party applications if they are registered via rules and policy. It therefore not only works for our solution, but also those from other vendors. Our sample rules library includes some common third-party applications PowerBroker for Windows can protect out of the box.

To illustrate my point, below is a screen shot of several privilege rules protecting the uninstall routines for third-party applications – in these cases, multiple antivirus solutions – but it could be for any program, including those that directly call msiexec.exe. This prevents tampering by everything from standard users with elevated privileges, to command prompts, to Add/Remove Programs.

PowerBroker for Windows privilege rules

PowerBroker for Windows 6.6 Tamper Protection is designed to prevent real-word scenarios of malicious behavior, versus making gross claims of stopping administrators from altering a system. We do it within the policy settings themselves, allowing them to be turned on and off based on the group policy or web services client.

PowerBroker for Windows 6.6 includes components for Vulnerability-Based Application Management, File Integrity Monitoring, Session Monitoring, Event Log Monitoring, and Least-Privilege Access to applications. All components are designed to control user privileges, audit what happens when privileged access is given, and prevent system tampering at the hands of those with elevated privileges. Tamper Protection in this release is designed to protect against threats that may be inherited from applications in an elevated state, including PowerBroker for Windows itself. This is a real-world use case and not a false claim, as we have seen so many times from other vendors.

» Learn more about PowerBroker for Windows
» See what else is new in version 6.6

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