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Security In Context

Bringing you news and commentary on solutions and strategies for protecting your critical IT infrastructure.

Restoring Old Systems and Building New Ones

Post by Morey Haber May 17, 2010

This weekend I needed to perform a system restore on my son’s notebook. He actually has two systems, one for school (kept pristine) and one that he surfs the web with looking for game mods, cheat codes, etc. The latter is an older Pentium M tablet that acts as a good netbook. If something happens to it, I am honestly not that worried.

Unfortunately, when it does require a system restore, it can take the better of six hours to restore the operating system, mainly due to all the updates for the operating system and applications. The system restore to the base operating system takes less than an hour, and then continuously running Microsoft Update to catch all the latest and greatest security patches is an exercise in patience.

I generally start with SP3 for XP, and then continue running Microsoft Update until no other critical or desired optional updates are available. Then I begin loading third-party applications such as Adobe Acrobat and its associated maintenance.

Finally, I load an endpoint protection solution to provide antivirus and run vulnerability assessment. To my surprise, the vulnerability assessment engine in Blink detected a few vulnerabilities that were not being covered properly by Microsoft Update.

The unfortunate side to these findings is that they could not be updated due to older drivers and utilities present on that Pentium M tablet.

This problem is a perfect example of why an endpoint protection solution with zero-day protection is perfect for an aging device that is no longer supported, but operates perfectly well. Without it, the OS is secured but utilities, the WiFi connection program, and tablet utilities all have various DLLs and drivers that are vulnerable. Even a modern system can have the same types of problems if vendors are not keeping their drivers and utilities up to date.

A quick review of zero-day audits found in RetinaActiveX controls and have never been patched by the manufacturer.

To that end, I’d like to recommend a few tips whenever building a new system or restoring an old one:

* Load the operating system in a secure environment that does not have any worms or bots running rampant on the network. This includes home networks that are directly connected to the Internet without a firewall or router. By the time you get the OS loaded, without maintenance, the system will already be infected. This is especially true for businesses rebuilding hosts in a DMZ that may allow unrestricted Internet activity to touch various hosts.

* After you load the OS, continuously run Microsoft update or WSUS to verify all security and maintenance has been applied.

* Next, load your endpoint protection solution and perform a vulnerability assessment to verify the OS is hardened with the desired characteristics for your environment or home.

* Next, begin loading all utilities and applications for the system. If the application has an auto update engine, make sure you use it. Applications are becoming the number one vulnerability for penetrating the host.

* After you are complete, run another vulnerability assessment to confirm the system cannot be exploited due to outdated security maintenance or older applications.

While these steps may seem too much for a home user, it’s important to understand they are an absolute requirement for any business.

Regardless of your AV vendor, without vulnerability assessment and endpoint protection, your systems are vulnerable to exploitation.

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