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Windows 7 security primer, part one

Roger Grimes | Jan. 12, 2010
This is the first of a three-part series of explanations and recommendations about key security improvements in Windows 7.

I typically avoid Microsoft-only columns, as I'm a full-time employee of the company. However, because security is my area of expertise, and given the overwhelming number of requests from readers, I've decided to do a three-part series on Windows 7 security. This week, I'll take a look at some of the aforementioned security deltas, and I'll share my recommendations.

User Account Control
UAC is one of the most notable updated features in Windows 7. It prompts less frequently for low-risk administrative actions by default, but it allows admins to modify the prompt sensitivity using a slider bar.

Recommendation: Your domain environment should already be at the highest and most secure level. If it isn't, make it so. That way, users will be prompted to input their passwords to perform high-risk administrative actions. No matter what else, UAC should be enabled.

BitLocker
In Windows 7, BitLocker Drive Encryption technology is extended from OS drives and fixed data drives to include removable storage devices such as portable hard drives and USB flash drives. This expansion is called BitLocker to Go.

In Windows Vista SP1, Microsoft added official support for encrypting fixed data drives, but it could only be done using command-line tools. Now you can encrypt operating system volumes, fixed data drives, and USB flash drives via the Windows Explorer GUI. Moreover, you can use smart cards to protect data volumes, and you can set up data recovery agents to automatically back up BitLocker keys.

If you're using a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip, you can enforce a minimum PIN length; five characters should suffice for most environments.

In Windows 7, there is no need to create separate partitions before turning on BitLocker. The system partition is automatically created and does not have a drive letter, so it is not visible in Windows Explorer and data files will not be written to it inadvertently. The system partition is smaller in Windows 7 than in Windows Vista, requiring only 100MB of space.

BitLocker to Go Reader is a program that works on computers running Windows Vista or Windows XP, allowing you to open and view the content of removable drives that have been encrypted with BitLocker in Windows 7.

Recommendation: You should enable BitLocker (preferably with TPM and another factor) on portable computers if you do not use another data encryption product. Store the BitLocker PINs and recovery information in Active Directory and/or configure a domain-wide public key called a data recovery agent that will permit an administrator to unlock any drive encrypted with BitLocker. Require BitLocker to Go on all possible removable media drives.

 

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