- Windows 95 and 98 had a logon screen and could even be joined to the domain, but users could bypass the prompt simply by pressing ESC.
- Windows XP improved things a bit by requiring users to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to login. However, even when privileges were limited to standard user, you could still create accounts from the command prompt and bypass security a dozen different ways. It’s good that XP is finally EOL.
- Windows Vista introduced the infamous User Account Control (UAC) prompts for almost every common task. Most companies had to turn them off, but at least Microsoft fixed some backdoors.
- Windows 7 fixed many of the above problems, but it contains no granularity for enforcing least-privilege access to OS functions and applications. This is the staple OS for the vast majority of businesses today.
- Windows 8.x introduced the new UI and improved many security features. Unfortunately, it also added new complexities with Microsoft Live logins, the new App Store, and a UI many organizations are having a tough time adopting. And there’s still no least-privilege access to OS tasks and applications.
- Mac OS X includes a model that protects key operating system functions and applications. For example, you can’t modify Time Machine, Users, or any security settings without administrative privileges. You can, however, change network settings and other sensitive areas as a standard user. There are ways to lock this down but, if administrative access is given to the command prompt, anything can be done just like root on UNIX or Linux. The model is cleaner than Windows, but it still lacks granular control – especially for programs where administrative access is required every time a session boots in bridged mode (e.g., VMware Fusion).
- UNIX/Linux platforms offer by far the most granularity in least-privilege control, but they still falter for third-party applications. Sudo can assist, but managing files with Sudo is a daunting task for many larger organizations. In addition, managing scripts, third-party commands, etc. are not in the realm of the operating systems' capabilities – much like Windows.
Morey J. Haber, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Security Officer at BeyondTrust
Morey J. Haber is Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Security Officer at BeyondTrust. He has more than 25 years of IT industry experience and has authored four Apress books: Privileged Attack Vectors (2 Editions), Asset Attack Vectors, and Identity Attack Vectors. In 2018, Bomgar acquired BeyondTrust and retained the BeyondTrust name. He originally joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition. Morey currently oversees BeyondTrust strategy for privileged access management and remote access solutions. In 2004, he joined eEye as Director of Security Engineering and was responsible for strategic business discussions and vulnerability management architectures in Fortune 500 clients. Prior to eEye, he was Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. (CA), responsible for new product beta cycles and named customer accounts. He began his career as Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.