Administrators also can enable virtualization via Group Policy as a catchall for applications that need elevated permissions to write files or registry settings to protected parts of the file system, like the Program Files directory or the HKLM registry hive. Virtualization fools the operating system by instead writing these files or keys to a walled garden in the users directory. Microsoft views virtualization as a stopgap measure, with good cause. Virtualization does not solve compatibility problems for applications that may require other kinds of elevated permissions that cant be met by faking out the file system. So, while Microsoft ramps up its Vista logo program to teach application developers how to conform to Vistas security parameters going forward, it has been creating tools to help administrators and coders get ready for UAC.For instance, during tests, when we used SUA to evaluate an application that we knew required some administrative privilegesSysInternals FileMonSUA alerted us to a few files temporarily copied to a protected disk location, as well as a pair of required administrator privileges that FileMon needs to run (SeDebug Privilege and the SeLoadDriverPrivilege). Since virtualization is not an option here, and handing out administrative credentials to all application users defeats the value of UAC in the enterprise, administrators must look elsewhere for a solution. Earlier this year, we reviewed a pair of solutions that offer a more elegant approach to policy-based privilege escalation for applications and processes. Both Desktop Standards PMAS (PolicyMaker Application Security) and Winternals Software Protection Manager allow administrators to selectively elevate a processs or applications security privileges according to user, group or host computer. In this way, administrators can allow standard users to run poorly coded applications that require various elevated privileges or attempt to write files or registry settings to restricted areas of the file system via policy without having the user present administrative credentials. We prefer the PMAS solution because of its tight integration with Group Policy, although we felt Protection Manager had slightly superior rights delegation, filtering and process identification capabilities. But Protection Managers agent architecture proved sluggish and unwieldy in some circumstances, while PMAS snapped right into Group Policy. Interestingly, Microsoft purchased both companies within the last few months, although PMAS was not included in the Desktop Standard acquisition. Instead, PMAS is now sold and maintained by Beyond-Trust, previously a spinoff subsidiary of Desktop Standard, while Microsoft is the proud owner of a series of Group Policy-based configuration and security settings to add to its burgeoning arsenal for the forthcoming Windows Longhorn Server. Microsoft should be able to meld these technologies into Group Policy to form a powerful solution to help administrators unlock legacy applications in a scalable, organized fashion while it awaits Vista-compliant code from ISVs. Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.
This summer, Microsoft released SUA (Standard User Analyzer), a handy GUI that works with the companys Application Verifier to help developers and administrators understand exactly where legacy applications will run afoul of UAC.