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Windows Operating Systems Software Microsoft Security

UAC Whitelist Hole In Windows 7 496

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-for-some-creative-rebranding dept.
David Gerard writes "Microsoft tried to make Vista secure with User Access Control (UAC). They relaxed it a bit in Windows 7 because it was such a pain in the backside. Unfortunately, one way they did this (the third way so far found around UAC in Windows 7) was to give certain Microsoft files the power to just ... bypass UAC. Even more unfortunately, one of the DLLs they whitelisted was RUNDLL32.EXE. The exploit is simply to copy (or inject) part of its own code into the memory of another running process and then telling that target process to run the code, using standard, non-privileged APIs such as WriteProcessMemory and CreateRemoteThread. Ars Technica writes up the issue, proclaiming Windows 7 UAC 'a broken mess; mend it or end it.'"
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UAC Whitelist Hole In Windows 7

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  • If it was easy-- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:37AM (#27104349) Homepage
    Hey, if security was easy, everybody would do it.
    • Re:If it was easy-- (Score:4, Interesting)

      by spyrochaete (707033) <spyrochaete AT hyppy DOT zapto DOT org> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:31AM (#27104711) Homepage Journal

      I agree 100%. I guess I'm in the minority but I love Vista UAC. Fairly often I will carelessly click something, and UAC gives me a second chance to abort before it's too late. UAC is only useful 1 time in 20, but I thank my lucky stars that 1 time.

      • by MikeURL (890801)
        I tend to agree as well. People hate UAC in Vista precisely because it is pretty effective.

        If I were to make a change it would be to provide a link in the UAC warning to a trusted site to describe the owner of the Authenticode. Right now I have no really good instruction to give a user when a UAC warning comes up other than to look at the publisher and try to guess if they are legit.

        Of course unidentified publishers are "just say no" but the rest is pretty gray. If there were a link out to a site t
      • by schon (31600) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @12:13PM (#27105017)

        It sounds like what you're saying is that UAC is only useful for people who know what they're doing. You are savvy enough to recognize when it's protecting you from mistakes, but the average user won't.

        UAC is only useful 1 time in 20, but I thank my lucky stars that 1 time.

        My first car was made by Isuzu. Like many (all?) imports, in order to lock the door from the outside of the car, you had to hold the handle up as you closed the door. I asked why this was, and was told that it was a mechanism to prevent you from locking your keys in the car. You couldn't just carelessly close the door, you had to actively hold the handle up.

        One hot summer day, I got out of the car, took off my coat, and put it inside. Out of habit (because I needed to do it every time) held the handle up as I closed the door. A few minutes later I realized that the keys were in my coat pocket. And the door was locked.

        The designers of this car though they were making it harder to lock your keys in the car, but in reality they were simply training people to hold the handle up when they closed the door.

        UAC reminds me of the exact same thinking. It doesn't really prevent you from making mistakes, it just conditions you to click "OK".

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          You are so right. I hate to be one of those "I am awesome because of X" but I have not run virus or malware software on windows in many, many years and I have not had ANY problems. Other than the reg getting full of crap and having to re-install, about once a year. My system doesn't slow and things are great. Now, how do you teach a user to think about what they are doing before they do it and to have enough knowledge to make an informed decision? You don't I guess. I try with my friends and family to
        • by Kaboom13 (235759) <kaboom108@@@bellsouth...net> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @12:49PM (#27105275)

          Thats really the problem with UAC. It comes up so often for no good reason, and gives no information to the user why it even came up. The only people with the technical skill to make intelligent choices about it don't need it. Of course, the problem in some ways is not even MS's fault. The reality is most Windows programs are doing things that trigger UAC prompts for no good reason. In the linux world, if an text editor or card game or whatever app required you to su every time you ran it, even when it didn't perform any functions that actually needed su level privileges, people would be pissed. But there's a lot of Windows apps that need to run as admin, even when their primary function has no need for admin level privileges. Their coders were just lazy, and instead of doing things following MS's guidelines, they take shortcuts that lead to big headaches for everyone down the line.
          Most apps don't handle a deny in UAC gracefully either, they either completely crash or have wildly unpredictable behavior. When they should be telling the user why they need a UAC ok, and giving an option to gracefully quit or retry, they seem to prefer to pretend it doesn't exist.

          I think everyone agrees, UAC as it stands is a clusterfuck. But I think MS deserves a little slack. They are fighting a major battle, trying to reign in the thousands of terrible windows coders and get them to finally play nice not being admin all the time. Granted it would not be as big a problem if they had not ignored it for so long, but 2000 and xp both prove that simply offering and recommending that users don't run as admin, and programs not require it, is not enough.
          Hopefully MS will keep working and improving it, and app designers will get tired of their users complaining about UAC prompts and design their apps to only need admin(and thus an UAC prompt) at install.

          • by vux984 (928602) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @05:13PM (#27107001)

            Thats really the problem with UAC. It comes up so often for no good reason, and gives no information to the user why it even came up.

            Really? I almost never get a UAC prompt I don't expect. I do agree it should explain more about what it is trying to do.

            The only people with the technical skill to make intelligent choices about it don't need it.

            Yes and no. Its true only people with technical skill will know whether the UAC prompt is expected or not. However, when a technical person gets one he doesn't expect, that a sign of well, UN-expected, activity going on. And yes, technical people do need that. If I run something and I don't expect a UAC prompt, and I get one, that's real red flag.

            Of course, the problem in some ways is not even MS's fault. The reality is most Windows programs are doing things that trigger UAC prompts for no good reason. In the linux world, if an text editor or card game or whatever app required you to su every time you ran it, even when it didn't perform any functions that actually needed su level privileges, people would be pissed.

            Precisely. Once the software ecosystem catches up, the only time you will see Vista UAC prompt is when you are installing software, installing hardware, or performaning genuine system admin stuff. Even today, as long as you stick to new "Vista aware software" you really don't see Vista UAC prompts for no reason. None of the software I use requires needless UAC prompts.

            And the majority of UAC prompts I see are the result of auto-updates. And MS should start build a windows update site for 3rd parties and encourage companies to integrate with it. So I can authorize firefox, adobe reader, java updates all with one UAC prompt, instead of a separate one for each application.

            I think everyone agrees, UAC as it stands is a clusterfuck.

            I don't think its a clusterfuck. Its not perfect... I'd like to be able to see device manager without a UAC prompt (and only require one to make a change). I'd like more information on what exactly a program is doing that needs an elevation. But overall, its a very good first effort. MS had a much harder problem to solve than linux... on linux if an app tries to do something its not supposed to the OS just disallows it outright. That's ideal, but its just not an option on Windows... too much legacy stuff would just silently break... UAC's prompt is an acceptable transitional work around. Longer term, I think Windows will be able to move towards a *nix like system, but clearly that's not a jump they could just do all at once.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by glitch23 (557124)

            Of course, the problem in some ways is not even MS's fault. The reality is most Windows programs are doing things that trigger UAC prompts for no good reason. In the linux world, if an text editor or card game or whatever app required you to su every time you ran it, even when it didn't perform any functions that actually needed su level privileges, people would be pissed.

            5 years ago I implemented a Windows system for a gov't agency which required to have the typical auditing capabilities of the OS turned on. So I turned on success and failure auditing for object access. I quickly found out that this generated way too much (useless) information. I turned off success audits but still got a ton of audit data. The problem was that many applications (even Microsoft apps) were trying to access registry keys and files with privileges higher than they really needed and were generat

        • Re:If it was easy-- (Score:4, Interesting)

          by dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @12:57PM (#27105327)

          Nice car analogy!

          I had a car that required you to close the driver's door with the key. Worked very well.

          It was much more like sudo/gksudo/kdesudo. Only those with the key can make big mistakes.

        • Re:If it was easy-- (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Blakey Rat (99501) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @01:25PM (#27105549)

          That's fine, I hear a lot of valid criticisms of UAC.

          What bothers me is nobody seems to answer the question: "What *should* they be doing?" in a reasonable manner.

          If you ask that on Slashdot, you get either "switch to Linux hur hur" or "they should write a new OS from scratch and run NT in a VM." Neither of those is a realistic option. The second is (slightly) more realistic, but it would be a decade of work even assuming MS started this minute.

          To make things worse, when Microsoft makes UAC comprehensive (like in Vista) people whine that it's too annoying. When they make it looser (like in Windows 7) people whine that the protection on rundll isn't sufficient. I almost feel sorry for Microsoft, because there's literally no way they could make everybody happy.

          So what should Microsoft be doing?

          • by TheLink (130905) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @02:18PM (#27105871) Journal

            They should be doing this:

            https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/156693 [launchpad.net]

            http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1152645&cid=27105713 [slashdot.org]

            Summary:
            UAC is like getting users to solve the "halting problem", e.g. figure out whether the program will halt or not (aka screw up your PC or not) without having the program's source code, or knowing all the inputs. Google the "halting problem" to see how hard it is.

            My suggestion is analogous to:

            Program: "Hi, I'm a flash demo, I want 30 seconds of real time"
            User: "Sounds reasonable. OK",

            The O/S then runs the program, and if the program is still running 30 seconds later, the O/S kills it.
            So no need to figure out whether it will halt or not. The program will halt - the O/S ensures it.

            If the program says "Hi, I'm a flash demo, I want infinite time", it should be far easier to train the user to go: "No" or "Too bad, you only get two minutes to do your stuff, that's all I'm willing to give you".

            AFAIK, Microsoft has lots of very very smart people working for them. I'm sure they have already figured out something far better than my idea, after spending 6 billion dollars and thousands of man-years on Vista.

            So UAC is either institution incompetence, or malice (they just want to shift blame to the users, or they don't actually want increased security).

            • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:00PM (#27106189)

              It looks like you're suggesting sandboxing applications, like Vista and Windows 7 already do with IE. The problem is that sandboxed applications are terrible for backwards-compatibility, there are hundreds or thousands of applications that expect to be able to do things outside their "sandbox." It's potentially possible for Microsoft to create custom sandbox parameters for every piece of software on Windows, but again, that's not a realistic solution.

              And anybody who's used the sandboxed IE will tell you that the user experience suffers. Even simple tasks like dragging an image file from a webpage to the desktop require you to give permission for IE to break outside the sandbox. Imagine how hard it would be to drag an image from one sandboxed application to another, and that's a basic tasks that millions of people do every day.

              (I'm assuming your time-based solution is just an example, since 99.99% of applications on Windows are interactive and a time limit would make no sense.)

              So UAC is either institution incompetence, or malice (they just want to shift blame to the users, or they don't actually want increased security).

              Yes, it's impossible that the problem is more complex than you've thought about. It must just mean incompetency, eh? Or maybe a paranoid conspiracy!!! (This is why I hate having these discussions on Slashdot.)

              Yes, Microsoft has smart people. But this is a HUGE problem, probably a uniquely huge problem in the industry. It's not like "smartness" is some superpower that instantly solves the problem, it takes years of work, research, etc.

          • by funkatron (912521) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @02:30PM (#27105983)

            So what should Microsoft be doing?

            The one thing that's always worked before. Design a new colour scheme and let the marketing department do the rest.

          • by schon (31600) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:06PM (#27106233)

            "they should write a new OS from scratch and run NT in a VM." Neither of those is a realistic option.

            Why not? Apple did it, and people adjusted pretty well.

            Apple realized what MS didn't - that they had a single-user OS, and it was flat-out impossible to turn it into a true multi-user OS without changing everything about it, so they started over from scratch (well, with the help of Darwin) and ran legacy apps in a VM. It worked very well.

            Security is a necessary feature of any multi-user OS, and security isn't something that can be bolted onto something after the fact - you have to design software with security in mind. Windows (however much it tries to be multi-user) is still at it's core, a single-user OS. No amount of add-ons will change that. If they want security, they need to start over from scratch.

            Just like Apple did.

          • by rantingkitten (938138) <[kitten] [at] [mirrorshades.org]> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:23PM (#27106333) Homepage
            If you ask that on Slashdot, you get either "switch to Linux hur hur" or "they should write a new OS from scratch and run NT in a VM." Neither of those is a realistic option.

            How are these not realistic options? If you had a car that simply broke down every couple of days for no discernable reason, "get a different car" is a perfectly valid and realistic option -- a hell of a lot more reasonable than "continue with the car you have and make mostly random, incremental repairs hoping it'll get better."

            To make things worse, when Microsoft makes UAC comprehensive (like in Vista) people whine that it's too annoying. When they make it looser (like in Windows 7) people whine that the protection on rundll isn't sufficient.

            That's because Windows security is fundamentally flawed from the ground up and bolting on garbage like UAC isn't the answer, nor was it ever. If Microsoft can't get their stuff together, using a different OS is a perfectly reasonable answer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I agree 100%. I guess I'm in the minority but I love Vista UAC. Fairly often I will carelessly click something, and UAC gives me a second chance to abort before it's too late. UAC is only useful 1 time in 20, but I thank my lucky stars that 1 time.

        Your comment reminds me of that a shirt sold by T-shirt hell which said on it "What about the good things Hitler did?".

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Your comment reminds me of that a shirt sold by T-shirt hell which said on it "What about the good things Hitler did?".

          I want one with "Remember Godwin's Law" on it.

    • OSX UAC (Score:3, Insightful)

      by goombah99 (560566)

      OSX has both the unix permissions and something like the UAC.

      I find the UAC so mind boggling I don't use it. Some applications seem to respect it and some don't. e.g. if you can't do something in a Finder window, sometimes you can do it in a terminal window. I have not figured out what the pattern is or if the UAC are there to allow actual secure protection or just guard railings to keep the riff raff from doing stupid things.

      I suspect the Windows folks would say the UAC is just guard railings not actual

      • I suspect the Windows folks would say the UAC is just guard railings not actual security.

        The proper term is now guide rail because a guard rail doesn't actually guard against anything and as usual, someone probably sued someone over the technicality after having an accident.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blueg3 (192743)

        Actually, what it has is essentially like sudo but with a graphical authentication system. (The authentication controls allow a fairly large amount of flexibility, but one of its major purposes is a gateway to setuid.)

        If you've ever written these sorts of programs, it's not "mind-boggling" at all. The Terminal will let you sudo-run any command you want; of course you can do it through the Terminal. They haven't covered in the Finder every possible situation you might need privilege escalation -- they have t

  • by gadget junkie (618542) <gbponz@libero.it> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:38AM (#27104361) Journal
    I still think that Microsoft will have a very hard time prying customers away from the fiercer of its competitors: WIN XP.

    In all the financial institutions I work with, or know, WIN XP is the validated standard, and as far as I know no one takes the XP "expiry date" seriously, so no plan B is in place.

    This is still in Microsoft favour, since no one is actively pursuing things like ubuntu/open office or such, but it's anyone's guess how long this state of grace will go on; after all, many applications work in terminal emulation, which is an ancient technology by any standard; why use Vista of Windows 7 for that?
    • by myxiplx (906307) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:55AM (#27104479)

      Yup, Microsoft have a real fight on their hands retiring XP. I think Windows 7 is a huge improvement over Vista, I really like the thought that's gone into the new task bar (and can name probably a dozen users at our company who will benefit as they never did grasp the difference between a button to launch a program, and one to switch to the existing copy).

      The new drive encryption stuff sounds promising too, as does AppLocker (provided you don't look too hard at it...).

      But then I found that we don't get drive encryption without the full blown enterprise product, and associated subscription costs. AppLocker sounds painfully hard to implement, and while the task bar is nice, it's not really £50+ per user nice. So even though I think they're finally getting things right with Windows 7, I still can't see any good reason for us to upgrade. So far there's absolutely nothing that we can't achieve with XP.

      And that's the crux of the problem: This is a business decision, it's straightforward cost/benefit analysis. Right now I can't see any benefit that even comes close to justifying the cost of the upgrade.

      • Maybe Microsoft should sell UAC as part of a security bundle aimed at XP business users. It would piss off several firewall makers but that would be a small price to pay to be able to get more money from ancient XP licenses.
        • by myxiplx (906307) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @01:32PM (#27105599)

          Go google Winternals Protection Manager sometime. That *was* UAC (and then some) for Windows XP.

          Strangely enough, a couple of months after it launched, Microsoft bought the company producing it, and promptly buried the product. After all, you can't have good security getting in the way of Vista sales.

          That's yet another example of Microsoft making my life harder, and putting marketing ahead of good tech. I might be a Windows admin, and I've been running, supporting and recommending Microsoft products for a while, but I am *not* impressed with Microsoft these days.

    • Some very large government departments are only now switching from Win2000 to WinXP.
  • by nurhussein (864532) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:40AM (#27104371) Homepage
    Microsoft's approach to security is like putting too much air into a balloon! And when exploiters find a way around their measures, it's like.. a balloon, and... something bad happens!
  • by Nimey (114278) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:41AM (#27104383) Homepage Journal

    Aren't you glad this was caught in testing? Yeah, I am too.

    • by rsmith-mac (639075) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:10AM (#27104591)

      Unfortunately it's not a bug, or even a design flaw. Microsoft's in the position of trying to placate as many customers as they can. They tried doing security the "correct" way with Vista, only for the loudmouths of the world to run around telling everyone else that Vista sucked because they kept getting "those damned prompts." Hell, Apple even got in on the action and made TV advertisements about it lambasting Microsoft for doing security right*. So Microsoft does something about it: they scale back the security and scale up the convenience.

      Now Peter makes a good point in the article that Microsoft should have stuck to their guns, and I agree with him. Users won't do the right thing unless it's also the easy thing, so now and then you're going to have to club them over the head and make them do the right thing anyhow. But if Microsoft isn't going to do this, then they're in effect (back to) designing an insecure OS, because that's what people want. At some point you have to trade some convenience for some security, it turns out most people (or at least the loudest of them) will trade away every bit of security for every bit of convenience they can get.

      This isn't something that's going to be fixed. It's a design choice. It's what the people - in all their infinite stupidity - want.

      * OS X has a pretty big hole: any admin user account can write to the Applications directory willy-nilly. Just like with Windows, people tend to use admin accounts for day-to-day work. From a high-level perspective, Vista does more things right than OS X does

      • by MeanMF (631837)
        It may be the "correct" way, but it's worthless if it's so intrusive that people turn it off completely - that just sets you back to the broken XP model. Finding a balance is a good thing, and the option is still there to set it back to "Vista" mode if you want to run that way.
        • by rsmith-mac (639075) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:19AM (#27104649)
          The only correct way is the secure way. Anything that allows code to run with admin privileges without user confirmation is a problem.
          • by MeanMF (631837)
            They're trying to find a balance that is as secure as possible while encouraging as many people as they can to leave UAC enabled. It's not realistic to think that they can force everybody to run with Vista-style UAC. They're leaving that option in there for those that want it, and they're including new options for people who would otherwise disable UAC completely. Maybe it'll stop a lower percentage of attacks, but that's better than stopping none at all.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:46AM (#27104811)

            The problem is that when the UAC box pops up 4 times for the same file copy, people will naturally start ignoring it / not paying attention to it / turning it off. They habitually start clicking yes to everything because clicking yes means they get to do what they want, whereas clicking no stops them from doing what they want.

            This doesn't mean users want to trade "all security for convenience". It means users, shock and horror, actually want to use their computers to do what they want to do. If Microsoft cannot find a better way than to shove multiple nag boxes in your face every time you try and do one little thing, then they should immediately give up, because they are lost.

            I remember a study done ages ago that said that most people don't even read the text in a message box. They choose the option that allows them to do what they want to do. Nobody wants to pick the option that prevents them from doing the action they initiated - why else would they have initiated it?

            So why even pay attention to the box at all? After you've seen 50 of them, they are completely ignored. Users are not in the wrong here. It is not stupid to want to use your computer for something you want to do without being annoyed to death by idiocy.

            Regardless of intent, UAC does not work for humans. The human mind actively circumvents it as noise, just as it does with thousands of other distractions we deal with every day. Since Vista is presumably being marketed exclusively to humans at this point, it must either fit with the way human minds work, or perish entirely.

            The idea that UAC is great because of all those popups is ridiculous. The idea that users should enjoy those popups and actually be thankful of them is ignorant in the extreme. Microsoft has never made a worse UI decision in their entire history.

            You can claim the users are 'infinitely stupid' if you want, but from where I sit, the only stupid person is you.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by int69h (60728)

              The problem with the doors on my house is I have to unlock them whenever I want to enter my house after I come home from work. I just want to enter my house, I don't want to mess with door locks. Locks do not work for humans.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MadAhab (40080)

            Wow, I had better throw away my BSD and Linux boxes then. They have suid programs that run code with admin privileges without user confirmation!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Bull-Shit

        People do not tend to use "admin accounts" for day to day tasks on OSX. You have no idea what you are even talking about. OSX uses a sudo mechanism to elevate privileges (after authentication) for processes.

        It is not annoying, and fairly secure. The design is possible since they are based on a proper multi-user OS (BSD) and multi user and privilege separation is not an afterthought.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by salesgeek (263995)

        No. People piled on Microsoft because UAC was a nuisance and did little to improve security because even experienced users became conditioned to click on continue whenever they heard "bing".

        It was the world's largest exercise in Pavlovian conditioning. The Unix sudo model tends to work much better, and there are far fewer points where root access is required to get a particular task done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by goombah99 (560566)

        * OS X has a pretty big hole: any admin user account can write to the Applications directory willy-nilly. Just like with Windows, people tend to use admin accounts for day-to-day work. From a high-level perspective, Vista does more things right than OS X does

        It's true admin users can write to the app folder and even some worse stuff. Which is why people should not run as admin users all the time.

        The difference in my experience is that running as a non-admin user on a mac is pleasant. If you have both an admin and non-admin account then life is good when you run as non-admin. anytime you need privledges it asks you for the admin user id and password. it's not disruptive.

        I have not tried win 7 so I don't know if things have gotten better but it used to be th

      • by gillbates (106458)

        But if Microsoft isn't going to do this, then they're in effect (back to) designing an insecure OS, because that's what people want.

        No, people don't want an *insecure* OS; they want an *easy to use OS* that is also secure. UNIX, Linux, BSD, and Apple got the security model right; Microsoft didn't. That's why in Windows, security and usability is a zero sum game. Had Microsoft gotten the security model right in the first place, UAC wouldn't be an issue.

        At this point, backward compatibility and famil

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drsmithy (35869)

          UNIX, Linux, BSD, and Apple got the security model right; Microsoft didn't. That's why in Windows, security and usability is a zero sum game. Had Microsoft gotten the security model right in the first place, UAC wouldn't be an issue.

          From a low-level perspective, the security model in Windows is far superior to classic UNIX.

          From a high-level perspective, the security model in Windows is the same.

          What's your problem, again ?

          • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @01:14PM (#27105477)
            When I do day-to-day tasks on Linux, the only time I ever have to type in my password is when I am updating my software. On Windows I needed to use UAC for all kinds of daily things, some programs just *HAD* to be ran as admin, certain non-critical settings HAD to be clicked through a UAC prompt. Oh, and the fact that all UAC did was annoy me. The entire OS stopped until you clicked OK, the dialogue didn't even say why you had to be an admin nor did the program documentation, for most Linux programs a quick search in the man page would tell you why you need to be root, for Windows, nothing did.

            The fact that UAC pops up out of nowhere, doesn't give you any intelligent advice on to if you should click it or not, and basically if you don't, the program just fails, just conditions people to click OK to everything, everything from day-to-day programs to the latest worm or malware.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        I think part of the problem with UAC is that it tries to maintain backwards compatibility for applications, most of which just assume you are an administrator and proceed to pollute your system with all sorts of background tasks, explorer add-ons, codecs, toolbars etc.

        UAC is actually pretty similar to having to type the root password on Linux or MacOS when trying to do something which could compromise security. Sure, it goes a bit further than Linux or MacOS (e.g. requiring permission to change the time) b

        • by drsmithy (35869)

          Sure, it goes a bit further than Linux or MacOS (e.g. requiring permission to change the time) [...]

          You need elevated privileges to set the time on a Linux system (as you should). It's been a while since I actually did it manually, but I would assume you do on OS X as well (and if you don't have to, then you should).

      • > They tried doing security the "correct" way with Vista, only for the loudmouths
        > of the world to run around telling everyone else that Vista sucked
        > because they kept getting "those damned prompts."

        Can't agree.

        "Correct" would be to plan security proactively. Vista UAC was entirely reactive. The "Correct" way of preventing a car accident is not to invest in the best, top of the line anti-lock brakes with the best computer technology to prevent collisions...it's to not follow the car ahead of you

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        Vista's way isn't correct at all. BSD, Linux, did it right. Windows 2000/XP were almost right.

        Here's the things that Vista does wrong with security:

        1) Doesn't prompt for admin password. Instead, it just prompts Cancel / Allow.
        2) Doesn't tell you what or why it is prompting.
        3) Double prompts. (And worse)
        * They needed to prompt for the duration of the app (or a time limit), not for each individual operation.
        4) Prompts at places where security is not relevant, such as
        - Modifying the start menu. Other OS'

      • The thing is, the MS developers should have read the sudo man page before they implemented UAC. They were too proud to do that. It seems like they forgot that many years ago, MS had their own Unix distribution (Xenix), so they had a clue back then.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Hal_Porter (817932)

      This shows the benefit of Microsoft's development model. They have an (effectively) open beta so everyone interested will have downloaded the beta and tested it. Closed source, signed binaries and software that phones home (or DRM as slashdot inaccurately calls it) means that they can give away the beta and be confident that most (note: not all) people will stop using it when it expires and buy the full version.

      In the meantime the software is going to be widely used and people will check for exploits like t

      • by drsmithy (35869)

        Windows isn't even a monopoly either. Vistas flaws have seen the OS X market share increase.

        Note that from a legal perspective, Windows and OS X are not competitors, so OS X's marketshare has zero impact on whether or not Windows is a "monopoly".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stormwatch (703920)

        There are more eyeballs on Windows 7 than Linux, and more programmers working to fix the bugs the eyeballs find, because Windows is a multibillion dollar product.

        No, because the "eyeballs" law does not refer only to testers, but also developers.

        Microsoft has a legion of unpaid beta-testers, sure. But those people are not allowed to read the code. They can't fix stuff by themselves. To use a popular car metaphor: even those with mechanical skills can't fix the "Windows car" because the hood is welded shut. T

    • The flaw is fundemental to the design, this is NOT a coding error, the entire idea is flawed. It should have died at the drawing board. For it to have made it to the beta shows just what is wrong with software development especially at Microsoft.

      For the famous car anology, a brake that malfunctions under stress is something you find during a driving test. A brake that is only attached to one wheel, that being the spare should have been caught a bit earlier. But of course the car industry isn't that stupid,

  • by dgr73 (1055610) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:45AM (#27104409)

    I had my try with UAC and came to the conclusion that it's just a lose/lose situation for Microsoft.

    Lose 1. They're basically advertising to users that "The feature you're about to use is buggy as hell and totally insecure, so you'll have to accept the responsibility for using it". Great way to sell a product.

    Lose 2. It's so annoying, people just turn it off completely, thus negating any "security" it supposedly provides

    The only upside is that they insulate themselves legally by having the user do the "not recommended" thing whenever they use the OS. Then again, they've never been much to accept responsibility for security problems anyways, it's kind of a moot point.

    • by Shados (741919) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:56AM (#27104483)

      Its not a bandaid, since its basically a copy of what every other OS does and is considered critical. Run as a least priviledged user and elevate only when necessary. The only real differences is:

      If you have an account thats not administrator, but is part of the administrator group, you still need to elevate.
      Its awkward and sometimes not possible to elevate an explorer window or the control panel (so you would only need to elevate once for multiple operations)
      You need to elevate an installer even if you only want to install a program for yourself, not computer wide.

      If those 3 main things were fixed, it wouldn't be much different from sudo, and even has some advantages over it. But people spoiled by running constantly as administrator, or worse, being so arrogant that they think UAC is just "for noobs", would still disable it.

      • by similar_name (1164087) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:13AM (#27104609)

        But people spoiled by running constantly as administrator

        I don't know if users are more spoiled or programmers are. Most users don't know the difference until a program request it. I find it interesting that you can install Mozilla as a user into a user folder but then you can't install Adobe Flash for it unless you're an Admin.

      • by MeanMF (631837)
        Installing applications into a non-priviliged area doesn't sound like a good idea. If a user can write to it without elevation, then anything they run can also write to it without elevation. The idea of putting applications in Program Files is that once they're installed, the files are no longer writable.
      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        Since its basically a copy of what every other OS does

        Under the hood, yes, it is what other OSs do. The problem is that the UI was terrible. Your second point hits the nail on the head.

        Microsoft could have easily fixed this in a service pack to Vista.

        In practice, I can run Windows XP as a limited user, and modify the short cuts on the start menu so that they prompt me to run as admin, and I can get Windows Vista without all the pain. I wanna change 10 things on the start menu? I just click "edit start menu" and type in the admin password. Sure beats 20 pr

  • Mend it or end it? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Igarden2 (916096) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @10:47AM (#27104427)
    Let's see, how long did it take for M$ to realize many users weren't thrilled with IE and it's so called security? I'm betting UAC is here to stay for a loooooong time. They will just keep trying to patch it and in the process further irritate users.
  • by rjmx (233228) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:01AM (#27104509)

    First, let me say where I'm coming from. I've been using Linux for over twelve years; I have two full-time Linux servers at home, and a desktop and a laptop that both dual-boot Linux and Vista. I have an XP box and a Linux box at work, where I'm a Linux/Windows sysadmin and programmer, and I do most of my serious stuff there on the Linux box. At home, I stay in Linux most of the time, and I just boot into Vista when I want to run iTunes, or a game, or something else that only runs on Windows.

    That said, I actually like Vista. As I see it, its main problem is that is needs a fairly hefty machine to run it. If you're trying to run it with less than 1G of memory, or a not-very-fast processor, forget it. It certainly works for me.

    And I don't mind UAC at all. When it comes up, it's usually trying to tell me that I'm about to do something that may have serious consequences, and that I need to think about what I want Vista to do before I press OK. It just takes a moment, really.

    So why is everybody complaining about it? Have I missed something?

    • It is 'Security Theater', it will not stop botnets from being formed.
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:20AM (#27104657)

      People are bitching because they want to, as the saying goes, have their cake and eat it too. They want their OS to keep them safe. When something bad could happen, they want the OS to jump in and say "Hey there, this could have serious consequences, you sure?" However, they don't want to be bothered to think. They want this all automatic. They want the OS to magically know if things are bad, and thus only bother them in that case. They want security, but without any responsibility.

      Also some bitch because it is Microsoft. There are more than a couple MS haters out there that will hate on any and every thing MS does. If someone else does it, it is good, if MS does it, it's bad.

      So there isn't going to be any shutting up either group, unfortunately. You can't have magic security that keeps you safe, but never asks you questions. Personally, I was hoping MS would stick to the real security route: Have UAC a true privilege separation, with no exceptions. Yes this means you have to click a button when you want to do something as admin. Deal with it, it isn't as though it is that often in normal use, and it isn't as though it's a big deal. However, they are apparently caving in and making it less frequent by making things that don't have to obey the rules. Well guess what? When something can go around the rules, something else can use that hole to sneak through.

      It would be like having a security checkpoint for weapons. Everyone gets scanned and searched. However you decide "Well little old ladies aren't a threat, they wouldn't bring a weapon, so let's not inconvenience them, we'll let them go through." Then someone uses a little old lady to sneak a gun in. Maybe it is even done with out said lady's knowledge. They are able to circumvent your system because of your exception.

    • Yes... but... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TerranFury (726743) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:56AM (#27104885)

      I agree in spirit, but the implementation is bad.

      I once tried to write a "sudo for Cygwin" that would bring up the UAC confirmation box and run a program with associated elevated permissions in Vista. (Other people have written programs that they call "sudo for Vista," but none of them do what I want. In particular, they don't run programs in the same console.) In the process of poking through the security APIs, I learned a little about what a mess UAC is uder the hood.

      Windows NT/XP has a perfectly good security model, if only people would use it. In some ways it's more sophisticated than Linux's: For instance, file permissions are more fine-grained on NT. The problem really hasn't been with XP/NT; it's been "social:" it was the culture of software development on Windows to too often require, unnecessarily, that users have administrative rights.

      Microsoft's solution in Vista was to restrict the rights of administrators and add GUI confirmation boxes. This was the wrong solution, I think. In my (admittedly armchair-quarterback's) judgment, the right one would have been to,

      1 - Keep traditional XP-style administrator and user accounts, with roughly the same privileges as they'd always had.

      2 - Require OEMs to ship computers with user, rather than admin accounts, enabled. Randomly-generated default admin passwords should be written on a sticker on the front of the PC's case.

      3 - Add a "sudo" mechanism, perhaps with the following modifications from 'nix sudo to make it easier for novices:

      ... a - The sudo prompt pops up automatically when a program attempts to do certain classes of things for which it does not have privileges. This differs from Linux, in which a program will simply fail with an "Insufficient permissions" error; this would be pretty opaque to novice users I think.

      ... b - "sudo" could be configured (and perhaps should be by default) so that it is sufficient to click a "confirm" button in lieu of typing in a password.

      This is almost what UAC is. But the devil is in the details. What Microsoft actually did was make "Administrator" accounts into something more like "user" accounts, and add a level of privilege yet higher than administrator. But it feels tacked-on, and not really "at home" in the NT security model, which in fact provides plenty of control on its own over what rights different users and groups have, if only it were used correctly.

      In other words, Microsoft shouldn't have restricted Admin accounts in this poorly-documented way; it should have instead added a sudo mechanism to make it more feasible to run as a User, and kept the nicely-documented and well-designed security model that NT has always had but people have simply never used.

      • by drsmithy (35869)

        What Microsoft actually did was make "Administrator" accounts into something more like "user" accounts, and add a level of privilege yet higher than administrator.

        On a UNIX system, these are called the wheel group (might be 'admin', or something similar, depending on exactly which UNIX), and root, respectively.

        While the underlying implementation is quite different, from a high level, all Microsoft have done with UAC is implemented a somewhat automated "sudo" with "%admins ALL=(ALL) ALL" and made the defa

  • The problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:08AM (#27104567)

    Is that whiny users want something that magically protects them, but doesn't bother them. That's a nice idea and all, but you can't have that. You can't have it both ways with something like this: Either it is a real separation of privileges like it is in Vista, or there's going to be holes.

    Well, they gave people the real security that they'd been crying about with Vista. When UAC is on it is a no bullshit, you have to escalate to do things as admin. There aren't exceptions or the like, you escalate when you need admin. This does mean it asks in a lot of situations. Well, there's no avoiding that. Like I said, no exceptions. It is also very granular. It isn't one of these "Oh just click it once and we'll escalate everything for the next few minutes," things. That again would be insecure. No, it is per item. That thing and that thing only gets the elevated privilege.

    But people whined and bitched, including many of the same people who whined and bitched in the first place, so now they are backing off. Well, as part of that, you open up some potential holes. Sorry, but that's just life. If there are exceptions to the rules, then something can make use of those exceptions.

    You can't have a system that magically knows what the bad apps are, and only asks permission on those, well at least you can't without some sort of draconian trusted computing BS. That's what users want, but they can't have it, it isn't possible. Thus you've got three choices:

    1) Allow everything for administrators. Assume the admin knows what they are doing, and let them do whatever they want. Don't ask for permission for any action. This is the Windows XP method. It's very convenient, but also means that you'd better be careful.

    2) Have truly separate permissions, and require escalation. Everything has to go through the procedure, no exceptions. This is the Vista method. Means you get asked a lot (though personally I don't find it bad at all) but it is secure. Nothing gets to slide through because there aren't special cases.

    3) Have separate permissions, but allow exceptions to make things easier. Ask only in certain situation, or only so often. Just let everything else go by. This is the Windows 7 method (and also several variants of Linux I've seen). Fairly convenient, and more secure than #1, but only superficially so. Because there are exceptions, there are back doors for things to sneak through.

    So really, users have to come to terms with what they really want. The "I want it to protect me from bad things, but not bother me," doesn't work. That is akin to saying "I want security to make sure nobody sneaks a weapon on a plane but I don't want to go through a security checkpoint." No, sorry, doesn't work that way. If it is really going to work, then it has to be consistently applied to everyone or everything.

  • Microsoft went an interesting way with UAC and security in Vista. If you are running as a normal user, then if you attempt to do an operation that requires elevated priviliges, then you get prompted for an admin user id and password. Which is what you want.

    Where it goes weird is if you are running as administrator then it prompts you with the allow or deny box. This is silly for power users, but for people who only used the older versions of windows and don't know much about the other user rights model i
    • > I always thought the point of UAC was to push people to run as a normal user for their
      > day to day operations.

      Then non-admin would be the default. Is it?

  • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:12AM (#27104597)

    "Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches; the more stitches ..."

  • Human error (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mc1138 (718275) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:16AM (#27104635) Homepage
    Microsoft's problem is that they tried to fix human stupidity with a technical solution. The problem with UAC is that people would either just click ok without reading, or turn it off entirely. Then, complain that windows was insecure. What Microsoft failed to really come to terms with, is that there are a lot of dumb users out there that will circumvent everything, go to all the nasty porn sites they can, and get viruses that they will then blame on something other than their own user error.
    • Truth. I'm not a fan of MS but it does seem that they cannot win with this. People just want the trains to run on time and they'll get that and damn the consequences.
  • by Trip6 (1184883)
    I'm mostly an office user and switched to Mac - there's no way I'll run Vista or, at this point, W7 (which looks like a Vista retread). I'm not at all alone. How fast will MS OS share decline if W7 doesn't stop the bleeding?
  • Windows was designed as a single user system with the user sitting at the box. As soon as you connect it to other boxes via a network it's dead. All of Microsoft's plans for Windows security are based around trying to get a level of multi-user protection into a system not designed for it. They are desperately trying to apply a band aid to a broken leg with solutions like UAC; some of the damage may be limited but it's not a great solution and will never be, no matter how much they work on it.

    The only soluti
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ettlz (639203)

      The only solution is to scrap Windows altogether and build a new multi-user OS from scratch....

      And what might they call this... this New Technology?

      OWAIT

    • by drsmithy (35869)

      Windows was designed as a single user system with the user sitting at the box.

      Windows NT has been a multiuser system since day 1.

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:24AM (#27104683)

    ...APIs such as WriteProcessMemory and CreateRemoteThread.

    At first glance I was wondering why Microsoft would supply and API function CreateRemoteThreat().
    Even for Windows, that would be a little out there.

  • by sam0737 (648914) <sam@chowch[ ]om ['i.c' in gap]> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:35AM (#27104741)

    ...is to re-configure the UAC to make it as strict as Vista.

    Hell, UAC is good. It's better than sudo. With sudo I will be tempted to use "sudo -s".

    The most common scenario to meet an UAC dialog for me is when installing new apps or drivers. Other than that, you shouldn't really see an UAC dialog...
    Most of the apps I came across have adopted to require no admin privileges. After all, it's the App fault to requires UAC in the first place for those doesn't really need admin privileges.

    BTW, I think in Win 7, AFAIK all Microsoft signed EXE are exempted for UAC prompt by default. There isn't a whitelist but simply all MS signed binaries are exempted.

  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @12:01PM (#27104913) Homepage Journal

    In the original Vista release, this activity would cause an annoying back-to-back double elevation: once to create the folder, and again to rename it to its intended name. Service Pack 1 streamlined this a little, reducing it to only a single elevation, but Microsoft clearly wanted to get this down to zero.

    NO! Bad monkey, no cookie! There is NO reason to allow ANYTHING to write to my /Program Files (or /Applications if you prefer) folder without my permission. None. Zero. I want a prompt. Yes, just one, but I want a prompt!

    And that passes right into the hands of an almost unbelievable standard method in windows:

    Unfortunately, the "Microsoft-signed application" restriction is easily bypassed using a standard Windows trick that allows one process to insert code into a second process, as long as both processes are being run by the same user. The limitations of the file management component are probably unavoidable (it can only do the things it has been programmed to do, after all), but it turns out it doesn't really matter. The file management component can place files into various locations on the system that an unelevated user cannot; an auto-elevate program can then be tricked into loading those files and executing code from them.

    The result is, just as with the rundll32 problem, silent and automatic elevation, able to do anything.

    WHY ON EARTH would you arbitrarily allow any random program a user is running to pass commands to a signed application that by its signature can walk right through locked doors?? I'll admit there probably are instances where you would like to pass commands (requests) to another app to handle something, you either (1) have to severely restrict the scope of the requests it will process, or don't sign it to give it rights to do whatever it pleases. This is like a mall security guard being given the keys to the maintenance halls, and the guard letting any joe public in that asks him. Either give him some common sense or take away his keys. A filemanager that has the power to do anything you ask it to, and will do so blindly and willingly, is just a jaw-dropper.

    Sometimes the scope of Windows security stupidity astounds me. And yet they consistently keep finding ways to top themselves.

  • Back out the huge mistake introduced in 1997 with Active Desktop... the ability of the HTML control to grant untrusted code full local user privileges. Building layers of soft internal sandboxes between local user processes is fine and dandy, but it won't provide a fraction of the benefit of reducing the surface area to initial infection.

    Remove the ability of the HTML control to grant local user access. Make ANY privilege escalation from a hard sandbox (via ActiveX, .NET, or active scripting, or even passin

  • by Myria (562655) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @01:35PM (#27105619)

    Before Vista came out, during its beta phase, I already thought of a way to get around UAC using a form of social engineering. First, two background facts:

    1. When you run a signed program as Administrator, the UAC dialog box you get is colored differently, such that it looks more legitimate.

    2. Explorer runs as an unprivileged account, and as such can be injected into (same as TFA).

    The idea is rather simple. Have your malware inject into Explorer and wait. When the user finally does something that requires elevation, intercept the request.

    Instead of running the application the user intended, elevate a Microsoft program that can easily be told to run another program; simple examples are cmd.exe and rundll32.exe. The UAC dialog box will come up, as the user expected. The program name will say "Windows Command Processor" instead of whatever Control Panel feature the user was actually trying to use.

    But how many non-expert users know the difference? They were expecting to have to elevate and will click Yes. "Windows Command Processor" sounds legitimate enough.

    After your malware takes control, run the original program the user wanted to run, keeping the illusion that everything is normal.

    By the way, Administrator access is overrated. You can be a botnet node, steal bank account passwords, and still WoW passwords all without needing to ever access the Administrator account in Windows. Those passwords are the items of real value now, and they're in unprivileged processes within the reach of unprivileged malware.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @02:00PM (#27105759) Journal
    The main problem is that most app developers in Windows world hard wire stuff and assume the users will have admin privileges. On the unix side, because it was used in multi user env from the get go, and it was real pain to get the sysadmin to install something for you, most unix apps are designed to run without admin privileges. If an unix app asks for extra privilege it immediately sets of alarm bells and people ask "why do you need root access?" and the app developer has to convince the user that the process really needs root privilege. It is easier for the app developer to work around the problem by not requiring root privlege. And the system has been poked and probed for years in college campuses and almost all the privilege escalation hole has been found and patched.

    In the windows side, people rarely ask the question "Why do you need admin privilege?" Till the app developers learn to write code that lives comfortably in user space with user privilege, you will have problems.

    The problem is not users blindly klicking UAC dialogs or MS's auto privilege elevation is not perfect. The problem is users not asking the question, "why the hell you want to be root?".

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