Windows

Locking your workstations down


It’s often difficult to decide on a policy for locking down

your workstations, especially in a small- to medium-size enterprise. It’s nice

to allow users some freedom to personalise their computers--install tickers and

screensavers, etc; however, there comes a point where an inordinate amount of

time is spent repairing and rebuilding machines due to users fiddling with

things that they don’t understand or solving software conflicts caused by

random applications, games, and malware. The only way to stop this regular

rebuild cycle is to lock down what users can do on their machines and create

standard builds including only the software required by users to meet their

business objectives. 

Most people working within a large enterprise environment

would be shocked at the suggestion that the average users would have anything

but the most basic rights, but this is pretty normal for smaller companies

which tend to follow more user-friendly standards. Microsoft allows a majority

of its employees full local admin rights, although this may

change with the rollout of Windows Vista, for security reasons.

So, locking down Windows workstations within a Windows

domain isn’t too tricky; group policies can be distributed, software deployed

and user group permissions defined. However, it can seem a lot more daunting to

set restrictive policies on workstations that are not operating in a Windows

domain environment.

So what are our basic tools for controlling what a user can and can’t do?

Account Permissions:

One way of limiting what users can and can’t do is to set

them up on the workstation with a limited account. This is a very simple

process, when a user is created via control panel; there is a choice of making

the user an Administrator (they can do anything on the machine) or a Limited

user. Limited users are very restricted; they cannot install software or hardware,

make system-wide changes, or access files of other users on the computer. One

issue you could encounter as a limited user is that some legacy (i.e.,

non-WinXP-approved) applications may not run correctly. Some users could be

added to the Power User group--which has more rights--however, these problems

can still occur. You may also find that setting up users with limited accounts

will stop them from installing random applications, but it doesn’t stop them

from messing around with other settings in their own account. This is where our

second tool comes in.

Group Policy Editor: 

The Group Policy Editor can easily be accessed by typing “gpedit.msc”

in your Run dialog on the Start menu. You will see straight away that the

layout is presented in a Windows Explorer style—if you descend through the

menus you’ll find the ‘Administrative Templates’ under ‘User Configuration’. In

this section, you can dictate a huge range of system permissions for the

current user. You can remove various options from the system, including access

to the Control Panel and Run dialog. This is a very powerful tool, even when

not combined with a Windows domain and the associated benefits. It will take

some time to fine-tune policies and find the right balance for your

organisation.

I’m still looking for a definitive answer as to how one

would create a master policy on one workstation, limiting a single user in

various ways (but leaving the administrator free to do anything and everything)

and then transferring this policy to other workstations in order to create a

standard build of permissions (without having to define each part of the policy

on every machine). I have also found that if using a Limited User account, one

does not have permissions to run the ‘gpedit.msc’ tool, therefore Group Policy

would need to be created as the administrator, and applied to the computer

rather than current user, which in turn limits the administrator. So far I

haven’t found a satisfactory way to limit a local user with the Group Policy

editor, while leaving the local administrator user unrestricted. Has anyone had

experience with achieving this task? If so please leave some clues in the

comments for this blog :)

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