Thursday, April 3, 2008

OK...so...

aka "How to never by annoyed by UAC again"
My last post was a lame April Fool's joke. I wasn't seriously proposing that we replace the UAC prompt with a Captcha. It would kinda sorta make sense in some scenarios, but we've already solved the problem* differently. And captchas are annoying. Necessary evil, but annoying. (Isn't it truly weird that Captchas are the first step to Bladerunner-esque interrogations?)

*What problem? One of the things AUC addresses: If you are an admin user on Vista, your applications (mostly) run in normal user context - that is the core feature of UAC on Vista. If any (potentially) malicious software is running on your computer (in user context), you don't want it to be able to silently elevate to system context and open up firewall ports/reconfigure your system/etc.

(Yes, malware, even in user context, can probably send your credit card details to the other side other planet...malware running in system context is worse though, as it can reconfigure anything on the system to turn your computer into a spam zombie or botnet node/spy on other users/etc.)
If we didn't prompt the user before launching code in system context (from user context), malware could do literally anything to your machine (without you knowing) as soon as you doubleclicked on SeeParisHiltonNaked.exe. (Replace Paris Hilton with whoever you really really want to see in the nude.)

The AUC prompt is displayed on a dark background because it is running in a different screen session - the malware (back in user context) can't see the prompt/automatically click on it/etc. (If we displayed a captcha at this point (instead of an Allow/Cancel prompt) the malware back in user context won't be able to see it, or perform any action on it. The black frame means that only you, the user, and the Windows OS, can see (or interact with) any content on the screen.)

So - UAC prompts: Neccesary evil. Well...Neccesary evil to protect you from true evil.

Unless...
Unless, of course, you generally know what you are doing.

You can easily configure UAC to never prompt you. You do, of course, need to be careful when downloading and running any software downloaded from the internet - you don't want random code from the internet to be able to get into system context on your machine.

But, if you always go "Hmm, is this a good idea to do this?" when you see the UAC shield on a button/menu...you don't need to see a UAC prompt, do you?

If you are a user with administrator priviledges:

To remove the prompt - run gpedit.msc, go to Local Computer Policy - Computer Configuration - Windows Settings - Security Settings - Local Policies - Security Options.
Look for 'User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for administrators in Admin Approval Mode' in the list on the right, and set it to 'Elevate without prompting'
Then, run 'gpupdate' from an elevated command prompt.

And you'll never see any UAC prompts, ever again.

But you have to promise to never run random executables off of the internet - stick to adobe.com or Paint.Net - stuff people trust. Stay away from SeeHarrisonFordNaked.exe.

15 comments:

[deXter] said...

Uhm, is the "adobe.com" mention a slip-up or sarcasm? (I mean, what with all the holes in Flash and everything..)

Anyways, my question is: If the UAC prompt is disabled in this manner, would it also remain disabled for limited user accounts?

Andrew said...

So are you saying that this will remove the prompt - yet still allow the same protection or capability that UAC provides? For example - is this the same as just turning off UAC or is UAC just in full operation - just without a prompt?

Soma said...

"Is the 'adobe.com' mention a slip-up or sarcasm?"
A 'slip-up' - My point was that software from large vendors is much less likely to be malware. I have Flash installed on my computer, like almost everybody else on the planet. :) (Who wants to go without YouTube?)
Adobe will patch Flash very soon, I'm sure. If you are paranoid, you can uninstall it until they release a patch. Most people aren't that paranoid.

"If the UAC prompt is disabled in this manner, would it also remain disabled for limited user accounts?"
Anybody running in a 'limited' (non-admin) user account will still get the admin-password prompt. As they should - they aren't admins!

"is this the same as just turning off UAC or is UAC just in full operation - just without a prompt?"
This is *not* turning off UAC.
If you turn off UAC, all programs run with full permissions (if you are a user with administrator priviledges)
If you *disable* the AUC prompt, your software still runs without administrator priviledges (even though your user account has administator priviledges) - Any program on your computer can silently (without you knowing) elevate to full admin/system context...so you should only run things you trust.

This is still *somewhat* better than running with AUC off - If your progam gets data off of the internet (eg a Bittorrent client, etc) and it has a buffer overrun...A random attacker on the internet could take over that program. And (now that I think about it) silently (without you knowing) elevate to full administrator/system context code - because you disabled the UAC prompt...

So...as long you are very sure that the programs on your computer aren't malware...and you are sure they don't contain any buffer overruns or other security problems...you are safe.

aaron.axvig said...

Much easier, although I suspect not exactly the same thing: Open control panel, type "Disable UAC", click the first result.

Mugunth Kumar said...

The most annoying this in the prompt is that, "An un-identified program wants to access this computer..." {0asddfkh-ajey-qhwif78-fhi3-qwr783}
How the hell do I know what programs' guid is that? Why can't you just display the executable path? Secondly, why don't you just start the program with least privileges and elevate it when it needs to perform admin tasks?
For example I start regedit from an admin account. Start it with least privileges and when I edit a HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE key, elevate it. When I edit a HKEY_CURRENT_USER key, don't do anything. I like the Windows Defender Software Explorer design. It starts up normally showing current user tasks. But when I click the "Show All users", the task is elevated and I get to see all users' tasks. Elevate only when absolutely necessary. Avoid elevating at program startup. Sometimes people just get used to it and click "Allow" in the UAC prompt...

Craig said...

Hold on

What is AUC?

Chris Knight said...

UAC = tell the vendor to stop shipping crap software

UAC != enhanced security

Mindless clicking leads to the same old problem. At the end of the day, Joe Average has no idea what UAC is preventing. There's absolutely no useful context provided in the UAC prompt as to what the user is being asked to elevate. The Defender prompts are only slightly better.

Registry virtualisation and system file virtualisation helps, as will behavioural analysis of software, but we've got a way to go yet.

lx said...

Yeah, but if the UAC window pops up while Joe is working with ms paint / [insert other program here] or maybe even doing nothing at all, then the chances are good that he might be sceptical.
UAC is a good start and there isn't really someone who has a better solution implemented to this problem right now (correct me if i'm wrong).

Of course there is and will always be a very stupid user; you can't do anything about it.

To end this post with a quote:

"Programming today is a race between programmers striving to build bigger and better idiot proof programs, and the universe trying to build bigger and better idiots. So far the universe is winning"

Lebegő Alma said...

Hi there!

I was wondering if the next windows could have a real dedicated folder for temporary files.
It has such now.. but there are many other folders where are stuff which I can delete to get more space ( like before a proper defragmentation )( folders like the thumbnail cache, like iexplorer cache etc...).

This would be great when ALL of such files would be placed in to that folder. And maybe other third party software would find it useful to use that folder too.

Thanx!

Mugunth Kumar said...

@Lebego alma,
Actually there is a handler that should be implemented by every application that creates huge temporary files. This handler is the one that notifies Windows Disk Cleanup utility to remove its files. Unfortunately, it's not properly implemented by the third-party vendors... I'm not sure whether this is a mandatory implementation for the "Designed for Windows Vista" logo program...
May be Soma can throw us some light on that...

Lebegő Alma said...

Mugunth Kumar
Thank you for this info, however I think it is much much easier to create such temp folder and tell everyone to use it. This is not a brainer for any software developer, but telling windows Disk Cleanup where to delete and what... I think you know what I mean. And btw, who uses that utility anyway? :D

Mugunth Kumar said...

Yeah, that's a kind of neat implementation... but, having more APIs means porting the application becomes a problem. If porting becomes a problem then application migration will be time-consuming. If it becomes time consuming, then, no one will do it. So a Windows app will not be available for Mac. Which effectively means, Switching to a diff os is simply impossible... Registry, Dll Hell are all indirect way of doing the same thing... (If developing for Windows is so complex why do many ppl write windows app?) the answer is, M$'s very powerful IDE...that does magic behind...

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