Securing Windows NT/2000 Servers for the Internet

Author: Stefan Norberg



Publisher: O'Reilly

Reviewed by: Dean Wilson

I must admit that I was dubious about volunteering to cover this book when I saw it on offered on the list, I was expecting to open it up and see in huge letters, one to a page,

Step 1 "Unplug the Ethernet cable."
Step 2 "Remove the power lead."
Step 3 "Feel secure."

But I thought what the hell, I work in a Windows shop so I'll read it during the work day and get the company to cover my time. That worked out a very good move to make. While anyone that has spent any amount of time building NT and now Win2K boxen will know that making them secure enough to stand up on an Internet facing connection is no easy mark, the author of this book, Stefan Norberg, has released the best and most comprehensive guide to giving Windows admin's a fighting chance to date.

The book itself is slim and to the point, the author has a terse writing style that lets him cover a lot of very technical material quickly. From the start of chapter one and a quick high level intro to network security models, Windows architecture and a brief detour into both crypto and network protocols the tone of the book is shown to be brief and very technical, experience with Windows and networks is assumed in the reading audience. While this takes the book out of the hands of beginners it means that the book can cover a hell of a lot of ground in its 200 odd pages. I personally like this style and its one of the biggest selling points of O'Reilly books for me, more info in less pages.

The second chapter takes you through a tour of what is running after a default install, what it does, what it leaves open to attack and most importantly how to turn it off. This is one of few security books I've seen that show you how to disable the built-in Windows networking services that get left on after every install. The coverage is nigh on complete and includes services, user accounts, the registry and even optimising the resilience of the Windows TCP/IP stack. The only aspect of this chapter I could find any issue with is that towards the end of the chapter the explanations seem to get less terse and more rushed. Not a major gripe but annoying considering how good the rest of the chapter is.

Chapter 3 covers the differences between securing an NT and a Win2K box and then covers the newer features such as the IPSec implementation and how to set up filters on the host itself. This chapter is quite short as it builds on the previous one and only highlights the differences between the two.

The second half of the book covers the running, role and maintenance of the secured hosts. Chapter four covers some of the options available for secure remote admin of the boxen including PCAnywhere, Terminal Services (slightly overkill in my view) and an Open Source based solution involving SSH, Cygwin, TCP Wrappers and VNC. Which together make a pretty potent combination of tools but one that requires a fair amount of effort to deploy effectively.

The author then gives over a number of pages and an appendix (C) detailing how to install and build these tools on Windows. This is the weakest point of the second half of the book for me. I'd rather have more coverage of tightening up policies than build instructions but the author evidently knows his audience and when one of my co-workers flicked through the book he was impressed by the comprehensive build instructions. Proof that Linux and Windows admin's are from different disciplines.

Chapters five, six and seven cover more of the day to day jobs that need covering on a public facing server, how to plan and implement secure backup policies and the issues these raise. How to correlate auditing information and related topics such as network time syncing (And why NNTP is better than SNTP, something I could have done with about six months ago.) An overview of integrating Event Log with Syslog (Although this section is a little light on details) and ending with a very short chapter on the different types of audits that you should consider for your shiny new fortress.

I would have liked the book to expand a little and cover the securing of an IIS server under each of the operating system's as this is where I see most people deploying a Windows bastion host. It would have moved the book away from a pure OS level look at hardening but would have made a worthwhile addition.

Summary: If you do Windows admin then read this book. You'll be safer for it.