Microsoft’s Plea: Don’t Turn Off User Account Control

A Microsoft security guru is pleading with Windows Vista beta testers to not turn off the User Account Control feature, regardless of how annoying it is.

Jesper Johansson, a senior security strategist in the Security Technology Unit at Microsoft, admits that the current implementation of UAC presents too many privilege escalation pop-up prompts, but he insists there is a method to the apparent madness.

“Unless we get feedback on what works and what does not, we can’t fix it. If you disable critical technologies that we are trying to get to work, we can’t fix them,” Johansson said in a blog entry. “That means that, yes, some things will be annoying and not work quite right in the final release, unless people work with us to fix them,” he added.

With UAC, formerly called LUA (Limited User Account), Microsoft believes it has significantly changed the malware threat landscape by limiting the way malicious code runs on the operating system.

By default, current versions of Windows configure most user accounts as a member of the administrator group, giving users all system privileges and capabilities. This allows users to install and configure applications and make system changes, but it presents a serious security risk because malware writers could take complete control of an exploited system.

In Windows Vista, UAC will separate standard user privileges and activities from those that require administrator access, a modification aimed at thwarting virus, spyware, Trojan and rootkit attacks.

However, in its current implementation, UAC requires that users click on multiple security prompts before carrying out some of the most basic computer tasks.

Faced with the reality that Vista beta testers are turning off the UAC feature in frustration, Johansson is pleading for some support. He explained that Microsoft is using crash dumps from the OCA (online crash analysis) error reporting tool to pinpoint legacy applications and other programs that are not UAC-compatible.

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“UAC allows us to quickly spot all the broken apps out there so that we can either shim them to run as nonadmins or get them fixed. This latter is at the same time the most subtle and arguably most important of the things UAC does. It is also in many cases the most obvious, and the reason many people want to turn UAC off,” Johansson said.

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