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Securing and Monitoring Remote Administration

Remote administration of servers is a valuable tool for distributed IT organizations. It is important, though, when enabling remote administration features in Windows Server 2003, to maintain a high level of security for the server resources. Windows Server 2003 installs but disables remote access features by default for security purposes. When enabling these features, ensure that only administrators with the proper credentials will be able to remotely gain access to the server. This section provides tips on securing and monitoring remote administration.

Securing Remote Administration

The security implications of enabling remote administration are fairly obvious. With remote administration features enabled, users who log on remotely can perform tasks as if they were sitting right in front of the server. Depending on the role the server plays in the organization, unauthorized access to a server can jeopardize a company's entire business. For this reason, it is important to protect the server from unauthorized access. Part I of this book, "Security Solutions," provides detailed approaches to securing Windows Server 2003. The following checklist points out key items to keep in mind for servers with remote administration features enabled:

  • Depending on the topological location of the server, firewall technologies can be used to protect the server. Some servers, such as VPN and Web servers, are more prone to attack due to their topological proximity to the Internet. As such, firewalls should be deployed and properly configured to filter network traffic to and from such servers.

  • Enable IPSec. IPSec policies provide both the strength and flexibility to protect communications between private network computers, domains, sites, remote sites, extranets, and dial-up clients. It can even be used to block receipt or transmission of specific traffic types. With an Active Directory domain, IPSec policies can be enforced using Group Policy.

  • Require all users who make remote connections to use strong passwords. The role that passwords play in securing an organization's network is often underestimated and overlooked. Passwords provide the first line of defense against unauthorized access to the server. Password-cracking tools continue to improve, and the computers that are used to crack passwords are more powerful than ever.

  • Limit the users who can log on to the server remotely. You can leverage security templates, or group policies to limit whom can connect to a server through Terminal Services. The setting Allow Logon through Terminal Services can be found in the Group Policy Editor by navigating to Computer Configuration\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Local Policies\User Rights Assignment.

  • Always password-protect Remote Assistance. A Remote Assistance invitation that has no password associated with it might be intercepted by an attacker, giving him the capability to remotely interact with a server. For this reason, it is also important to set an expiration time on the invitation.

Monitoring Remote Administration

Proper auditing practices go hand-in-hand with any good security policy. The Terminal Services Manager tool can be used to view and interact with remote connections in real time, but this is only helpful to view a server's current status. It is important to maintain and review the security logs of servers, as well as set up the proper items to monitor for events that occur when you are not actively watching for remote connections.

Auditing policies can be enforced on a server-by-server basis by applying security templates through the Security Configuration and Analysis MMC snap-in. In an Active Directory environment, auditing policies can be applied by group policy, as shown in Figure 8.7.

Figure 8.7Figure 8.7 Setting up an audit policy in group policy.

For servers enabled for remote administration, it is important to audit the success and failure of logon events, account management, policy changes, and system events. Also, failure of privileged use events should logged.

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