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System Polices and the Policy Editor

Configure and troubleshoot system policies. Considerations include client computer operating system, file locations and names, and interaction between local security policy and system policies.

System policies, for the most part, enable you to avoid creating logon scripts for users. These policies set certain configuration limits to ensure that the environment the user is working in is suited specifically to the job that she has to do.

Policies and Profiles Compared

A lot of confusion exists over the difference between a system policy and an account profile—a dressing metaphor may help. When you are getting dressed in the morning, your closet contains the possible clothes that you can wear. Of course, you are restricted in what you can wear by what is in your closet; this is like a system policy, which controls what options you have to choose from as a user. On the other hand, tomorrow, when you go to choose clothes, you remember what you wore yesterday in choosing what you will wear today; this is like your profile.

Your profile keeps a record of what you did (set up system colors, change drive mappings, and so on); your policy keeps a record of what you can do. Sometimes policy and profile intersect, especially when it comes to mandatory profiles that reset your environment every time you log on. However, the policy will always override the profile, ensuring that the choices a specific user has will be only as broad as the system will allow.

Policies can be set up for individual users, for groups, and for computers. They allow configuration of Registry settings, which are then applied to a specific user when that person has logged on. These settings can be set using a number of typical configurations, or they can be set by directly editing Registry settings. Typical configuration settings would be things such as removing Start menu choices, preventing a user from seeing the Network Neighborhood icon, or configuring a logon warning banner.

System policies are created using the policy editor and are then replicated to all the domain controllers—thus ensuring that policies are the same regardless of what DC authenticates the logon.

The System Policy Editor

The System Policy Editor can be accessed either from the Start menu, Programs, Administrative Tools (Common), System Policy Editor, or by running the program POLEDIT.EXE. Having invoked it, a dialog box displays (see Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. The System Policy Editor is where system policies are created and maintained.

The System Policy Editor has two modes: Registry mode and Policy File mode. In Registry mode, you can use the System Policy Editor to make configuration settings to a local machine or a remote machine (provided that you have sufficient permissions to do so). In Policy File mode, a configuration file can be created that can be set to load into a user's Registry on system startup.

Registry Mode

In Registry mode, System Policy Editor enables whoever is using it to display and change Registry settings of either the local computer or another computer on the network. In form and function, System Policy Editor's Registry mode stakes out a niche somewhere between Control Panel and Registry Editor. It does not provide the complete Registry access that Registry Editor affords, but it is much easier to use, and it provides powerful access to settings you cannot access via Control Panel. System Policy Editor has a hierarchical structure similar to the Registry, and although its interface isn't quite as graphical as that of Control Panel, it is remarkably simple and convenient when you consider its power.

You can use System Policy Editor for the following tasks:

  • Setting the maximum number of authentication retries

  • Prohibiting Windows NT from creating 8.3 aliases for long filenames

  • Defining a logon banner to appear prior to logon

  • Enabling or disabling a computer's capability to create hidden drive shares

  • Hiding the Network Neighborhood icon

  • Removing the Run command from the Start menu

  • Requiring a specific desktop wallpaper

  • Disabling Registry editing tools

The best way to get a feel for the kinds of things you can control using System Policy Editor is to browse through the Properties dialog boxes yourself (as demonstrated in Step by Step 4.2 and Step by Step 4.3). As you study for the exam, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the System Policy Editor settings.

You access System Policy Editor via the Administrative Tools program group. Open the Start menu, choose Programs, select Administrative Tools, and click the System Policy Editor icon.

System Policy Editor's Registry mode displays a portfolio of Registry settings that enable the administrator to customize the configuration for a specific machine or a specific local user. Step by Step 4.2 walks you through using the System Policy Editor to change Registry settings.


4.2 Changing Registry Settings Using System Policy Editor

  1. In the System Policy Editor, choose File, Open Registry. Figure 4.3 shows the System Policy Editor main screen in Registry mode.

  2. Figure 4.3. System Policy Editor in Registry mode.

  3. Double-click the Local Computer icon to configure Registry settings for the computer you are currently using. The Local Computer Properties dialog box appears, showing the hierarchy of the local computer (see Figure 4.4).

  4. Figure 4.4. The Local Computer Properties dialog box in System Policy Editor's Registry mode.

  5. Click a plus sign (+) to see settings within each of the categories, and then check or uncheck the leaf-level settings to enable or disable the options. If an option requires additional input (such as display text for a logon banner), additional boxes and prompts appear in the space at the bottom of the dialog box.

  6. Click OK to return to the System Policy Editor main window.

  7. Double-click the Local User icon to configure Registry settings for the user currently logged on to the computer. The Local User settings differ from the Local Computer settings, but the procedure is the same. Figure 4.5 shows the Local User Properties dialog box.

  8. Figure 4.5. The Local User Properties dialog box in System Policy Editor's Registry mode.

  9. Click a plus sign to see settings within each of the categories, and then check or uncheck the leaf-level settings to enable or disable the options. If an option requires additional input, additional boxes and prompts appear at the bottom of the dialog box.

If you have proper permissions, you can edit the policy file on a remote computer as described in Step by Step 4.3. This enables you to configure policies in remote locations that you cannot physically access.


4.3 Editing the Policy File on a Remote Computer

  1. In the System Policy Editor, choose File, Connect to open the Connect dialog box (see Figure 4.6).

  2. Figure 4.6. The Connect dialog box.

  3. Enter the name of the computer you want to reach and click OK.

  4. Another dialog box appears, asking which user account on the remote computer you want to administer. Select an account and click OK.

  5. The System Policy Editor reappears; it looks as it did in Figure 4.3, except the name of the remote computer appears in the title bar. Click the Local Computer icon or the Local User icon, and then change the settings as described in the preceding steps.

A typical System Policy Editor task is to customize the logon process, which you can do by adding a logon banner using system policies. Step by Step 4.4 shows you how.


4.4 Adding a Logon Banner Using System Policies

  1. Start the System Policy Editor.

  2. Choose File, Open Registry.

  3. Double-click the Local Computer icon.

  4. Click the plus sign next to Windows NT System.

  5. Click the plus sign next to Logon.

  6. Select the Logon Banner check box. Then enter a caption and some text in the text boxes at the bottom of the dialog box (see Figure 4.7). When you finish, click OK.

Figure 4.7. Enabling a logon banner.

The logon banner caption and text appear under the LegalNoticeCaption and LegalNoticeText values of the following Registry subkey:

\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\ CurrentVersion\Winlogon

Policy File Mode

System Policy Editor's Policy File mode looks similar to Registry mode, but it differs significantly. System Policy is a kind of meta-Registry. The System Policy file can contain settings that override local Registry settings. You can, therefore, use System Policy Editor to impose a configuration on a user or machine that the user cannot change.


Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 Profiles Interchangeable Profiles created and distributed by either Windows NT 4.0 servers or Windows 2000 servers can be used by Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 clients interchangeably. Although each has features not used by the other, these are just ignored when not applicable. However, some compatibility issues exist with respect to software that expects to see the profile cached in a specific place on the client. For more information, see The Knowledge Base article at http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q224/0/12.ASP.

For Windows NT machines, the System Policy file is called NTCONFIG.POL. To enable system policy, create the NTCONFIG.POL file (using System Policy Editor) and place it in the \<winnt_root>\System32\Repl\Import\Scripts folder of the domain controller's boot partition. This directory is shared as \\PDC_servername\Netlogon$. (If you're storing system policy information for a non-NT Windows operating system—such as 95 or 98—create it with the policy editor for that operating system and then store in it using the filename CONFIG.POL rather than NTCONFIG.POL.)

When a Windows NT computer attempts to log on, Windows NT looks for the NTCONFIG.POL file and checks it for system policy information that affects the user or computer. Windows NT merges the system policy information with local Registry settings, overwriting the Registry information if necessary.


Exam Tip. Effects of Policies Should Be Remembered! It is very common to ask questions about the effect of policies on the user who is logging on. Remember the following: When a user logs on, the NTCONFIG.POL is checked. If there is an entry for that specific user, any Registry settings indicated will be merged with—and will overwrite if necessary—the user's Registry. If there is no specific user entry, any settings for groups of which the user is a member will be applied to the user. Following that, computer settings will be applied.

System policy information can come in several different forms. You can define a system policy for a specific computer, user, or group, or you can define default system policies. Default computer policies apply to all computers that do not have specific policy settings. Default user policies apply to all users who do not have specific policy settings or who aren't part of a group with specific policy settings.

Computer system policies modify the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE Registry subtree. User and group policies modify the HKEY_CURRENT_USER Registry subtree.

The types of settings you can define through System Policy Editor's Policy File mode are similar to the settings you can define through Registry mode, but system policy settings override Registry settings. Also, because you can apply system policy settings to groups, you can simultaneously set policies for several users or even for an entire domain.

A complete set of all system policy information for a given configuration is stored in one big system policy file. You can create different system policy files to test different system policy configurations. The active file (for Windows NT machines), however, must be saved as NTCONFIG.POL. (As mentioned previously, other Windows system policies must be saved in the file CONFIG.POL.)

Windows NT Server includes some system policy templates, which contain preconfigured system policy settings and categories. Those template files include the following:

  • c:\<winnt_root>\inf\common.adm. This template contains settings common to both Windows NT and Windows 95 (and not present in the following two files).

  • c:\<winnt_root>\inf\winnt.adm. This template contains Windows NT settings.

  • c:\<winnt_root>\inf\windows. This template contains Windows 95 settings.

To use a system policy template, choose Options, Policy Template from the System Policy Editor, and then choose a template from the list.

The system policy templates are written in a proprietary scripting language. (See the Windows NT Resource Kit for more information on the policy template scripting language.) Step by Step 4.5 goes through the steps to define a system policy.


4.5 Defining a System Policy

  1. In the System Policy Editor, choose File, New Policy. The Default Computer and Default User icons appear.

  2. Double-click the appropriate icon to set the default computer or default user policy. (The policy settings appear in a tree structure with check boxes at the leaf level.)

  3. Use the Edit menu (shown in Figure 4.8) to add specific users, computers, or groups to the policy file. When you add a computer, user, or group, an icon for whatever you choose appears with the Default Computer and Default User icons in the System Policy Editor main window.

  4. Figure 4.8. The System Policy Editor's Edit menu.

  5. Double-click the computer, user, or group icon to set or change system policy settings. (Select an icon and choose Edit, Remove to remove that item from the policy file.)

  6. When you finish making changes to the Policy file, choose File, Save As. Save the file as the following:

  7. \<winnt_root>\System32\Repl\Import\Scripts\NTconfig System Policy Editor automatically appends the .POL extension.

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