If you are reading this then there is a fair chance that you're categorised as a 'power user' or a full administrator on your IT systems. There is also a fair chance that right now, you may be logged in with an account that has admin rights to your local machine.
If you ask someone: 'Do you need admin rights on your computer?'; the answer, 90% of the time, is: 'Yes, I could not work without this'. Psychologically, we all like to have the power of full admin control to our own computers all the time. If you are used to having full admin rights to a local machine then this is hard to give up, and giving this up can be akin to giving up smoking, gambling, etc. Admin rights are addictive!
There is a strong case for best practice (basically not disputed) for having permissions set on the basis of least required permissions. Part of this is making sure that you only use the login / admin / access rights that you need at the time. For normal day to day use, we should only be logging into a computer with 'user level' access.
The reasons for this are many and whilst you probably already know these, the key ones are worth reiterating:
1) Reduced Malware Surface and Risk - By using a user level permission account in day to day use, you minimise the impact of any malware that you may inadvertently come across while browsing the web etc. Whilst there may be some malware that can very cleverly bypass permissions on a computer, or exploit zero day flaws, assuming your computer is up to date, then you reduce the attack surface (and hence risk of contracting malware, Viruses and APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) on your computer by about 95% by using user level rights most of the time.
2) Regulatory Compliance- Nearly every IT security and relevant industry regulation standard specifies that organisations should adopt the principle of 'Least Privilege' . This includes UK PCI DSS standards, ISO27001, Sarbanes Oxley, UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA was FSA) etc. This covers not only compliance from the security stand point, but also in compliance with company IT policies - for example, with company software licencing and authorised software. If a user does not have admin rights then they can't install a bit of software which is not approved or licenced. Thus, administrators and company managers can be confident that there are not any hidden liabilities around and that change control is maintained. We've seen many occasions when a user might install a piece of software that either 1) has a hidden (and very undesirable payload) or 2) causes unexpected repercussions if, for example, it installs DLLs that then cause other software to run less reliably - which may not be easy to diagnose as the problems might not appear straight away and sometimes are only cured by a restore from image backup or at worst require complete PC rebuild.
3) Evidence Proves the Point - Analysts such as Gartner have proven that statistically, if you remove admin rights from most users, then you reduce security breach incidences, but also save money and wasted time in IT support. Having least privilege makes for a more supportable, reliable, productive and hassle free environment, and with lower support cost through both reduction in direct support costs, and lost time in productivity if a user is unable to work for a while..
If you want a second, third or fourth opinion on this, Google 'IT security best practice for least permission' or look at other blog entries like http://blogs.gartner.com/neil_macdonald/2011/08/23/the-single-most-important-way-to-improve-endpoint-security/ - who make the point well also.
So how do we address this practically?
The first thing is to admit that we have a problem and accept that you may be an 'adminrightsoholic' personally or indeed even suffer from endemic CEPS - Corporate Elevated Permission Syndrome to coin a phrase or two. You know you have admin rights, that others have full admin rights, and that you should give these up in every day use - you could give them up but you choose not to. Maybe you should stand up right now and state to the office that 'I'm an adminrightsoholic and I'm admitting this as the first step to changing my ways. I know it is not going to be easy and I'm going to ask for your support as trusted colleagues in getting through this tough time for the benefit of myself and the company. Will you join with me in this righteous journey?'
The key is to take things one step at a time, and learn to live with user permissions one day at a time.
The first steps:
We can address this personally and across a company. In taking Gandhi's words to heart that you should 'be the change you want to happen' the first place to start is on your own desktop or laptop computer.
If you are an administrator in a company, or genuinely (in this word is a world of debate and access to regression) need access to admin functions on your computer, then the best thing will be to create (if you don't have one already) a separate local admin account on your computer e.g. if you are BobP and this is your normal login, then you could perhaps create an account called 'bobpadmin' or suchlike. Both your new and normal accounts should have secure (complex passwords which are not easy to guess or Password123 etc.). Give the new admin account full local machine admin rights. Then log out of your normal account and log in with the admin account. Remove admin rights from your normal user account (on the local machine, such that you are only a User (or any other special groups you need). Then log out of the admin account and back in with your now only regular user level account. Congratulations; you just went cold turkey on desktop admin access on your Windows PC. Continue to work as normal and you can feel smug that you've given up your full admin permissions in day to day use. If and when you need to install software on your machine then you can; but run the installer as your admin account.
You'll find that actually everything works fine. In reality we don't install software very often so you'll only rarely need to enter the higher level account details for elevated permissions. If you're still considering all this, ask yourself when you (knowingly) last installed a piece of software on your computer.
As I type this I can admit that 'I used to be an adminrightsoholic' and now I've turned a leaf. It was hard to do it but now I'm glad I have and like many things, this is something I should have done long ago. I can now be the most annoying type of reformed addict who can evangelise to the world about the benefits of giving up.
At the wider corporate level though, it is important that users and rights are documented and set on the principle of least permission. Some users may genuinely need admin rights but best if the dual account method is used here to minimise use of elevated rights, which includes for very senior network admins who should likely also have both a user level and an admin account so that things are done the right way and in the right place. If you are an Onega client then you'll have access to our Policies and Procedures Wiki Site where you can see formal policies for some of these. see http://intwiki.onega.net and the relevant section on this. If you don't have access to this and are a current client then feel free to contact us by any means at http://www.onega.net/contact. If you're not a current client, we'd love to chew the fat and talk IT and about you becoming one :-)
Some advanced solutions exist to manage elevated permissions and remove various back door risks and human risks including Avecto and ViewFinity. However, beginning with the simple steps above is a good start. If there is enough demand, we'd be happy to run support group sessions for recovering adminrightoholics where you'll be amongst friends.
Wishing you happy and safe computing but bear in mind that, just like all the best fictional characters, IT superheroes should remember that whilst it is great to have superpowers, you should: only use them when you really need to, only use them for good and keep them hidden at all other times.