Harden Windows 8.1 64bit



Our goal is to prevent our Windows 8.1 machines from being compromised by hackers. We will harden the system to eliminate lots of attack surface and impede hackers. Layers of security will be added to protect our system, private documents, browsers and other applications. Then, continuing the security process, we will set up patch monitoring to notify us of insecure applications which require patching. Then we will set up event monitoring to monitor admin account uses and all unusual events. And we will setup baselines so that we can regularly compare against the current running system to ensure it has not been modified. And finally we want to monitor the current threat landscape and be able to react to emerging security threats in time. Security is all these steps that begins with, but not end at, hardening the machine.


Windows is a general purpose operating system, and as such, has many built in features desiggned to fit many uses. As more and more lines of code accumulate, there are bound to be bugs. And programmers talk about bugs per 1000 lines of code as a common simple measurement. It is unavoidable to have bugs in code, and Windows 8.1 is no different. In fact, in large projects such as Windows, it is common to ship out code while there are still low priority bugs that are unfixed. And these could number in the low thousands. Then, there are the not-yet-discovered bugs that only surface when certain features are used in combination.


A properly hardened PC will deny and deter hackers with layers of protection. Sometimes, depending on the vulnerability, it will be completely mitigated because that feature is turned off. Other times, a zero day vulnerability might enable a hacker to get in, but once inside, they will find a locked system, try to wreck something and leave. Their ultimate prize is to gain admin/system rights to your PC and totally control your system. With a hardened system, they won't reach their goal. And with security monitoring, even if they obtained admin rights, their victory will be short lived.


You may not have any reason for a hacker to attack your systems other than being low hanging fruit. (system is exposed and vulnerable) Then again, your personal data (for ID theft) , work data (to sell to competitors), and credit card use (for selling them in the black market) is tempting enough for criminal hackers. And hacking is not an elaborate thing, the attackers just get in, install their tools and leave, and those tools automatically report to their servers.



Importance of Testing


It is important to note, that after hardening a system, one has to test to see if the applications that you run still runs as expected. The intended audience of this project is a home user with no need for inter-PC communications


Testing was done on Windows 8.1 Home


Limited testing has been done after performing the hardening procedures below.


After hardening, all control panel items are tested working, with the following exceptions:




About this Hardening Guide


Let there be no mistake, if your system has already been compromised, following the advice given here will not help you, because there is no telling what backdoors and botnets clients have been installed on your system. You cannot fight back at someone who already has administrator control of your system. You can implement something and they will just disable it. You best chance of survival is to re-install your legit copy of Windows and then hardening it to prevent further attacks from happening.


There are several Automated Configuration files which sets the following:



The Acess Control Lists for command line tools is made for 64 bit Windows only. Note that 32 bit Windows is not covered by the ACL config file. There are many more executables on a 32bit machine.





Lets Begin



Things you need downloaded beforehand.





Critical Windows Updates


Since the release of Windows 8.1 Preview, there has been critical updates that could stop you from performing Windows Check for Updates.  If you have attackers on your tail, you may very well be stopped from obtaining critical updates. Or that you may be compromised when you go online to fetch updates. 

There is a free tool called WSUS Offline Update, which can download updates for all Windows platforms and create a ISO image file. Just burn this image file to DVD and slip it into your PC and it will commence installing the updates. Note that it will only download KB's that are in MS Security Bulletins, which are all the critical and important downloads; so you will still have to do a Windows Update afterwards to fetch the ordinary non-critical updates. This tool eliminates a critical gap in Windows installation. That is when you only have services packs installed but are missing all post service pack updates. An attacker can attack you while you are updating online and vulnerable. The tool is available from here: http://www.wsusoffline.net/ . The site is in German and English. 

So the plan is to run this tool on another PC to fetch the updates, and take the updates disc to the machine you are installing.

Once you have downloaded and extracted the zip file. Right click on 'UpdateGenerator.exe' and select Properties then Compatiblity tab. Checkmark 'Run this program is compatibility mode' and select Windows XP. Then run the program.

On the main screen, select the platforms which you want updates for, and checkmark Create ISO images 'per selected product and language', then click the Start button.

After it finishes, check the iso sub folder to locate the ISO image file. Note that this is a DVD image file. You need to right click on it and select 'Burn disc image'. Or you can use the free ImgBurn utility if you are not on Win 7 or Win 8.

Installation Settings

As per normal, to securely install an OS, one should install it disconnected from the network..

During the install l of Windows 8.1, there are options that you have to choose from.

If you are disconnected from the network, you will get the "Your Account" screen, instead of "Sign in to your Microsoft Account" screen, create an admin account as usual. If you get the "Sign in the your Microsoft Account" screen, click the Back icon and disconnect from the network. Then click Next again. You will then get to create an admin account as usual.  It is not secure to create an admin account that is online and available to hackers for cracking your password.


Install Service Packs offline


You should download service pack(s) on a different computer and copy it to the computer being installed and run it. We don't want to connect the computer to the network without the minimal set of patches. Further down this document, when network configuration is complete, we will connect online and fetch security patches ASAP. Do not surf the net while performing any step prior to completion of Check for Updates, because your browser is missing a lot of security patches.

Install Critical and Important Updates

Use the updates disc create by WSUS Offline Update and install the patches.

Least Privilege and Reducing Attack Surface


One of the main concepts underlying hardening is least privilege. It means to configure your system so that it is only capable of doing things you normally do, and nothing else. So, that means that if a feature in Windows is not used, it is to be turned off, or disabled.


The reason behind it, is that the more features you enable, the larger your attack surface is. It means you have more to defend.  And one vulnerable spot is all it takes to get hacked. The more features you have, the more potential bugs ( some security related ) you have. Now hackers know a lot about the security bugs in the system – that’s how they attack. If you go live on the internet with all features turned on, the hacker would have a lot of choices. If you disable unused features, then he’d have less to play with.


One of the first things you should do in line with least privilege is to create a Standard user account, and use that account for your daily work. Only login to the administrative account to install programs, configure networking, or do system maintenance tasks. Because when you are working in a Standard account, any malware or hacker that makes it onto your system will inherit your privilege and not have admin privileges to make system wide modifications. And that’s a win for you.


Remember that an attacker will have all the access that you have at the that moment of attack. So if you have important data stored in that account's Document folder, they will have the same access. ( more on that later ) So, if you have secret level data, it is best to store them in an account which you don't surf with. 


From a different perspective, a Standard account is a barrier to other accounts, and is also a container for attacks. If you have your services set up correctly and don't allow the command RunAs, ( it is the Seondary Logon service ), then automated attacks and hackers cannot gain access to your other accounts.  If you notice different behavior of your browser or something that looks like virus activity, you can rebuild your account and delete the old one as part of a recovery procedure. 




Display all Control Panel settings


Control Panel, select 'View by: Small Icons'. This shows all the configurations choices available.




Turn UAC to the max


When MS released Vista, there were some complaints about UAC asking for confirmation to do this, that and the other. So MS made a compromise in Windows 7 and allow customers to choose what level of prompting they want. Know that turning completely off UAC also means turning off Protected Mode in Internet Explorer, and not too many people realize that a major piece of protection is now turned off. UAC pops up mostly during the setup phase, once you have finished setting up your computer, you will rarely encounter it.


Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\User Accounts\Change User Account Control Settings

Move slider to top




Specifying the gateway


We will perform hardening on networking components first, without connecting to the internet. This requires that the computer be connected to a gateway/router, in order to to change the network/firewall profile between Private and Public. Temporarily specifying any live PC as the gateway will work. After hardening networking, you can set up the correct gateway, and we will then connect to the internet to get Windows Updates.


Control Panel / Network and Sharing Center / Ethernet,/ Properties / select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) / Properties button, Then select “Use the following Ip address”.


For the ip address, you need to manually specify one for the time being. I am assuming that your router automatically hands out ip address in the 192.168.x.x range.


Your freshly installed PC will default to obtain its ip address from the router. Open a command prompt and type in “ipconfig”. Take note of the “IPv4 address and the Gateway address. Type the IPv4 address into the Properties window and change the last 3 digits to any number less than 254. The Subnet mask will be filled in for you when you click on that space. Then for the Gateway, type in a ip address of any live PC on the network. ( you will have to go to that PC and type “ipconfig” to see its ip address. )




Set up Firewall Profile


Windows network has 3 network types, domain, private and public. Work and home are similar and are labeled as 'private' under it's firewall tool. The private setting is set to allow 'network discovery', so that Windows is allowed to talk to other PCs. The public setting is the most secure and is meant to be used at cafe hotspots, airports etc. If your network contains insecure PCs, then you should set the network profile to public. The domain setting cannot be chosen by the user, and is used after the PC has joined a domain. Since we are hardening the PC, we want the most secure setting, and only allow Windows to talk when it is called for. So for those that intend to join a domain, choose the private profile; and if not, choose the public profile.


Control Panel \ Network and Sharing Center

  When you plug in the ethernet cable, set network to Public, which is the most restictive and secure.


Note: if you selected Private and later want to change it to Public, the only method for Windows 8.1 that I am aware of involves using PowerShell.


Right click on PowerShell and then click Run as Admin, then type in this:




and you will get something similar to this:


            Name :  Network

            InterfaceAlias : Ethernet

            InterfaceIndex : 3

            NetworkCategory : Public

            IPv4Connectivity : Internet

            IPv6Connectivity : Internet


note the Name, and then type this, replacing the word Network with the name found above:


            Set-NetConnectionProfile -name "Network" -NetworkCategory public




Use only Bare Essential Network protocols


In order for a hacker to hack you remotely, he needs to interact with a network facing program running on your PC. Some networking components implement protocols. Networking protocols are grammar rules for bits and bytes to communicate with other PCs. And each has weaknesses. So unless your environment requires that a protocol must be used, we will want to disable all except the bare essentials. More protocols mean a larger attack surface.


The only protocol you really need is IPv4. And most networking equipment requires IPv4 in order to function. IPv6 will be increasingly necessary as we have run out of IPv4 addresses, but as of this writing, IPv6 is still not very popular.


If you have a IPv6 router, then you can skip over all configurations in this guide that mention v6. as it is turned on by default by Microsoft. Some routers do not understand IPv6, and some ISPs don't support it either. So MS made several tunnel components that tunnels IPv6 inside IPv4 to the outside. This in effect bypasses the security offered by your NAT-router and hardware firewall. Tunneled traffic can't be seen by IPv4 hardware firewalls and all such traffic will be allowed to pass unhindered.


NetBIOS over TCP/IP is not required because NetBIOS is already active without this option. Disabling NetBIOS over TCP/IP should limit NetBIOS traffic to the local subnet.


The Discovery protocols are used to provide a nice graphical map of your network. For home users, this is not needed, as there is only one router. You would only get to see a picture depicting your PCs connected to your router. For Domain users, this feature is automatically turned off once you join the domain.


File and Printer Sharing should only be enabled if you plan to share some of your folders on the network or if you want to share your locally connected printer over the network. If printer sharing is desired, it is better to get a printer that has networking built in, so that when attacked, they only gain access to a printer instead of your PC. Disable this feature unless absolutely required.


Control Panel\Network and Sharing Center

Ethernet \ Properties button

uncheckmark the following:

·         Client for MS Networks

·         File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks

·         QoS

·         Microsoft Network Adapter Multiplexor Protocol

·         Microsoft LLDP Protocol Driver

·         Link Layer Topology Discovery Mapper IO Driver

·         Link Layer Topology Discovery Responder

·         Internet protocol version 6


Select 'Internet Protocol version 4 (TCP IPv4), click Properties, click Advanced,

·         click 'DNS' tab, uncheckmark 'register this connections address in DNS'

·         click 'WINS' tab, select 'Disable NETBIOS over TCP/IP'




Disable IPV6 Totally


As mentioned previously, IPv6 tunneling bypasses the security of your IPv4 router and hardware firewall. If you have an IPv6 router, then skip this section.


See this page: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/929852  ( Note that the FixIts do not work on Windows 8 )


You want to do it manually:

Run 'Regedit',

Under the registry key “HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\tcpip6\Parameters”,

right click on the right pane, create an New entry of type DWORD(32bit) called DisabledComponents,


Then double click on it and enter one of the following:


·         FFFFFFFF to disable all IPv6 components, except the IPv6 loopback interface, which can't be deactivated.

·         0x01  to disable IPv6 all tunnel interfaces. These include Intra-Site Automatic Tunnel Addressing Protocol (ISATAP), 6to4, and Teredo. If you have a IPv6 router, then you want to choose this one.


Note that the value "0" is the default setting.




Disable unused tcpip6 Devices


When disabling features, I like to disable their components too. So even though IPv6 is disabled above, I still disable the Wan Miniport IPv6 driver, Teredo driver, ISATAP and IPv6 ARP driver.


Control Panel / Device Manager, View menu / Show Hidden Devices

·         /System Devices\Remote Desktop Device Redirector Bus

·         /Network, disable Microsoft ISATAP adapter (Ipv6 tunnel)

·         /Network. disable Microsoft Kernel Debug Network Adapter






Disable IGMP


I have never seen this protocol used. When something is unused, least privilege says it should be disabled.


Start button\All Programs\Accessories\command prompt, right click, click on "run as administrator" at the bottom of the screen and paste in this command:


Netsh interface ipv4 set global mldlevel=none




Disable port 1900 UPnP


The intention of UPnP is ease of configuration, so such things as games can auto-configure the firewall to let other players from the internet join in. However, with users each poking holes into your firewall with UPnP, pretty soon it will be Swiss cheese and cease to function as a firewall. It is better to configure firewall rules manually so that each firewall rule is known and accounted for. If your hardware firewall or router has an option to disable UPnP, do so.




right click on right pane, new dword:32 bit,named UPnPMode

Double click on that and set the value to 2.




Disable SMB v1 protocol


SMB is the file sharing protocol used for File and Printer Sharing and inter-process communication. It has 3 versions. MS does not recommend disabling v2 or v3. Version 2 was released with Vista. Version 3 is new to Windows 8 and Server 2012 and has a encryption feature. There has been worms which attack SMB shares, and depending on the payload, could gain complete control of the machine. For further information on disabling all versions of SMB, read this: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2696547


To disable SMB v1, open a Powershell prompt with admin rights, and type in:


            Set-SmbServerConfiguration -EnableSMB1Protocol $false


To re-enable SMB v1, use this:


            Set-SmbServerConfiguration -EnableSMB1Protocol $true




Disabling Listening Ports


When you run the command 'netstat -abn', it will show you which ports are open and listening to the network. Normally, you would want to close those ports unless you really need them. Windows 7's listening processes and their port numbers are RPCss ( 135 ), Wininit.exe ( 49152 ), eventlog service ( 49153 ), Schedule service ( 49154 ), services.exe ( 49155 ), lsass.exe ( 49156 ). (The port numbers above 49152 can change between reboots), However, the default firewall policy for inbound traffic is to 'block' for all network profiles ( domain, private, public ). That means nobody can touch those listening ports unless the firewall is off, or you have made inbound 'allow' rules to pass traffic onto those processes. This has been verified by connecting to them with telnet and all attempts failed, unless one turns off the firewall or makes 'allow' rules. Also, as far as I can determine, all of those processes are essential to Windows, and they cannot be stopped without crippling the PC.




Router and Hardware Firewalls


Buy a router that has Stateful Packet Inspection ( SPI ) firewall. This kind of firewall will monitor outbound  traffic and only allow matching return traffic. Like when you surf to a web site, your browser initiate a request to the site, and the site returns the web page. Buy one even if you have only 1 PC. And if you are using a cable modem which only has 1 Ethernet port, you definitely need one.

More expensive hardware firewall routers will have more tools, like configurable rules, sending logs to remote syslog servers, and fancier protection like spotting syntactical illegal ip packets. For an example of small/medium size business product, take a look at the www.sonicwall.com site. They have products which integrates a firewall, gateway antivirus and antispyware, and VPN.




Windows Advanced Firewall, turn on outbound blocking and logging


The basic principle for configuring firewalls is 'default deny'. That means all traffic is to be blocked unless you have made a rule to allow it. Those rules are your 'whitelist' of known good applications and protocols.


Window's firewall's default policy is set to inbound deny and outbound allow all. 'Outbound allow all' eases configuration, doesn't follow the default deny principle, and is not ideal. We don’t want malware to be able to call back to their master servers.


Most people don't know that you have to turn outbound blocking on. When outbound blocking is turned on, it only allows the programs and services you specify to talk to the net. Malware will have a hard time reporting back to their servers. However, it is missing a feature that tells you what programs it has blocked outbound. So after installing a program that needs to connect to the net, like your antivirus program, you have test those exe files one by one to see which is responsible for talking and allow that exe to talk with a outbound rule.



Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Windows Firewall with Advanced Security

/"Windows Firewall Properties" link

Click on each Profile (Domain, Private, Public) tab

·         change Outbound connection = Block

·         Specify Logging settings for Troubleshooting > Customize

·         Size Limit = 32767 KB (which is the max size allowed)

·         Log Dropped packets = Yes

·         Specify Settings that control Windows Firewall Behavior > Customize

·         Allow Unicast Response: No



The Windows 7 version of this document is accompanied by a policy file which can be imported. However, with Windows 8.1 this is not possible because there are rules which include a user account ID. Thus a policy from one PC cannot be imported by another because the account IDs in a policy will not be present on the new PC.




----- Firewall Rules ------

HowTo allow a windows service outbound: Click on Outbound Rules on the left, click on 'New Rule', select 'Custom', next to 'Services' click customize, select 'Apply to this service', scroll and find 'Windows Update', next, ports and protocol - (no change), next, IP addresses ( no change ), next, select 'Allow The Connection'. Checkmark all profiles,next. Give the rule a name, eg "Allow service X".


HowTo Allow a program outbound: Click on Outbound Rules on the left, click on 'New Rule', Select "Program", next, select "This program Path" and click on "Browse" button, Navigate to program folder and select the EXE, next, select "Allow the connection", Checkmark all profiles,next. Give the rule a name, eg "Allow Program X".


HowTo Allow communication to a destination port # and IP address: Click on Outbound rules on the left. Click on 'New Rule'. Select 'Custom'. next. Select 'All Programs'. next. For 'Protocol Type' select 'TCP' or 'UDP' as the case may be. For 'Remote Port', select 'Specific Ports'. Then type in the port number(s) below. next. For 'Remote address this rule applies to' select 'These ip addresses'. Click 'Add' button, and in the following dialog box, type in an ip address into 'This ip address or subnet'. ok. next. Select 'Allow the connection'. next. Checkmark all profiles,next. Give the rule a name, eg "Allow out to port ### on server YYY.


The following rules applies to all 3 profiles: Domain, Private and Public

Outbound/ allow service 'Windows update'

Outbound/ allow service 'Windows Time'

Outbound/ allow program '\Windows\HelpPane.exe' (Windows Help, enables fetching online help )

Outbound/ allow program '\program files\windows defender\MpCmdRun.exe"

Outbound/ allow program <Firefox/Chrome/Opera, whichever browser you use>

Outbound/ allow program \program files\Internet explorer\iexplore.exe

Outbound/ allow program \program files x86\Internet explorer\iexplore.exe

Outbound/ allow program \Windows\ImmersiveControlPanel\SystemSettings.exe

Outbound/ allow program \windows\system32\UserAccountBroker.exe

Outbound/ allow program <your antivirus update program>

Outbound/ allow program “%ProgramFiles% (x86)\Secunia\PSI\psia.exe”

Outbound/ allow program “%ProgramFiles% (x86)\Secunia\PSI\psi.exe”

Outbound/ allow program "c:\windows\explorer.exe"

Outbound/ allow program %SystemRoot%\System32\svchost.exe

Outbound/ allow program \windows\WinStore\WSHost.exe

Outbound/ allow program \windows\system32\wwahost.exe

Outbound/ allow program \windows\system32\AuthHost.exe

Outbound/ allow program \windows\system32\RunTimeBroker.exe

Outbound/ allow program '\Program files\Windows Media Player\wmplayer.exe'

Outbound/ allow program '\Program files (x86)\Windows Media Player\wmplayer.exe'

Outbound/ allow program <Adobe Flash Update service>

Outbound/ allow program <Adobe Acrobat Update service>

Outbound/ allow program \windows\system32\wermgr.exe

Outbound/ allow program \windows\system32\windowsanytimeupgradeui.exe

Outbound/ allow program <\windows\system32\skydrive.exe> ( if you choose to use Skydrive )

Outbound/ allow Core Networking DHCP-out


Outbound/ disable all Core Networking rules that mentions IPv6, IPHTTPS, IGMP, Teredo, and ICMPv6

Outbound/ disable the 2 rules that mentions HomeGroup

Outbound/ disable all rules for Remote Assistance

Outbound/ disable Proximity Sharing over TCP

Outbound/ disable all Network Discovery rules for private profile (NB-Datagram-out, NB Name out, LLMNR UDP Out, Pub-WSD-out, SSDP-out, UPnP-Host-Out, UPnP-Out, WSD-Events-Out, WSD-EventsSecure-Out and WSD-Out.)

Outbound/ disable Play To functionality x 2

Outbound/ disable Play To Streaming x 3

OutBound/ disable <Mail, Calendar and People> ( Disable if you don't have MS accounts )


InBound/  allow Core Networking ICMPv4 in

InBound/  allow Core Networking DHCP in

Inbound/  allow program <Mcafee Site Advisor dir>siteadv.exe

Inbound/  allow service   <SA Service> ( Mcafee site advisor )


InBound/  disable Core Networking IPHTTPS in

InBound/  disable Core Networking IGMP in

InBound/  disable all Core Networking rules that mentions IPv6, Teredo, and ICMPv6

InBound/  disable all Network Discovery rules for private profile (NB Datagram in, NB Name in, LLMNR UDP In, Pub-WSD-In, SSDP-In, UPnP-In, WSD-Events-In, WSD-EventsSecure-In, WSD-In)

InBound/  disable the 2 rules that mentions HomeGroup

InBound/  disable Play To functionality x 2

InBound/  disable Play To SSDP Discovery

InBound/  disable Play To Streaming Server x 9 ( HTTP, RTCP, RTSP, )

InBound/  disable Play To UPnP Events

InBound/  disable Proximity Sharing over Tcp

InBound/ < disable Reader>

InBound/  disable all rules for Remote Assistance

InBound/  disable <Mail Calendar and People> ( Disable if you don't use MS accounts )


Some apps install Inbound allow rules to itself. When you install an app, you should check the Inbound rules to see if any new rules have appeared, and disable those if you don't want inbound traffic to that app. Note that an inbound rule to an app essentially makes that application a server. That is, it will accept any transmission to the PC and can be exploited





Setting up a Microsoft Account


Setting up the system to use a MS Account for login is needed if you plan to do purchases through the Windows app Store.

However, it is not recommended that your admin account be an MS account, because it is exposed on the net on Outlook.com and allows hackers to crack your password before even touching your network or your computer.

You can use gmail or yahoo mail or outlook.com or hotmail.com addresses for this "MS Account".  If you use a gmail or yahoo mail account, Windows will create a mirror account on outlook.com that uses the same name and  password. It will also migrate your phone number over to this account. The phone number is used for 2nd factor authentication when you go do Billing things.

You should do everything possible to protect this MS account, because it is used to hold your credit card number. When you first use Win Store to purchasing anything, Windows asks you for your credit card number and stores it online in this MS account. Don’t use it for email or instant messaging. (so that the account name is not circulated) And don’t enable Skydrive. A compromised MS account will give the attacker access to all these things. Secure it with a complex and long passphrase. ( see how to create a strong passphrase below ). Although MS uses 2nd factor authentication when you go to outlook.com and check your Billings and credit card details, it does not use 2nd factor authentication when you use the credit card to buy stuff, it only asks for your passphrase. So once your passphrase is cracked, the hacker can go on a shopping spree, in addition to being able to log on to your PC.

A workaround for this is to pay for the WinApps you want to install and immediately go to outlook.com to remove the credit card info from the account.

WARNING: an MS account is a semi-admin. She can install Win Apps from the Store even if she is not an admin account. And depending on the Win App, the installation could open inbound 'allow' firewall rules which will make your PC vulnerable. Modifying firewall rules used to require admin rights but MS has apparently decided to bypass this. So, create an MS account only for an admin person and never for a user, as a user cannot be trusted to treat security as important. All a user wants at the moment is to try out that new software.

If you have to use MS accounts for your users, you can put a ban on the Windows Store.

Open Regedit, and navigate to


Make a Dword32 named RemoveWindowsStore

And set the value to 1.

Setting RemoveWindowsStore to 0 will reactivate the Store.



Installing a 3rd Party Firewall


If you want, you can install another software firewall, although the Windows 8 firewall is quite good. Note that installing a third party firewall will automatically disable the Windows 8 one, because having 2 firewalls will cause conflicts. For example, currently, the Comodo firewall is top rated, However, the part which I don't like is that it has an internal list of programs which it designates as "safe". I prefer my own white list, containing programs that I know of and approve, like in the rules list above. It also has to do with Least Privilege, because one doesn't want rules to allow programs connecting out to the internet if one never uses them. If you do want to use Comodo, then set the Comodo firewall to use "Custom Policy". In this mode, the firewall will prompt and tell you about both "safe" and unknown applications that try to connect to the internet, giving you the authority to decide. The good thing about using a third party firewall like Comodo is that it tells you what applications are trying to connect outbound, whereas Windows Firewall doesn't. And it does make for easier operation.




Software Restriction Policy


When activated, Software Restriction Policy will prevent any program from running except if it is residing in \Program Files or \Windows. That means any downloaded malware in Temporary Internet Files or elsewhere will not be able to run. ( browsers and plug-ins sometimes have vulnerabilities to let infected web sites to force them to download ) Since you will be running as a standard user daily, that malware cannot install itself to the above 2 locations, because you need admin rights to do so. So you are covered against unwanted Desktop programs running.


Feature not available in Windows 8.1 Home.




Simple Software Restriction Policy 1.2 by IWR Consultancy


Simple SRP1.2 is a free tool that provides the majority of the functionality of Windows’ own SRP in a small program that sits in the systray. And it works on Windows 8.1 64bit.


This program provides crucial protection to Windows 8.1 . After installation, only programs in \Program Files and \Windows will execute. So in order to run the BAT files of this guide’s automated configuration, you need to choose the tool’s UnLock from the right click menu, which will give you 30mins of unlocked time.


The program installs into \Windows\SoftwarePolicy. Configuration is done via an .ini file that can be accessed and edited from its menu. There are some configuration items that need modification. Right click on the program’s systray icon and choose Configure. Notepad will start.


Edit this following item and change the value from 0 to 2, like below::


Next, add the following lines underneath [Disallowed]















Lastly, if you use the Opera browser, find in the [LimitedApps] section the line 'Opera=...' and place a semicolon (;) in front of the line to exclude Opera from protection, because Opera v22 (the latest version as of this writing) will not function with this enabled.

Save the file, exit Notepad and apply the policy.


The above configures the program to require a Windows admin account password. And it secures the mentioned paths under \Windows which can be modified by users to prevent malware from executing from in there.


Also, you can add a “;” in front of these lines to remove extra menu items, as they add clutter to the right click menu:

;(C:\)=explorer.exe C:\

;Control Panel=control.exe

;Printers and Faxes=control printers

;Network Connections=ncpa.cpl

;Computer Management=compmgmt.msc

;Disk Management=diskmgmt.msc

;Registry Editor=regedit.exe

;Task Manager=taskmgr.exe

;Windows Firewall=firewall.cpl

;Command Prompt=cmd.exe





Disabling Vulnerable Services


Most people are aware that services can be security problems, and that some should be disabled. The culprits are partially network services that listen to the net. Anything that takes input from the net is candidate for manipulation by hackers. When one looks at the list of services that are disabled below, one might say that there are no known exploits for such and such a service. But the principle again is least privilege. Only those services that are needed should be active. And we don't want to wait until an exploit becomes public knowledge and then take action. Least privilege is a pro-active, preventative concept.


There are various servers in the list of services which listens 24x7 to everybody sending them stuff.( which includes exploits ) Like the simply named 'Server' service that is responsible for File and Printer sharing. Another server is UPnP Device Host, which lets other PCs interact with devices on this PC. Yet another server is Remote Desktop Services. This allows outsiders to connect to and control the PC - to have a secure PC, there should be no remote-anything. Components that allow remote management are also turned off - like Remote Registry, WMI Performance Adapter and Windows Remote Management. The first allow other PCs to change your registry; and the second lets other PCs get performance data from this PC, and the third allows remote shell access. The Secondary Logon service is turned off, because it let command line users run programs as admin. It requires the admin's password, but then hackers have all day to figure that out. DNS Client is turned off because it only caches previous DNS request results, and does not fetch results, and is the target of attacks which poisons the cache with fake DNS entries. HomeGroup is the new file sharing mechanism in Windows 7, and the whole network's shared stuff (all material from all PCs) is secured via 1 password. With the File and Printer Sharing way, at least you can have different logons for different PCs. I have left 4 services on Automatic start which do react to inputs from the net, and they are Network Location Awareness, Network List Service, Network Connections, and Network Store Interface Service. These services tell other windows programs about your network and allows you to choose your firewall profile (public or private).


There is another angle to services that makes some more desirable targets, and that is the account that runs them. The System account is all powerful and is equal in power to administrators. A network facing service which use this account, like the WMI Performance Adapter or the Printer Extensions and Notifications, will be prized, A service running as System will also be targeted by hackers who gained entry into a Standard account, they will try to take over the service to gain System rights. (This is called "escalation of privilege").


There are some services which activate if you have the right equipment, like. Microsoft iSCSI initiator service, Bluetooth support service, Fax, SmartCard. SmartCard removal policy and WWAN autoconfig are all dependent on specific hardware. In my personal configuration, they are all disabled, because I don't have them. In particular, Bluetooth support service is one that ought to be disabled if one doesn't have any bluetooth peripherals; it is a networking component  that can be abused by hackers, and there are free hacking tools available. It is not disabled in the configuration file because I don't want someone to apply the config and suddently find that their keyboard or mouse doesn't work.

When you configure services, clicking on each will display a description. If that is not enough for you, you can check out http://blackviper.com , sometimes they have additional information.


If you have the Automated Configuration package, you can set up the services by right clicking on "Harden Win 8.1 Home 64 Services.bat" and choosing "Run as Administrator"


Items in <angle brackets> are optional and not setup in the Automated Configuration file.


Start button/Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Services

Right click on the following services, choose Properties and set Startup Type to Disable.


Name            (Original Mode)  (what it does)


Computer Browser (manual) (finds other PCs in the network)

Distributed Link Tracking Client (automatic) (maintain shortcuts if source file name has changed)

DNS client (automatic) (caches previously looked up domain names)

Family Safety (manual) (compatability stub for Vista apps)

Function Discovery Provider Host          (manual) (HomeGroup)

Function discovery resource publication (manual) (HomeGroup)

HomeGroup Listener (manual) (HomeGroup)

HomeGroup Provider (manual) (HomeGroup)

Internet Connection Sharing (disabled) (makes PC act as router)

IP Helper (automatic) (IPv6 tunneling)

KtmRm for Distributed Transaction Coordinator (manual) (MS recommends to stop this service if not needed)

Link Layer Topology discovery mapper (manual) (network discovery)

Microsoft iSCSI Initiator Service (manual) (allows LAN or Internet based storage)

Net. TCP port Sharing service (disabled)

NetLogon (manual) (logon to Windows Server)

Network Access Protection Agent (manual) (reports security configuration)

Network Connected Devices Auto-Setup (manual) (autosetup devices in the network)

Network Connectivity Assistant (manual) (works with DirectAccess to provide setup of network devices. Relies on DNS client, IP Helper, Network Store Interface Service and Base Filtering Engine)

Peer Name Resolution Protocol (manual)

Peer Networking Grouping (manual) (HomeGroup, remote assistance)

Peer Networking Identity Mgr (manual) (HomeGroup, remote assistance)

Performance Counter DLL Host (manual) (allows remote query to performance counters)

Performance Logs & Alerts (manual) (collects remote and local perf data)

PNRP Machine Name Publication Service (manual) (server that responds with a machine name)

<Printer Extensions and Notifications> (manual) (receives input from remote printers and runs printer custom dialog boxes. Runs as LocalSystem if exploited)

Quality Windows Audio Video Experience (manual) (multimedia server)

Remote Access Auto Connection Mgr (manual)

Remote Access Connection Manager (manual) (dialup, VPN)

Remote Desktop Configuration (manual)

Remote Desktop Service (manual) (server allowing remote control)

Remote Desktop Service UserMode Port Redirector (manual)

Remote Registry (disabled) (allow remote PCs to modify your registry)

Routing and Remote Access (disabled)

Secondary logon (manual) (allow command line runas option to run programs as admin)

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol service (manual) (VPN)

<Sensor Monitoring Service> (manual) (disable if you don't have any light sensors etc)

Server (automatic) (HomeGroup, File and Printer Sharing)

SNMP Trap (manual)

SSDP Discovery (manual)

TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper (automatic)

Telephony (manual) (affects Remote Access Connection mgr/ VPN)

UPnP Device host (manual)

Web Client (manual)

Windows Connect Now Config Registra (manual) (Wireless Setup - simplified configuration)

Windows Error Reporting Service (manual) (reports system problems to MS and fetches solutions)

Windows Event Collector (manual) (allow remote subscription to log events)

Windows Media Player Network Sharing service (manual)

Windows Remote Management (manual) (Server, listens for remote requests )

WMI Performance Adapter (manual) (provides performance data to other PC collecting it)

Work Folders (manual) (sync folders with server)

Workstation (automatic) (HomeGroup, AD)




Stop Logins from the Network.


There should be no logins available from the network. However, if we stop user and admin accounts from login through the network, then Simple Software Restriction Policy 1.0 will stop working. However we are still protected by Windows Firewall. So the accounts that are denied are: Guests, Anonymous Logon, Administrator, NETWORK SERVICE, SERVICE, SYSTEM, and LOCAL SERVICE.


The settings for “Deny access to this computer from the Network” is included in the Services bat file above.




Install EMET ( Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit )


This is a very important part of safe guarding your PC from exploits.




Install EMET.


Run EMET, click on Configure System button, and set the following :

            DEP - always on.

            SEHOP - always on

            ASLR - application opt in.


            DEP : application Opt In

            SEHOP : application Opt In

            ASLR: application Opt In

            Pinning: Enabled   


Click "Apps" button, then "Add Application" button, and locate

·         \Windows\System32\wuauclt.exe

·         \Windows\servicing\trustedinstaller.exe

·         Your antivirus’s service, if it has one.


Add all your browsers, chat programs and other Internet facing programs. This includes all program that take input from downloaded material, like media players, Adobe Reader etc.


Read the accompanying documentation to see what protection EMET offers.




Install Antivirus


The last thing you need to do in preparation for connecting online to do Check for Updates is to install your antivirus program. You would also need to specify a outbound firewall rule to allow the antivirus to fetch signature updates. Windows 8 comes with Windows Defender antivirus. If you want to use this default antivirus, then nothing needs to be done except allowing it outbound in the firewall (already listed in above firewall rules configuration) Some antivirus products also require other files added to the firewall outbound rules - like ESET antivirus, which has a file called "ekrn.exe" that intercepts web browsing and inspects traffic.




Check for Updates


At this point, you have hardened networking components. Setup the correct gateway. Switch to your Standard account. Connect now to internet. Immediately do Check for Updates.


Control Panel > Windows Update. then click on ‘Check for Updates’ on the left.


DO NOT SURF the net while updates are going on, as Internet Explorer is still unpatched and vulnerable.


Note also that you have to Check for Updates more than once, as MS prepares updates in batches, and another batch may follow the current one.


If you wish, you may want to defer Microsoft Update until we reach the end of this guide, when all attack venues are covered.



Install All Software, Update Firewall Rules


Install antispyware and antimalware Then install Secunia's PSI, Adobe PDF Reader, your browser, Flash , your Office suite, your printer driver and all other applications.


If you use MS Office, then go do Microsoft Update now:


Charms bar / Search / choose Settings / type in 'update' / choose “Install Optional Updates”. Click on “get updates for other Microsoft products – Find out more”.  Follow instructions on IE screen.


Then do Check for Updates again.


Remember to update your firewall outbound rules to allow the programs that need the internet, like Flash and Adobe Reader which now have their own update service, so add allow outbound rules for those services. Also your browser and Secunia PSI (see below) need to reach outbound to the internet.







One of the most important things to do is to update EVERYTHING on your computer, constantly, that means Windows Update and updating all programs and plug-ins. It is very important to know that security patches closes the holes that malware/hackers need to get onto your computer.  Patching the security holes is the ultimate preventative measure that treats the source of the problem.


It is known that hackers reverse engineer MS patches to exploit the vulnerabilities. It only takes a few days for them to do so, so be sure to patch on time. MS's patch schedule is on the second Tuesday of each month. Calendar a repeating entry on your cellphone.


Windows Update supplies security fixes to Windows and its programs like Internet Explorer. If you use a buggy IE, then hacked websites can install viruses/malware unbeknown to you.


Adobe Flash is another component that lots of people forget about. Luckily, two browsers, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, will fetch Flash updates automatically, so you don't have to do a thing. If you use Firefox, Opera or another browser, then you need to download the Flash plugin for them. Adobe Flash recently implemented an automatic update feature to Flash, if you install Flash, you must make an outbound allow firewall rule for the service.


Secunia offers a free program called PSI (http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/ ) that detects which of your installed programs are missing security patches. This is a lifesaver.. After installing, it will scan your pc on a schedule. It will tell you about insecure programs, and link you to patch downloads. If a patch for a security hole does not yet exist, it will tell you, so that at least you can stop using that program for a while. This is a very important part of maintaining security of your machine.




Turn off AutoRun, AutoPlay


AutoPlay is a problem when it comes to removable devices like USB memory sticks and CDs. Because it will run whatever program it is set for whenever you insert it. Hackers are known to casually leave CDs around in public washrooms and label it something like 'layoff positions for next quarter', Once inserted, their hacking tools will run in the background and call back to its master server. AutoPlay is the sucessor to AutoRun, and can be disabled in Windows.


Open the Charms bar, and goto Search, click on Settings, and type in AutoPlay. Now click on AutoPlay in the search results. Then set "use AutoPlay for all media and devices" to off.






Skydrive lets you keep your documents, pictures and PC settings on the net, ready for syncing to all of your PCs. However, your personal files are sitting there on the internet 24x7x365 waiting for someone to crack your password. This is not secure to say the least. If you have setup your PC to use a Microsoft account, be sure to configure SkyDrive so that it doesn't sync your documents and other private folders. The settings are available from Charms bar > Search > search for "PC Settings" > SkyDrive. Then for File Storage > turn off 'Save documents to SkyDrive by default'. And Sync Settings > turn off Sync your settings on this PC. And Camera roll > select Don't upload photos, plus turn off 'automatically upload videos to SkyDrive'. This has to be done individually to all MS accounts.




Enable DEP


Data Execution Prevention is a technology that foils some types of attacks when they are coded in a certain way. By default, this feature is enabled but protects only Windows executables. You want to enable it to protect all programs, like your Firefox, Opera, Acrobat Reader and others.


If you have already installed EMET as per above, then this feature will be disabled because EMET has taken over the handling of DEP.


Right Click Computer/ Properties/ Advanced System Settings

/Performance Settings button/ Data Execution Prevention Tab

  Select "Turn on DEP for all programs ..."




Disable dump file creation


Dump files are memory dumps, and everything in memory are saved to a file. This is used for debugging problems when your system crashes. However, passwords and all confidential stuff that are running currently are also saved to this file. You should enable this feature only when you are experiencing problems and need to debug.


Computer > Properties > Advanced System Settings > Startup and Recovery Settings - settings button

Write debugging info: None.




Disallow Remote Assistance

Remote assistance allow a helper to control your PC with complete desktop, keyboard and mouse access. This is not a hacker favorite as there is built in protection that allow only the invited to take control. However, there are phone scams that lure users into giving them remote access, and you will want to protect your users and prevent them from compromising your computer.


Computer/Properties/Advanced System settings/Remote tab

Un-checkmark allow remote assistance




Let Windows make more Restore Points available


System Restore can be a life saver when you encounter system errors. Setting it to use more disk space and making more restore points is good policy


Right click Computer/Properties/Advanced Systems Settings/System Protection tab

Configure button/create bigger system restore cache




Enable Visibility into Windows hidden files


You want to be able to see all files and folders in Windows. If you do not do this step, hackers can hide their installed tools from you. Although the attacker can also install a rootkit which also hides their files, they may not be able to get that far into your system to do so.


Windows Explorer/ View pull down menu / Options button / Change Folders and Search options / View tab

CHECKMARK items below

  Always show menus

  Display the full path in the title bar

  Show hidden files, folders and drives

UNCHECK items below

  hide empty drives in computer folder

hide folder merge conflicts

  hide extensions for known file types

  hide protected operating system files

Windows Explorer/ View pull down menu /

·         checkmark File Name Extensions

·         checkmark Hidden Files




Configure Screen Saver


Unattended PCs are obvious security risks. But many people fail to take care of this via this simple setting. Most larger companies that are security aware have strict rules to enable this and not to leave PCs logged in and unattended.


Right click on desktop and choose Personalize / Screensaver. Configure it to wait 10 minutes, and check mark "On resume, display Logon screen"




Least Privilege part 2


If you look at \Windows\System32 folder, you will see a lot of exe programs. Some of them are Windows' GUI components and needed by the system. And some are command line programs used to administrate Windows. A Standard user account doing daily work has little use for these command line programs, as they are intended for IT administrators. In accordance with Least Privilege, these command line admin tools should be partitioned away from the User group.


If you have the automated configuration package, you can set up the file permissions by right clicking on "Harden Win 8 Home 64 ACLs.bat" and choosing "Run as Administrator"


After configuration, the command line administrative tools can only be accessed from an admin account using an elevated command prompt.


Attackers aim to get use of three accounts, the admin account, the "Administrator" account, and the System account. The admin account is needed for configuring the system, so it needs full access to command line tools and we cannot avoid this. The 'Administrator' account is by default disabled. And the System account is used by some services. In testing, it is revealed that the System account cannot be constricted or else our Restore BAT wouldn't work. So in the provided configuration file, command line tools are set so that only members of the administrators group and 'TrustedInstaller' can invoke them. (The System acount gets inheritied rights)


As an example, few people are aware that there is a command line FTP program, as most people use their browsers to download. This program is used mainly by hackers who need to bring over their tools once they gained command prompt access.




Turn on File History


File History saves your documents, pictures, music, contacts and IE favorites every hour to a removable drive ( or USB key ). It does it every hour by default and keeps versions of the files as they change. This is a very convenient method of performing backups and should be used. Just remember to unplug  the USB key when you shut down the computer and carry it with you, or else your attackers will gain access to all your files.


On the Charms bar, go to Search and type in "history" and choose "File History Settings"





Browsers and Security


Internet Explorer is still the most popular browser because it is installed by default. Because browsers are the primary interface to the web, and used by everyone, they are a PRIMARY vector of attack. Hackers will attack a website and modify it to deliver malware, using security holes in the browser. Or they can send attacks forging the address of a web page you are on. ( If you have a tab of your favorite web site always open, they can forge that web site's address and send attacks).


Internet Explorer has an important defense mechanism, called Protected Mode. It is another name for Integrity Levels. Basically, the entire system is marked as Medium integrity. While frequently attacked programs like Internet Explorer is marked as Low integrity. Low integrity cannot modify Medium. So even if someone compromises IE and gains access to your PC, they cannot modify your system. You can set the integrity level of a program yourself, so you can make Firefox or other browsers use Protected Mode as well.


Popular alternatives to IE are Firefox, Opera and Chrome. There have been security holes discovered in them just like IE, but they are reputed to be more secure, primarily because they don’t use ActiveX. There are ActiveX code libraries strewn about in Windows, and many are not safe for web use. Attackers often make IE call to these ActiveX code modules as a means of attack.


Set IE to use Protected Mode Always

Control Panel/Internet Options/Security Tab

Checkmark Protected Mode for all zones

Login to EACH user account and repeat.


Set IE to use ActiveX Filtering

Open Internet Explorer, Gear icon / Safety / checkmark ActiveX Filtering

Login to EACH user account and repeat.


IE has this stupid distinction about the source of a web page. By default, if a web server is within your network (like a company web server), then Protected mode is disabled. Well, if a hacker wants to attack your network, they would just simply attack your web server first, and let his tools spread when internal visitors use the infected company web server.


Set IE11 to use Enhanced Protected Mode

Windows 8 has Enhanced Protected Mode that protects your private files and folders like the Document folder. However, to remain compatible to plugins like 3rd party toolbars etc, Enhanced Protected Mode has to be manually enabled. Go to Control Panel > Internet Options >  Advanced; scroll the Settings list to Security section and checkmark "Enable 64 bit Processes for Enhanced Protected Mode". Note that by doing this, some plugins may not work. 

Note: the above settings are a per user setting, so you have to enabled this individually for EACH account. I will remind you of this at the end of this document.




Mozilla Firefox is open source software. Proponents of open source say because the code is open for all to inspect, it makes for a safer product. (as opposed to IE, which only a limited number of MS programmers work on). Mozilla has also once called on white hat hackers to help test attack Firefox. But whether or not this is an ongoing engagement is unclear.


Firefox can be made more secure if you install certain plug-ins. The most popular one is NoScript, which blocks JavaScript from executing until you mark a site as trustworthy, or opt to temporarily allow scripting. IE can block JavaScript too, but the controls to do so is buried in Internet Options menu and not as quickly accessible as NoScript, and it can’t be automatically enabled per site. So security that is usable wins. JavaScript blocking is a feature because many browser security holes are activated by scripting, so again, when it is not needed, it should be disabled. Unfortunately some sites require JavaScript to operate correctly. However, there is a flaw in the thinking that a site can be marked as trustworthy forever. Because 1) even popular and trusted sites can be attacked and modified. 2) Some sites subscribe to ad banners which they have no control over, and sometimes the banners are made maliciously.


To cover the angle of malicious ads, there is plug-in called AdBlock Plus. This plug-in removes all ads from sites. Its side benefit is that sites load faster without the ads.


There is another Firefox plug-in call WOT (web of trust). This plug-in marks search engine results with ratings. If a site is known to deliver malware, you will see a red danger icon next to it. And you can click on the icon to see detailed ratings by threat category. The ratings are driven by community help. WOT is now also available for Internet Explorer.


There is another free plug-in by Mcafee called SiteAdvisor. It also marks search engine results with a safety rating icon, and this product works with both IE and Firefox..



Low Integrity Firefox

As mentioned above, you can enhance Firefox's security by setting it to low integrity. Open an elevated command prompt and copy and paste in following commands, one line at a time, substituting <yourAccName> with your account name:


icacls "C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\Firefox.exe" /setintegritylevel low


icacls "C:\Users\<yourAccName>\AppData\Local\Temp" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t

icacls "C:\Users\<yourAccName>\AppData\Local\Mozilla" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t

icacls "C:\Users\<yourAccName>\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t

icacls "C:\Users\<yourAccName>\Downloads" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t


icacls "C:\Users\<nextAccName>\AppData\Local\Temp" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t

icacls "C:\Users\<nextAccName>\AppData\Local\Mozilla" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t

icacls "C:\Users\<nextAccName>\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t

icacls "C:\Users\<nextAccName>\Downloads" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t


Note that in order for Firefox to run as low integrity, it required the setting of \AppData\Local\Temp folder also to low integrity, which was previously medium. This folder may contain sensitive temporary data from other applications. An intruder gaining access through Firefox may be locked into low integrity mode and can't change system settings, but he can glean data from this folder, which may be undesirable.



Opera is another alternative browser. The thing that is good about them is that they patch up publicly disclosed vulnerabilities quite quickly. There is also a WOT plugin for this browser.


Low integrity Opera

Run the following commands in an elevated command prompt:


icacls "C:\program files (x86)\opera\opera.exe"  /setintegritylevel low


icacls "C:\Users\sec web\AppData\Local\Opera Software" /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t
icacls "C:\Users\sec web\AppData\Roaming\Opera Software"  /setintegritylevel(oi)(ci) low /t


Note: every time you update Opera or Firefox, you have to re-run the command that makes the exe a low integrity program. ( ... setintegritylevel low )





Chrome is Google’s browser, it is also open source, mostly. It’s architecture allocates high-risk components, such as the HTML parser, the JavaScript virtual machine, and the Document Object Model (DOM), to its sandboxed rendering engine. It prevents modifications to your Windows system. This sandbox is designed to protect one from unpatched security holes. It also uses IE’s Protected Mode in Vista, Windows 7 and 8. Recently, Chrome has also added a sandbox around Adobe Flash, to prevent security bugs in Flash from compromising a system. Google also pays white hat hackers to test attack its product, and there has been numerous security flaws discovered this way. Google is doing this right. Chrome is also capable of automatically updating itself. And also, Google has a special deal with Adobe and gets Flash updates automatically. These two things save a lot of time.


Chrome has 2 versions, one is for ordinary users and one is for business. The ordinary one installs itself into \users\...\appdata, thus allowing users to install the product without IT dept's blessing. That is, if software restriction policy has not been turned on. The business edition installs into \Program Files (x86), like what normal 32 bit programs usually do. You should use the business edition.




Sandboxing your Browser


There is a program called Sandboxie ( http://www.sandboxie.com/ ) which applies the sandbox security concept to protect any browser. Basically, the protected browser is made to look within a small directory, but it thinks that that directory is drive C. Sandboxie, and any sandbox in general, does not aim to prevent an attack, but instead contains the attack, within that directory. If the attack creates folders and files, it will be created in that directory. If it installs hacking tools and malware, they will all be confined to that directory. All your downloads will also arrive into that directory first, and Sandboxie will help move it back to the outside world. And everything in that directory can be wiped away with one click. This program is vital to securing your browser.



Create a sandbox for each user. this is assuming that you have different user accounts
for different uses. Like one for online banking, and one for your writing/posting your blog.
This is so that anything that gets into one sandbox cannot lift data belonging to another sandbox.

Right click on the sandbox and choose Sandbox Settings. 


Tip, if you have a favorite site that requires login, and you allow the site remember your login, you can start the browser outside of Sandboxie to quickly login and let the site save a cookie. Then restart the browser using Sandboxie. Sandboxie will copy the cookies from outside to the sandbox when initiating.

Block Low Integrity Programs from Accessing Your Documents


There is also an option where low integrity programs can be made so that they can't even read medium integrity locations. That’s what the commands below do. When you execute the commands, your desktop, document, pictures, videos and music folders will be unreadable to any programs marked as low integrity. The last command above makes the Downloads folder a low integrity folder. This is necessary because you need a place to save your downloads.( Low can't write to Medium) You will also want to create an Upload directory, and copy the file which you want to upload there. Because this Upload folder has not been processed by chml, the low integrity browser can read this folder.


Since you also have a Standard User account, run the commands below stating your Standard User account too. Note: this measure only protects you against attacks to your low integrity programs like Internet Explorer. (and Firefox or Opera, if you followed the above instructions) But since browsers are primary vectors of attack, this security measure is important. You can also experiment and set other internet facing programs to low integrity, like your chat program.


Visit http://www.minasi.com/apps/  to download chml.exe


Then right click on command prompt and choose 'run as administrator".

Then execute the following commands for Each user.


cd "\user\<yourAccName>\downloads\chml"  ( or wherever you saved chml )

chml "c:\users\<yourAccName>\desktop" -i:m -nr -nw -nx

chml "c:\users\<yourAccName>\documents"  -i:m -nr -nw -nx

chml "c:\users\<yourAccName>\pictures"  -i:m -nr -nw -nx

chml "c:\users\<yourAccName>\videos" -i:m -nr -nw -nx

chml "c:\users\<yourAccName>\music"  -i:m -nr -nw -nx

chml "c:\users\<yourAccName>\downloads" -i:l


This feature is unfortunately unavailable to Domain clients who use Folder Redirection. Because the folders being redirected, like Documents, do not exist on the client machine.

Turn off 16 bit apps


Run 'gpedit.msc'

Computer config/administrative templates/windows components/app compatability/prevent access to 16 bit applications=enable


Feature not available in Windows 8.1 Home.






AppLocker is new to Windows 7 Ultimate. It is more flexible than Software Restriction Policy (SRP).


Feature not available in Windows 8.1 Home.






You should have strong passwords to safe guard your accounts, particularly the admin accounts. The first account created when you install Windows is an administrative account. So you need to protect that. There is also a hidden account called “Administrator” which you should also protect with a password, but it first has to be enabled, as it is disabled by default. This is done with the following command at an elevated command prompt:

            net user Administrator <password>


Your passwords should be long ( 15+ characters ) and also use upper and lower case, numbers and symbols. The best way is to create passphrases. For example, take the sentence “James T Kirk is the captain of the USS Enterprise 1701″. That would form the password “JTKitcotUSSE1701″. Throw in symbols and it becomes “JTK$itcot%USSE1701′. This password is now long and complex enough to foil attacks.


It is not secure to use the same password everywhere. Some people think it is OK to use the same password for email, banking, Facebook, windows login and so on. If your password is discovered, ( say by a keylogger ) the next logical thing is to try that on your email account. Once they get access to your email, they can use the ‘forgot my password’ feature of many web sites to have them email over your access password for that site. And very shortly everything will be compromised. Password attack programs either use a brute force approach or a dictionary approach. The brute force method tries every combination of numbers and letters. The dictionary approach tries out known words. These password attack programs are fast and can test thousands of passwords per minute. A short password is crackable in no time. A secure site would have safety features like locking your account after several failed tries or making you answer the security questions. But not every site is secure like that. And those weak sites are the primary target of password attack programs.


Enforce long password/passphrase

See Automated Configuration section.




It is also prudent to password protect your BIOS, so that people cannot boot your PC. Also, you should change the boot order in the BIOS so that it boots the hard drive first, rather than the CD/DVD. If an attacker can insert a Linux Live CD and start up your PC, then they will be able to mount your hard drive and read all data from it, and all Windows security will be bypassed.




Activate Windows


Disable Firewall temporarily to allow the following script to run.

Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Windows Firewall with Advanced Security

/"Windows Firewall Properties" link, Private or Public profile, Outbound : Allow


Then open an elevated command prompt and run the following:

            slmgr.vbs /ato


Then set Outbound back to block.




Physical Security


Physical security is very important and should not be overlooked. If someone has physical access to your PC, then they could bypass a lot of the hardening that was done.


For example, if a hacker could access your PC and boot up a Linux Live CD, he could then read and copy off all files from the Windows disk partition. Or he could remove your hard drive and put it into another PC as a secondary drive and get data off that way. Either way, Window's password security will be of no use, because the hard drive's copy of Windows was never started.




BitLocker Drive Encryption


BitLocker is a full disk encryption feature of Windows 8.1 Pro, Enterprise and tablet editions. When that is active, the whole drive is encrypted and will not be readable with other copies of Windows or Linux. This eliminates the offline attacks as mentioned above.


Feature not available on Home, not elaborated.






For those who don't have Windows Pro, you can use a different form of semi 2 factor authentication, but it doesn't protect you from offline attacks. Windows has a feature called syskey, which can store the decryption key to your login passwords on a USB key. The login passwords are not stored as plain text in Windows, they are encrypted. The key to decrypt those passwords can be stored onto drive A.


A lot of computers now don't come with a floppy drive, and the label drive A is unused. First you insert your USB memory key, then right click on Computer and choose Manage. Then go to Disk Management, right click on the USB memory stick, (which is probably label as drive F), choose Change Drive Letter and Path. Then click the Change button and make it drive A.


Now you run "syskey". Click on the Update button; choose Store Startup Key on Floppy Disk. Then insert the USB memory key, and the decryption key will be stored on the memory stick.


Once that is done, when you boot Windows, it will prompt you to insert the 'floppy disk' in order to continue booting.


The syskey method of 2 factor authentication is good, now anyone booting the computer will need the USB memory stick; as well as know your login password.



Intrusion Detection – part 1


Good security partly consists of deter, deny and delay. That is what hardening does. Good security is also about detection: Detection of unwanted changes like unauthorized account creations, running of malware and other unwanted apps, etc. Fortunately, a lot of things are tracked in the event logs. Windows’ Event Viewer holds a lot of information about your system (Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Event Viewer). One cannot claim to know what is going on in a system without examining the logs periodically.


Microsoft created a Security Monitoring and Attack Detection Planning Guide.



In the guide, it examines what security monitoring one should do and provides the relevant Event IDs. In the section below, those Event IDs are placed into Custom filters, which allows you to monitor for signs of intrusion.


Note that the guide gives Event ID's for Windows XP. With Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, you need to take the given Event ID and add 4096 to get the correct event under these 3 newer operating systems.




Make Event Log files Bigger

(also covered by automated configuration part 2)


You may not discover an intrusion right on the first day when they get in. Very often, the discovery comes several weeks to months later. You will need to retain log entries, and the default log sizes allow for too short a period.


Control Panel/Administrative Tools /Event Viewer

Expand 'Windows Logs'. Right click on Application, Properties and set log size to 1000000. Do the same for 'Security' and 'System'.




Security Events to Monitor for

Create Custom Views for the following Event IDs;

(see also Automated Configuration part 1)


HOWTO: click 'Create Custom View'. Select 'By Log', pull down 'Event Logs', Checkmark 'Windows Logs', Move to the field <All Event IDs> and copy and paste in the event id numbers, click OK and name the view.


4723,4724 - Change Password

4720,4726,4738,4781 - Delete, Change Accounts

4608,4609 - Startup, Shutdown

4613 - Clear Security Log

4616 - Change System Time

4617 - Unable to Log

4714,4705 - Privilege assigned or removed

4708,4714 - Change audit policy

4717,4718 - System access granted or removed

4739 - Change domain policy

16390 - Administrator account lockout

4727-4730,4731-4734,4735,4737,4784,4755-4758 - Group changes

4624,4636,4803,4801 - Account logons

4625,4626,4627,4628,4630,4635,4649,4740,4771,4772,4777 - Logon failures ( KEYWORD: Audit Failure )

4672 - Admin account logons

4698 - Schedule new job

4656 - Access refused to object

3004,3005 - Windows defender finds something

4664 - Create hard link to audited file

865 - Software restriction triggered

1000 - Application Error ( Event Level: CHECKMARK "Error" )

1002 - Application Hang ( Event Level: CHECKMARK "Error" )

1037 - Protected Mode violation

7031 - Service terminated unexpectedly

4697 - Install a Service

4663 - Access audited file

CHECKMARK: Critical, Warning and Error. Event Sources:EMET. – EMET incidents



The above 'custom view' filters are in the folder "Event Viewer Custom Views". Simply choose 'Import Custom View' to import each xml file one by one.


The above items are important to review. For example, too many login failures may mean that someone is try to guess passwords to login to your account. Another important one is Application Hang; if you see Internet Explorer hang, you should run anti-virus and anti-malware scans promptly.




Intrusion Detection – part 2: Baselines


Intrusion detection also has to do with seeing that things aren’t different from what is normal. Your PC was running perfectly on day 1 after hardening, is it doing anything different today? To answer that question, we need baselines.


What we want to know is what programs are normally running when we first login. If we know that, then we can be sure that we aren’t contaminated with spyware or other hacking tools. There are 2 programs we want to get, all free. The first one is AutoRuns, available from here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963902


It doesn’t have a setup program, just download, unzip, create a folder under \Program Files (x86)  and copy the files there.


AutoRuns lists all of the places in the registry where programs are set to auto launch. Right click on it, and choose Run as admin, and use File/Save to take a snapshot of your PC’s current settings. Later on during your regular system checkups, you can use the File/Compare feature to see if anything is different. New entries show up in green. If all green entries are good, then save the file again with todays date, and do the comparison with the new file in the next scheduled check.


The second program is Process Explorer, available here:



This program is like Task Manager, but it shows more info. Many malware name themselves with familiar Windows program names, trying to hide themselves. Login to your admin account, then right click on Process Manager and choose 'run as admin', go to View/Select Columns and checkmark ‘command line’. Then do a File/Save. The resulting text file is now a snapshot of what normally runs when you first login.


When you do a comparison using Process Explorer, note that you cannot use a file comparison tool like ‘fc’ (file compare) to check for differences, that is because the PID (process identifier) for each program/process would be different on different boot-ups. You would have to do a visual check of the command line.


Next, reboot your PC and open an elevated command prompt with 'run as admin', and type

 netstat -abn > netstat-baseline.txt

The netstat program shows you a list of programs that are listening and connecting to the net. If a hacker connects to your PC, his program would have to connect back from your PC to his PC, and his program would show up here in this list.


Driverquery is a command line tool in Windows, What it does is list all the drivers in use. Some virus and rootkits now come in the form of a driver. When you perform you routine checks, first run this:

driverquery > out.txt

If this is the first snapshot, then rename the out.txt to driverquery-out.txt.


Next time, run these 2 lines;

driverquery > out.txt

fc out.txt driverquery-out.txt


Fc will display the differences between out.txt and driverquery-out.txt. If there are lots of changes, fc will not be able to synchronize the sections in the files. Then you'll have to open up 2 notepads side by side and scroll through the files manually to see what has changed.


In most cases, new drivers are caused by Windows Update. You will have to go online and read that month's MS Security Bulletin to see if the new patches would have deployed new drivers. If that doesn't reveal anything, you'll have to check to see if the new drivers are also present in another machine.


Now we have 4 baselines, save them onto a USB memory stick for use in comparisons later. One should also save the Autoruns, and Process Explorer files onto the memory stick as well. Because, after an attack, programs may get altered or rendered unusable You Have to keep the baselines on a USB memory stick because attackers will modify your baselines to make you think nothing has changed.


Last thing when doing baseline comparisons is to run “sfc /scannow” to determine if any system files has been modified. SFC contains the correct windows files signatures and makes a comparison to the current setup. It will also fix the problem.




Intrusion Detection – part 3


You should definitely install antivirus and antispyware programs. However note, you can only have one realtime antivirus program. The realtime capability monitors file access and file modifications as they happen. And having more than one realtime antivirus will cause problems. Having more than one anti-spyware program usually doesn’t cause problems. Windows 8.1 has Windows Defender installed by default, which is an antivirus program. It will also scan ActiveX components before use and does network behaviour monitoring.


For a list of antivirus programs to consider, go to http://av-comparitives.org or http://virusbtn.com. These 2 sites run test on antivirus programs to see how effective they are.


There are also a lot of fake antivirus programs floating around, so make sure you find the reviews before installing one. The fake ones report of non-existent infections and just ask you for your money and do nothing. Some will even stop you from going to legitimate antivirus program sites, stop your programs from working and make you think you are infected with a virus. If you happen to have installed a fake antivirus, there is one anti-malware program that can remove it. It’s called MalwareBytes. ( https://www.malwarebytes.org)  MalwareBytes has a free version, which doesn't include real time detection and automatic signature updates. It is a very good tool to have, just remember to update the signatures before doing a scan.


Bear in mind that no antivirus/anti-spyware program will catch everything you encounter. There has been a study that was done that found that the best detection rate is around 60%. Vendors can’t hope to have captured and analyzed ALL the viruses out there, because lots of new ones are introduced every day.


Yes, you can’t fully trust your antivirus program to do a perfect job. To be on the safe side, use online scanners once in a while to do a double check. There are quite a few of them: TrendMicro Housecall, BitDefender, Kapersky, Panda and ESET.  Google for "online scan" and you will see them.


If you download stuff from P2P and bittorents, beware. Lots of infected programs are floating around. And they would even work as expected, except that they will also get you infected. And those viruses tend to be new ones, so most likely your antivirus program will not even beep. You have been warned. The best that you could do is upload the file to virustotal.com and let them run your file against their 39 antivirus programs, and then decide if you want to keep the file or not. You have to remember that it is hackers who release pirated software, cracks and keygens, and they seed these files on P2P and bittorrent. And most likely, they also want to own your PC.


Security suites are very popular. For example, Norton 360 includes antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-rootkit, smart firewall, network monitoring, parental controls, anti-spam and more. They certainly seem to be value for your money. But when weighing effectiveness, many choose a best of breed, mix and match, solution. For example: one can use ESET antivirus and anti-spyware, Webroot anti-spyware, Windows firewall, NetNanny parental control, Gmail’s anti-spam and Gmer anti-rootkit.


For your maintenance routine. You should do 2 more things. 

1.Check that your antivirus is still alive and active.  Go to http://www.eicar.org/86-0-Intended-use.html . And copy that test virus line of text, paste it into notepad, save it and try to open it again. Your antivirus should detect it.

2.Do an antivirus scan.




Keyloggers and Screen Grabbers


This class of spyware deserves mentioning on their own. Unlike other hacker attacks, these do not aim to penetrate and gain admin rights, but they are deployed by criminal hackers. They function in a standard account. Their aim is to capture credentials to your web accounts like banking account numbers and passwords, email account and others. Antivirus programs do not detect them. To counter these, I know of 2 programs, Zemana AntiLogger. (http://www.zemana.com) which has anti-keylogger as well as anti-screen grabber functions. The other one is KeyScrambler (http://www.qfxsoftware.com) which is only a anti-keylogger.




Security as a Process


Security is a process, that is ongoing after we perform hardening. Your hardened Windows Windows 8.1 is good and now has multiple layers of security, but new vulnerabilities will be discovered in various software that you use and weaken your stance. Take the case of the browser; hackers target browsers all the time, and new security holes will be revealed. One has to know when these holes are discovered, and take steps to mitigate.


The first step is to know about the new vulnerabilities. The following websites report on security matters :










You should visit them once a week to learn of new security vulnerabilities. The articles will tell you about new security holes in applications or OS, which version it applies to, and give a brief description of the weakness. Sometimes, the software vendor will inform us of some configuration change for you to apply for the time being, until they make a patch ready. Also, the articles may tell us if attacks using the vulnerability has been spotted in use.


This information are of great help for you to maintain security. To continue on our browser example, lets say the new vulnerability involves an ActiveX component that is called via Internet Explorer. Then you might mitigate that by using another browser for the time being, and monitor the vendor’s site for a new version release. Or Microsoft may issue an advisory informing us to how to disable an ActiveX through settings in the registry. Or you may decide that using that browser together with Sandboxie would contain the threat. Or you may decide to disable scripting features of the browser. (Secunia’s PSI program will also tell you when new security patches or program versions have been made, as mentioned previously). The main thing is that you get to know about potential problems from these web sites and takes steps to mitigate.




Next, as part of the security process, you have to monitor your system and detect attacks. You have to perform those log checks, baseline comparisons, and virus scans (as mentioned earlier) on a regular basis, like every 1 or 2 weeks. We are being lax here already, for in a secure environment, they use tools to monitor logs on a real time basis. Monitoring is crucial, as even the most hardened systems will have holes in its defenses. We cannot think that our hardened system is impervious.




After a few months of use, computer settings change invariably: new software installed, new devices added, etc. We now have to check that all security settings are still in place. For example, are the user accounts still standard accounts, or has one been changed to admin for temporary problem troubleshooting? Has the firewall been set to OutBound Allow during installation of a program and left forgotten? So, after you put those locks on the doors, are they still locked? Or has there been tampering? We have to revisit the hardening process and check everything. This is to ensure that the system is still as secure as day one.




Automated Configuration


If you are hardening a standalone machine use:

            Harden Win 8.1 Home 64 Services,bat

            Harden Win 8.1 Home 64 ACLs.bat

If you wish to revert the changes to out of box defaults, use:

            Restore Home 64.Services.bat

            Restore Home 64 ACLs.bat

To configure, right click on the bat files and choose 'Run as Administrator'.


To configure manually, open a elevated command prompt ( right click on Command Prompt and choose 'run as admin' ) Type in the following command:


            SecEdit /configure /db <any_name>.sdb /cfg <template.inf>


The <any_name>.sdb will hold the configured results, you make up the filename, but the file extension must be .sdb

The <template,inf> is either one of the templates named above.


Also provided in the package are Event Viewer 'custom view' xml files. These xml files setup filters for select event IDs, so that you get to see, for example, all login failures, in one screen,


Use this bat file to setup what events to audit. It also sets up the event log file maximum file sizes for Application, Security and System.

            Harden Win 8.1 Home 64 Audit.bat

It sets up the following:

·         Have Event Viewer show success and failure events for Account Logons, Account Management, Policy Change and System events.

·         System, Application and Security Event Log size: 1000000 kb



Use this bat file to setup the password and account lockout settings.

            Harden Win 8.1 Password and Lockout.bat

Use of this file requires that you understand what the settings do. The numbers are:

·         Enforce password history: 24 passwords

·         Maximum password age: 60 days

·         Minimum password age; 1 day

·         Minimum password length: 14 characters

·         Password must meet complexity requirements

Password history means that the system will remember 24 previous passwords so that they cannot be reused so that they are unique.

Password age means that the system will prompt you 14 days before 60 days is up to change your password. Minimum password age of 1 day means you cannot change your password again until 1 day have passed. This is so that users cannot rotate 24 times rapidly and reuse an old password.

Minimum password length is 14 characters. If you use a passphrase, then this shouldn't be a problem. Complexity requirement means that the passphrase must include upper and lower case, numbers and symbols.


The lockout settings are as follows:

·         Account lockout threshold: 50 password attempts

·         Account lockout duration: 15 minutes

·         Reset lockout counter after: 15 minutes

What these numbers mean is that you are allowed 50 tries to get the right password. After that, the system locks up for 15 minutes. So, when you realize you have forgotten a password, write down the various passwords that you want to try and try to find the right one within 50 tries. After 50 tries, the system will not respond until 15 minutes have passed.

Unfortunately this can give rise to a denial of service (DoS) attack, where the attacker randomly tries out 50 passwords and her aim isn't to get in but to lock you out of the system. If we don't define a threshold number for password attempts, then an attacker can use a program to bruteforce or dictionary attack the system because they can do so an infinite number of times. If you realize that such a DoS attack is taking place, all you can do is unplug the ethernet cable and go for a 15 minute break.


Some of these settings default to 'undefined'. And due to the fact that SecEdit does not handle settings that specify 'undefined', no restore bat file is offered to reverse these pasword and lockout settings.



Lastly, there is a security options files:

            Harden Win 8.1 Home 64 Security Options.bat


This file includes a group of security settings, as follows:


The 'security options' settings, audit, and 'password and lockout' settings are taken from MS Security Compliance Manager tool. The tool is designed to be used on Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise editions.




Last things to do


Disable flash in your admin account. Internet Explorer > Gear > Manage Addons > Toolbars and Extensions > Show All Addons > Shockwave Flash Object > Disable button.

Disable Autoplay for all user accounts: Control Panel > AutoPlay. Choose 'Take No Action' for everything

Uncheck "Use AutoPlay for all media and devices"


Set IE to turn on ActiveX Filtering for EACH account. Gear icon > Safety > ActiveX Filtering.


Set IE to use Protected Mode for all zones. Gear icon > Internet options >Security tab > click each icon ( Internet, Local Intranet, Trusted sites, Restricted sites ),check mark Enable Protected Mode for each. Do this for all user accounts.


Set IE to use Enhanced Potected Mode for all users. Control Panel > Internet Options >  Advanced; scroll the Settings list to Security section and checkmark "Enable 64 bit Processes for Enhanced Protected Mode"


Run Acrobat Reader ( if you have installed it ) to setup security.

Edit > Preferences

> Javascript, uncheckmark "Enable Acrobat Javascript".

> Security Enhanced. Protected View : All Files

> Security Enhanced: Create Protected Mode Log File.

> Security Enhanced: Uncheckmark Automatically Trust Sites from my Win OS Security Zones.

> Trust Manager: Uncheckmark Allow Opening of Non-PDF file attachments

> <Trust Manager:  Internet Access from PDF outside the web browser  Change Settings button, select Block PDF file access to all web sites.> This one is optional, some times you need to click on an internet link inside a PDF document.


Create a System Restore Point

This PC > Properties > Advanced System Settings > System Protection tab > Create button.




Move the Hardening folder to a USB stick or drive

When you finish performing hardening, move the hardening folder with the scripts and html document to a USB stick or drive. Don't leave it for the attacker to find.

Do an image backup of the hard drive


This is important, your last line of defense is restoring from backup. This backup saves all of the settings you have done so far so you don't have to repeat them when you need to reinstall Windows. There is a free image backup tool called Macrium Reflect, available from here: http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx. Use the tool to create a drive image and store it in an external USB hard drive. Don't forget to create the rescue CD. 



Installation of New Software


When installing new software, sometimes the setup program needs to connect to the internet to download components. And also, it may create a exe inside a temp folder to do the downloading, and the exe is automatically removed when install finishes. On such occasions, it may not be possible to create an outbound allow rule for that exe. So the only solution would be to go to Windows Firewall with Advanced Security and temporarily set Outbound to allow for the Public profile. Just remember to set Outbound back to block when you have finished setting up that new program.

Remember to add the application to EMET if it is a internet application or it takes input from files downloaded from the internet