Vista’s User Account Control (UAC) feature has been much maligned by users and IT professionals alike who say the prompts are too frequent and annoying and that most users will simply click through without reading, much less understanding, what each prompt is trying to warn them about. The motivation behind UAC is to correct what has been an ongoing issue with end user desktops. In the past, many programs have required users to have local administrative privileges to run. UAC reduces the attack surface of the operating system by allowing users to run in standard user mode while still being productive, prompting them when a program is trying to use elevated privileges. This limits the ability of users to inadvertently make destabilizing changes or expose their computer (and in turn the corporate network) to viruses through undetected malware infections. As more applications are written to use standard user rights instead of local administrative rights, the number of UAC prompts will lessen. Until then, each IT shop has had to evaluate the pros and cons of leaving UAC on versus turning it off when they’ve been planning their corporate Vista deployment.
So let me now add one more bullet point on the pro side of leaving UAC intact. PCWorld just recently came out with an article summarizing test findings published in two German computer magazines a few months ago. I did some digging and found the online version of the magazines, but alas, I don’t read German so I couldn’t find the original articles and I’m going to have to trust that PCWorld has done the translation correctly. However, for anyone more conversant in German than I who wants to reference the original tests, the organization that conducted the testing is AV.Test and the publication the findings were released in is Computer Bild.
Anyway, the testers set out to discover how well antivirus programs fared against known rootkits on Windows XP and Vista. However, in order to do the testing on Vista, testers had to first disable the UAC feature because UAC stopped every rootkit that the testers tried to test with. Which is great news, considering only 3 of the 17 AV tools tested on Vista managed to detect and remove the rootkits. Vista has been engineered from the ground up with security in mind. It’s been build to intercept all application requests of any significance.
So take this into consideration the next time someone tells you that the UAC feature isn’t important and it should just be deactivated. A little inconvenience now could save your company costly downtime.
For more information, articles and technical papers on deploying Vista, please visit the Vista Springboard website.