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January 2003

How system hardening the Windows OS improves security

Q: What are the pros and cons of Windows system hardening? I want to make my systems more secure without breaking any apps. -M.N. A: First of all, let's define "hardening." When you harden a system, you're attempting to make it bulletproof. Ideally, you want to be able to leave it exposed to the general public on the Internet without any other form of protection. This isn't a system you'll use for a wide variety of services. A hardened system should serve only one purpose--it's a Web server or DNS or Exchange server, and nothing else. You don't typically harden a file and print server, or a domain controller, or a workstation. These systems need too many functions to be properly hardened. In general, if you need a hardened system, you shouldn't be looking to Microsoft. It's far easier to harden a Red Hat or FreeBSD system, among others. Not only is there less work, but there's better documentation on how to do it. I've stripped down every Microsoft OS ever produced, and believe me, you'll never get the level of satisfaction ...

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