Learning To Love UAC

By Larry Seltzer  |  Print this article Print


Modernizing Authentication - What It Takes to Transform Secure Access

User Access Control is not the bother that many make it out to be.

User Access Control in Windows Vista has been such a controversial development that it's worth re-examining periodically. Let's restate the purpose of UAC: It is to allow the user to run the system as a standard user, not administrator, and still have relatively easy access to privileged operations when they are necessary.

UAC (click here for Microsoft's expanded description of it) is more than that; even when running as administrators, users still run in a less-privileged context and are warned when privileged operations are being requested. The way Microsoft sees it, UAC also encompasses their efforts to make many operations, such as changing system time, available to standard users.

It's hard to deny the value of this. The overwhelming majority of malware currently is delivered through social engineering tricks, such as opening porn or a greeting card. These should not be privileged operations, and UAC is a way of taking a time-out and having the user make sure that a potentially dangerous operation is being performed deliberately and in an informed manner. The same is true of vulnerabilities, those of which get past other Vista defenses such as ASLR and service hardening, which should trigger UAC in a way that should alert the user. In fact, a recent test of anti-rootkit tools found that UAC popped up and warned as every rootkit in the test tried to execute.


Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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