It's a combination of ignorant users and ignorant IT people. I've never seen a single IT person use "runas" (impersonation), ACLs on the Windows file system or registry or and this is the damning one, a command line utility that allows you to selectively strip administrative rights on applications as you use them thatâ(TM)s been on Microsoftâ(TM)s site for years (after I pointed it out to them).
There was a reason once upon a time Microsoft chose to release Windows XP in such a way as to have users running with administrative rights. A reason that is extremely weak now - many people were upgrading to Windows XP from Windows 9x/ME and Microsoft didn't want to incur the support cost (or their partners) of having lots of applications stop working. Among them is the popular WinAmp. It used ancient APIs for its configuration file, WINAMP.INI, that stored global preferential data (as opposed to per user) in C:\WINDOWS\WINAMP.INI. If you didn't have administrative rights, it would just hang when you fired it up. Google Desktop when first released would *NOT* work on a non-administrative desktop. The list of offending applications goes on and on, e.g., a friend of mine had oceanic navigation software that insisted running with admin rights.
However, it turns out there is a programmatic mechanism in place in every copy of Windows XP (and Windows 2000) that allows you to strip administrative rights when you launch a process. Microsoft never exposed users to this ability for reasons that to this day are unclear to me. The magic API in question is CreateRestrictedToken.
But what really was an eye opener to me is when I would point out a tool on Microsoft's site to strip out administrative rights when you run a program. Namely, years ago you could have made the situation tenable in the case of apps like WinAmp and Google Desktop by yes, logging onto your desktop as an administrator but launching most Internet facing application without administrative rights but hereâ(TM)s the clincher *AND NOT CHANGING USERS* . In fact, I've been doing this for years.
Nonetheless I observed an incredible amount of laziness on IT professionals when I pointed out these capabilities. Laziness, apathy and the usual suspect of insecurity ("Don't tell me what to do, I know what I'm doing"). Yes, that's right, you manage a CISCO PIX firewall, you must be a security guru all around and follow best practices.
So given my former life as a Windows software developer I took it upon myself to create a turn key installer that at least protects Jane & Joe Average called *RemoveAdmin*:
RemoveAdmin is a utility to strip administrative rights off apps as they're launched under Windows XP and Windows 2000 where unfortunately 99.9% of home users run with administrative rights.
The default RemoveAdmin installer creates shortcuts for IE and Firefox but if you analyze the shortcut, you see IE and Firefox are passed as an argument to the removeAdmin.exe program.
You can trivially setup another shortcut for Opera and/or any other Internet facing application... as you should since you can't trust foreign computer systems you connect to.
Itâ(TM)s version 0.1 since I havenâ(TM)t created a FAQ and thereâ(TM)s the situation that if you have multiple administrative SIDs it wonâ(TM)t work (not the case for most people). I need to fix that, create a FAQ and also offer to adjust the ACLs on the Startup folder to tighten security such that when combined with RemoveAdmin, breaching your system on account of your browsing becomes because crazy hard.