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Troy Bruno
Troy Bruno

A Guide to Software Restriction Policies and AppLocker for Server 2008




How to Prevent Users from Installing Programs on Server 2008




Introduction




If you are a server administrator, you may have encountered the problem of users installing programs on your server without your permission. This can pose a serious risk to your server's security, performance, and stability. Unauthorized software installation can introduce malware, consume system resources, interfere with other applications, or violate licensing agreements.




Server 2008 Prevent Users Installing Programs



Fortunately, there are ways to prevent users from installing programs on your server. In this article, we will explore two solutions that are available for Server 2008: Software Restriction Policies (SRP) and AppLocker. We will explain what they are, how they work, how to configure them, and what are their pros and cons. We will also compare them and recommend the best solution for different situations.


By the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of how to prevent users from installing programs on your server 2008 using SRP or AppLocker. You will also learn some tips and best practices for managing software installation on your server.


Software Restriction Policies (SRP)




Software Restriction Policies (SRP) is a feature that allows you to identify and control the execution of software programs on your server. You can use SRP to create a list of allowed or denied programs based on various criteria, such as file name, file path, file hash, or certificate. You can also set the default security level for all programs that are not explicitly listed.


To configure SRP, you can use either Group Policy Editor or Local Security Settings. Group Policy Editor is recommended if you want to apply SRP to multiple computers in a domain, site, or organizational unit. Local Security Settings is recommended if you want to apply SRP to a single computer.


Here are the steps to configure SRP using Group Policy Editor:



  • Open Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) on your server or a workstation that has Remote Server Administration Tools installed.



  • Create a new Group Policy Object (GPO) or edit an existing one that is linked to the domain, site, or organizational unit that contains the computers you want to apply SRP to.



  • In the GPO editor, navigate to Computer Configuration > Policies > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Software Restriction Policies.



  • If there are no software restriction policies defined, right-click Software Restriction Policies and select New Software Restriction Policies.



  • Under Software Restriction Policies, you will see two folders: Security Levels and Additional Rules.



  • Under Security Levels, you can set the default security level for all programs that are not explicitly listed in Additional Rules. There are four options: Unrestricted (allow all programs), Disallowed (deny all programs), Basic User (allow programs that do not require administrator privileges), and Restricted (allow only Windows core components). You can right-click each option and select Set as Default.

Under Additional Rules, you can create rules to allow or deny specific programs based on various criteria. There are four types of rules: Hash Rules, Certificate Rules, Path Rules, and Network Zone Rules. You can right-click Additional Rules and select New Hash Rule, New Certificate Rule, New Path Rule, or New Network Zone Rule.



  • A Hash Rule identifies a program by its file hash, which is a unique value that is calculated based on the file's content. This rule is effective for preventing users from running a specific version of a program, regardless of its file name or location. However, this rule needs to be updated whenever the program is modified or updated.



  • A Certificate Rule identifies a program by its digital signature, which is a certificate that is issued by a trusted authority and attached to the program. This rule is effective for allowing or denying programs from a specific publisher or vendor, regardless of their file name or location. However, this rule requires that the programs are digitally signed and that the certificates are valid and trusted.



  • A Path Rule identifies a program by its file name or folder location. This rule is effective for allowing or denying programs in a specific directory or drive. However, this rule can be bypassed if the users rename or move the program files.



  • A Network Zone Rule identifies a program by its network source, such as the Internet, intranet, or local network. This rule is effective for allowing or denying programs that are downloaded or run from a specific network zone. However, this rule requires that the network zones are configured and recognized by the server.



For each rule, you can specify the security level (Unrestricted, Disallowed, Basic User, or Restricted) and the description. You can also edit or delete existing rules by right-clicking them and selecting Edit or Delete.


Here are some examples of SRP rules and settings:



Rule Type


Rule Criteria


Security Level


Description


Hash Rule


File hash of setup.exe (SHA-256: 4A3B9F3C9E0C8E7C5A4C6C8E55B2F3A4)


Disallowed


Prevent users from running setup.exe with this file hash


Certificate Rule


Certificate issued to Contoso Ltd.


Unrestricted


Allow users to run any program signed by Contoso Ltd.


Path Rule


C:\Program Files\Games\*


Disallowed


Prevent users from running any program in the Games folder


Network Zone Rule


Internet


Restricted


Restrict users from running any program downloaded from the Internet


Default Security Level


N/A


Basic User


Allow users to run programs that do not require administrator privileges by default



The advantages of SRP are:



  • It is easy to configure and manage using Group Policy Editor or Local Security Settings.



  • It is compatible with all versions of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista or later.



  • It does not require additional software or hardware.



The disadvantages of SRP are:



  • It can be difficult to create and maintain rules for all programs that need to be allowed or denied.



  • It can cause compatibility issues with some programs that require administrator privileges or access to certain files or folders.



  • It can be bypassed by users who have administrator rights or who can modify the program files.



AppLocker




AppLocker is a feature that allows you to create and enforce rules to allow or deny the execution of applications, scripts, Windows Installer files, and Dynamic Link Libraries (DLLs) on your server. You can use AppLocker to create rules based on file attributes such as file name, file path, publisher, product name, file version, and digital signature. You can also set exceptions for specific files within a rule.


To configure AppLocker, you need to use Group Policy Editor. You also need to have Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise or Datacenter edition, or Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate edition on your server and client computers.


Here are the steps to configure AppLocker using Group Policy Editor:



  • Open Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) on your server or a workstation that has Remote Server Administration Tools installed.



  • Create a new Group Policy Object (GPO) or edit an existing one that is linked to the domain, site, or organizational unit that contains the computers you want to apply AppLocker to.



  • In the GPO editor, navigate to Computer Configuration > Policies > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Application Control Policies > AppLocker.



  • Under AppLocker, you will see four folders: Executable Rules, Windows Installer Rules, Script Rules, and DLL Rules.



  • Under each folder, you can create rules to allow or deny specific types of files based on file attributes. You can right-click each folder and select Create New Rule or Create Default Rules.



  • For each rule, you need to specify the action (Allow or Deny), the user or group (Everyone, Users, Administrators, or a custom user or group), the conditions (Publisher, Path, or File Hash), and the exceptions (optional). You can also edit or delete existing rules by right-clicking them and selecting Edit or Delete.



Here are some examples of AppLocker rules and settings:



Rule Type


Action


User/Group


Condition


Exception


Executable Rule


Allow


Everyone


Publisher: Microsoft CorporationProduct Name: *File Version: *Digital Signature: Exists


N/A


Windows Installer Rule


Deny


Users


Path: %OSDRIVE%\Users\*\Downloads\*


N/A


Script Rule


Allow


Administrators


File Hash: 9F3C9E0C8E7C5A4C6C8E55B2F3A4 (SHA-256)


N/A


DLL Rule


Deny


Everyone


Publisher: Contoso Ltd.Product Name: *File Version: *Digital Signature: Exists


N/A


The advantages of AppLocker are:



  • It is more flexible and granular than SRP, as it can control different types of files and use more file attributes.



  • It is more secure and reliable than SRP, as it can prevent users from modifying or bypassing the rules.



  • It is easier to create and maintain rules using the AppLocker wizard, which can automatically generate rules based on a reference computer or a folder.



The disadvantages of AppLocker are:



  • It requires Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise or Datacenter edition, or Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate edition on both server and client computers.



  • It requires additional configuration and testing to ensure compatibility and functionality of the applications.



  • It may cause performance issues if there are too many rules or if the rules are too complex.



Comparison and Recommendation




Both SRP and AppLocker are useful features that can help you prevent users from installing programs on your server 2008. However, they have different strengths and weaknesses, and they may not suit every scenario and need. Therefore, it is important to compare them and choose the best solution for your situation.


The following table summarizes the main differences between SRP and AppLocker:




Feature


SRP


AppLocker




Type of files controlled


Programs (.exe)


Applications (.exe), scripts (.bat, .cmd, .js, .ps1, .vbs), Windows Installer files (.msi, .msp), DLLs (.dll, .ocx)




Type of file attributes used for rules


File name, file path, file hash, certificate


Publisher, product name, file version, digital signature, file name, file path, file hash




Type of security levels used for rules


Unrestricted, Disallowed, Basic User, Restricted


Allow, Deny




Type of network zones used for rules


Internet, intranet, local network


N/A [user](#message



Compatibility with Windows versions


Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista or later


Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise or Datacenter and Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate




Configuration tool


Group Policy Editor or Local Security Settings


Group Policy Editor only




Rule creation wizard


No


Yes




Rule enforcement mechanism


Registry settings


Application Identity service




Rule bypass possibility


Yes, by users with administrator rights or by modifying program files


No, unless AppLocker is disabled or misconfigured




Performance impact


Low to moderate, depending on the number and complexity of rules


Moderate to high, depending on the number and complexity of rules




Based on the comparison, we can recommend the best solution for different scenarios and needs:



  • If you want to control only programs (.exe) and you have a simple and stable list of allowed or denied programs, you can use SRP with hash or certificate rules.



  • If you want to control different types of files (.exe, .msi, .dll, etc.) and you have a dynamic and complex list of allowed or denied files, you can use AppLocker with publisher or file hash rules.



  • If you want to control programs based on their network source (Internet, intranet, etc.), you can use SRP with network zone rules.



  • If you want to control programs based on their file version or product name, you can use AppLocker with publisher rules.



  • If you want to apply different security levels (Unrestricted, Disallowed, Basic User, Restricted) to different programs, you can use SRP with security level settings.



  • If you want to apply exceptions to specific files within a rule, you can use AppLocker with exception settings.



  • If you have Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise or Datacenter edition, or Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate edition on your server and client computers, you can use AppLocker for more flexibility and security.



  • If you have Windows Server 2008 or Windows Vista or later on your server and client computers, you can use SRP for more compatibility and simplicity.



  • If you want to create and maintain rules easily using a wizard, you can use AppLocker with the AppLocker wizard.



  • If you want to configure and manage rules using either Group Policy Editor or Local Security Settings, you can use SRP with either tool.



Conclusion




In this article, we have learned how to prevent users from installing programs on your server 2008 using SRP or AppLocker. We have explained what they are, how they work, how to configure them, and what are their pros and cons. We have also compared them and recommended the best solution for different scenarios and needs.


By preventing users from installing programs on your server 2008, you can improve your server's security, performance, and stability. You can also avoid malware infections, system resource consumption, application conflicts, or licensing violations. However, you need to choose the right solution for your situation and configure it properly to ensure compatibility and functionality of your applications.


We hope that this article has been helpful and informative for you. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)




Here are some common questions and answers about preventing users from installing programs on server 2008 using SRP or AppLocker:


Q: How can I test the SRP or AppLocker rules before applying them?




A: You can use the Audit mode to test the SRP or AppLocker rules without enforcing them. Audit mode will log the events that would occur if the rules were enforced, such as allowing or denying a file execution. You can view the audit logs in Event Viewer under Applications and Services Logs > Microsoft > Windows > Application Control Policies > SRP (or AppLocker). To enable Audit mode, right-click Software Restriction Policies (or AppLocker) in Group Policy Editor and select Properties. Then check the box for Enforce rules in Audit only mode.


Q: How can I troubleshoot the SRP or AppLocker rules if they cause problems?




A: You can use the following steps to troubleshoot the SRP or AppLocker rules if they cause problems:


  • Check the event logs in Event Viewer under Applications and Services Logs > Microsoft > Windows > Application Control Policies > SRP (or AppLocker) to see the details of the file execution events, such as the file name, path, hash, publisher, user, action, and rule.



  • Identify the rule that is causing the problem and edit or delete it using Group Policy Editor. You can also create a new rule to override the problematic rule.



  • Refresh the Group Policy settings on the affected computers by running the command gpupdate /force in a command prompt.



  • Restart the Application Identity service on the affected computers by running the command net stop appidsvc and net start appidsvc in a command prompt.



  • Verify that the problem is resolved by testing the file execution again.



Q: How can I update the SRP or AppLocker rules if I install or update a program on my server?




A: You can use the following steps to update the SRP or AppLocker rules if you install or update a program on your server:


  • Install or update the program on your server as usual.



  • Open Group Policy Editor and navigate to Software Restriction Policies (or AppLocker).



  • Create a new rule or edit an existing rule to allow or deny the program based on its file attributes. You can use the AppLocker wizard to automatically generate rules based on a reference computer or a folder.



  • Refresh the Group Policy settings on the affected computers by running the command gpupdate /force in a command prompt.



  • Verify that the rule is applied by testing the program execution on the affected computers.



Q: How can I disable SRP or AppLocker if I no longer need them?




A: You can use the following steps to disable SRP or AppLocker if you no longer need them:


  • Open Group Policy Editor and navigate to Software Restriction Policies (or AppLocker).



  • Right-click Software Restriction Policies (or AppLocker) and select Properties.



  • Select Disabled under Enforcement.



  • Refresh the Group Policy settings on the affected computers by running the command gpupdate /force in a command prompt.



  • Verify that SRP or AppLocker is disabled by testing any program execution on the affected computers.



Q: How can I learn more about SRP or AppLocker?




A: You can learn more about SRP or AppLocker by visiting the following resources:


  • [Software Restriction Policies Overview]



  • [AppLocker Overview]



  • [Software Restriction Policies Technical Reference]



  • [AppLocker Technical Reference]



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