Group Policy Object

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If you’re planning on taking the Security+ exam, you should have a good understanding of security baselines and different methods used to deploy the baseline such as Group Policy. For example, can you answer this question?

Q. You need to monitor the security posture of several servers in your organization and keep a security administrator aware of their status. Which of the following tasks will BEST help you meet this goal?

A. Establishing baseline reporting

B. Determining attack surface

C. Implementing patch management

D. Enabling sandboxing

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

Understanding Security Baselines

A security baseline is a secure starting point for an operating system or application. Organizations often identify the requirements for security baselines in a written security policy. Administrators then use the security policy as a guide when creating the baseline. For example, the security policy might require all desktop systems to have up-to-date antivirus software installed, host-based firewalls enabled, and FTP disabled. Administrators use different methods, such as Group Policy and imaging, to deploy the baseline. Later, they can check existing systems against the security baseline to verify the system is still secure.

Enforcing Security Baselines with Group Policy

Microsoft domains use Group Policy to standardize the configuration of systems. An administrator can create and apply a Group Policy Object (GPO) to configure all the systems in the domain, or target specific systems. Some common security settings applied by Group Policy include:

  • Account settings. Administrators can configure several specific security settings such as disabling the Guest account and renaming the Administrator account.
  • Password and account lockout policies. These settings ensure users maintain strong passwords and lock accounts to prevent an attacker from trying to guess the password.
  • Audit policies. When enabled, auditing logs certain events, such as when users log on or off, or when they access objects such as files.
  • User rights. Rights refer to what users can do on a system, such as log on using Remote Desktop or shut down the system. Administrators can configure these settings to allow or restrict these rights depending on the needs of the organization.
  • System services. These settings allow administrators to disable services such as FTP.
  • Software restrictions. Administrators use these settings to control what software can be installed on a system and what software can run on a system. For example, they can use these settings to prevent the installation or use of peer-to-peer (P2P) software.

The magic of Group Policy is that an administrator can configure a single setting within a GPO and apply it to multiple users or computers with very little effort. A GPO works the same way whether it’s being applied to five systems or five thousand. Group Policy is applied when a computer starts up and when a user logs on. The system periodically checks to see if any Group Policy settings are changed and automatically applies these new settings.

Group Policy

Another benefit of Group Policy is that it regularly reapplies security settings. If a problem or attack compromises a system, this process helps keep the Group Policy security settings in place.

The first step in creating the security baseline is creating a written security policy. Once the organization creates the security policy, administrators use different methods, such as Group Policy, security templates, or imaging, to deploy the baseline. Later, they can check existing systems against the security baseline to verify the system is still secure.

For example, imagine that your organization’s security policy mandates that users should not be able to install software. Administrators deploy systems enforcing this policy. Later, they can check existing systems to ensure that users cannot install software and the original security baseline is still intact.

An organization will typically have several security baselines. For example, end-user operating systems use one baseline, generic servers use another baseline, and specialty servers use other baselines.

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Each operating system is different so you won’t find a standard checklist to lock down all operating systems. However, there is a place to check—the vendor’s documentation. If you’re trying to secure an operating system or an application running on the operating system, check the documentation. This documentation often includes valuable information with easy-to-follow steps.

Some vendors include tools to help create a security baseline. For example, Microsoft Server operating systems include the Security Configuration Wizard (SCW). SCW leads administrators through a series of questions about a system and then creates an Extensible Markup Language (XML) database file that includes a wide assortment of security settings. Administrators can import these settings into a Group Policy Object to apply them.

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Q. You need to monitor the security posture of several servers in your organization and keep a security administrator aware of their status. Which of the following tasks will BEST help you meet this goal?

A. Establishing baseline reporting

B. Determining attack surface

C. Implementing patch management

D. Enabling sandboxing

Answer is A. Establishing baseline reporting processes allows you to monitor the systems and identify any changes from the baseline that might affect their security posture.

You would determine the attack surface prior to establishing a baseline.

Patch management is important, but it doesn’t monitor the overall security posture of systems.

Sandboxing allows you to isolate systems for testing, but isn’t used for online production systems.

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See Chapter 5 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on implementing host security.

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