Updated: September 25, 2013
Applies To: Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows 8
This topic for the IT professional discusses different methods to administer security policy settings on the local computer or throughout a small- or medium-sized IT organization by using Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.
Security policy settings should be used as part of your overall security implementation to help secure domain controllers, servers, client computers, and other resources in your organization.
Security settings policies are rules that you can configure on a computer, or multiple computers, for the purpose of protecting resources on a computer or network. The Security Settings extension of the Local Group Policy Editor snap-in (Gpedit.msc) allows you to define security configurations as part of a Group Policy Object (GPO). The GPOs are linked to Active Directory containers such as sites, domains, and organizational units, and they enable administrators to manage security settings for multiple computers from any computer joined to the domain.
Security settings can control:
User authentication to a network or computer.
The resources that users are permitted to access.
Whether to record a user’s or group’s actions in the Event log.
Membership in a group.
For information about each setting, including descriptions, default settings, and management and security considerations, see the Security Policy Settings Reference in the Microsoft Download Center.
For information about how the security settings snap-ins work, see the Security Policy Settings Technical Overview.
To manage security configurations for multiple computers, you can use one of the following options:
Edit specific security settings in a GPO.
Use the Security Templates snap-in to create a security template that contains the security policies you want to apply, and then import the security template into a Group Policy Object. A security template is a file that represents a security configuration, and it can be imported to a GPO, or applied to a local computer, or it can be used to analyze security.
Over time, new ways to manage security policy settings have been introduced, which include new operating system features and the addition of new settings. The following table lists different means by which security policy settings can be administered.
Tool or feature
Description and use
Using the Local Security Policy snap-in
MMC snap-in designed to manage only security policy settings.
Using the Secedit command-line tool
Configures and analyzes system security by comparing your current configuration to specified security templates.
Using the Security Compliance Manager
A Solution Accelerator that helps you plan, deploy, operate, and manage your security baselines for Windows client and server operating systems, and Microsoft applications.
Using the Security Configuration Wizard
SCW is a role-based tool available on servers only: You can use it to create a policy that enables services, firewall rules, and settings that are required for a selected server to perform specific roles.
Working with the Security Configuration Manager
This tool set allows you to create, apply, and edit the security for your local computer, organizational unit, or domain.
Working with Group Policy tools
Gpmc.msc and Gpedit.msc
The Group Policy Management Console uses the Group Policy Object editor to expose the local Security options, which can then be incorporated into Group Policy Objects for distribution throughout the domain. The Local Group Policy Editor performs similar functions on the local computer.
Software Restriction Policies
See Administer Software Restriction Policies in the TechNet Library.
Software Restriction Policies (SRP) is a Group Policy-based feature that identifies software programs running on computers in a domain, and it controls the ability of those programs to run.
See Administer AppLocker in the TechNet Library.
Prevents malicious software (malware) and unsupported applications from affecting computers in your environment, and it prevents users in your organization from installing and using unauthorized applications.
The Local Security Policy snap-in (Secpol.msc) restricts the view of local policy objects to the following policies and features:
Windows Firewall with Advanced Security
Network List Manager Policies
Public Key Policies
Software Restriction Policies
Application Control Policies
IP Security Policies on Local Computer
Advanced Audit Policy Configuration
Policies set locally might be overwritten if the computer is joined to the domain.
The Local Security Policy snap-in is part of the Security Configuration Manager tool set. For information about other tools in this tool set, see Working with the Security Configuration Manager in this topic.
The Secedit command-line tool works with security templates and provides six primary functions:
The Configure parameter helps you resolve security discrepancies between servers by applying the correct security template to the errant server.
The Analyze parameter compares the server’s security configuration with the selected template.
The Import parameter allows you to create a database from an existing template. The Security Configuration and Analysis tool does this also.
The Export parameter allows you to export the settings from a database into a security settings template.
The Validate parameter allows you to validate the syntax of each or any lines of text that you created or added to a security template. This ensures that if the template fails to apply syntax, the template will not be the issue.
The Generate Rollback parameter saves the server’s current security settings into a security template so it can be used to restore most of the server’s security settings to a known state. The exceptions are that, when applied, the rollback template will not change access control list entries on files or registry entries that were changed by the most recently applied template.
For more information about the Secedit.exe tool, see Secedit [LH].
The Security Compliance Manager is a downloadable tool that helps you plan, deploy, operate, and manage your security baselines for Windows client and server operating systems, and for Microsoft applications. It contains a complete database of recommended security settings, methods to customize your baselines, and the option to implement those settings in multiple formats—including XLS, GPOs, Desired Configuration Management (DCM) packs, or Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP). The Security Compliance Manager is used to export the baselines to your environment to automate the security baseline deployment and compliance verification process.
To administer security policies by using the Security Compliance Manager
Download the most recent version of the Security Compliance Manager in the Microsoft Download Center.
Read the relevant security baseline documentation that is included in this tool.
Download and import the relevant security baselines. The installation process steps you through baseline selection.
Open the Help and follow instructions how to customize, compare, or merge your security baselines before deploying those baselines.
The Security Configuration Wizard (SCW) guides you through the process of creating, editing, applying, or rolling back a security policy. A security policy that you create with SCW is an .xml file that, when applied, configures services, network security, specific registry values, and audit policy. SCW is a role-based tool: You can use it to create a policy that enables services, firewall rules, and settings that are required for a selected server to perform specific roles. For example, a server might be a file server, a print server, or a domain controller.
The following are considerations for using SCW:
SCW disables unnecessary services and provides Windows Firewall with Advanced Security support.
Security policies that are created with SCW are not the same as security templates, which are files with an .inf extension. Security templates contain more security settings than those that can be set with SCW. However, it is possible to include a security template in an SCW security policy file.
You can deploy security policies that you create with SCW by using Group Policy.
SCW does not install or uninstall the features necessary for the server to perform a role. You can install role-specific features through Server Manager.
SCW detects role dependencies. If you select a role, it automatically selects dependent roles.
All applications that use the IP protocol and ports must be running on the server when you run SCW.
In some cases, you must be connected to the Internet to use the links in the SCW Help.
The SCW is available only on Windows Server and only applicable to server installations.
The SCW can be accessed through Server Manager or by running Scw.exe. The wizard steps you through server security configuration to:
Create a security policy that can be applied to any server on your network.
Edit an existing security policy.
Apply an existing security policy.
Roll back the last applied security policy.
The Security Policy Wizard configures services and network security based on the server’s role, as well as configures auditing and registry settings.
For more information about SCW, including procedures, see the Security Configuration Wizard.
The Security Configuration Manager tool set allows you to create, apply, and edit the security for your local computer, organizational unit, or domain.
For procedures on how to use the Security Configuration Manager, see Security Configuration Manager.
The following table lists the features of the Security Configuration Manager.
Security Configuration Manager tools
Security Configuration and Analysis
Defines a security policy in a template. These templates can be applied to Group Policy or to your local computer.
Defines a security policy in a template. These templates can be applied to Group Policy or to your local computer.
Security Settings extension to Group Policy
Edits individual security settings on a domain, site, or organizational unit.
Local Security Policy
Edits individual security settings on your local computer.
Automates security configuration tasks at a command prompt.
Security Configuration and Analysis is an MMC snap-in for analyzing and configuring local system security.
The state of the operating system and applications on a computer is dynamic. For example, you may need to temporarily change security levels so that you can immediately resolve an administration or network issue. However, this change can often go unreversed. This means that a computer may no longer meet the requirements for enterprise security.
Regular analysis enables an administrator to track and ensure an adequate level of security on each computer as part of an enterprise risk management program. An administrator can tune the security levels and, most importantly, detect any security flaws that may occur in the system over time.
Security Configuration and Analysis enables you to quickly review security analysis results. It presents recommendations alongside of current system settings and uses visual flags or remarks to highlight any areas where the current settings do not match the proposed level of security. Security Configuration and Analysis also offers the ability to resolve any discrepancies that analysis reveals.
Security Configuration and Analysis can also be used to directly configure local system security. Through its use of personal databases, you can import security templates that have been created with Security Templates and apply these templates to the local computer. This immediately configures the system security with the levels specified in the template.
With the Security Templates snap-in for Microsoft Management Console, you can create a security policy for your computer or for your network. It is a single point of entry where the full range of system security can be taken into account. The Security Templates snap-in does not introduce new security parameters, it simply organizes all existing security attributes into one place to ease security administration.
Importing a security template to a Group Policy Object eases domain administration by configuring security for a domain or organizational unit at once.
To apply a security template to your local computer, you can use Security Configuration and Analysis or the Secedit command-line tool.
Security templates can be used to define:
Account Lockout Policy
User Rights Assignment
Event Log: Application, system, and security Event Log settings
Restricted Groups: Membership of security-sensitive groups
System Services: Startup and permissions for system services
Registry: Permissions for registry keys
File System: Permissions for folders and files
Each template is saved as a text-based .inf file. This enables you to copy, paste, import, or export some or all of the template attributes. With the exceptions of Internet Protocol security and public key policies, all security attributes can be contained in a security template.
Organizational units, domains, and sites are linked to Group Policy Objects. The Security Settings tool allows you change the security configuration of the Group Policy Object, in turn, affecting multiple computers. With Security Settings, you can modify the security settings of many computers, depending on the Group Policy Object you modify, from just one computer joined to a domain.
Security settings or security policies are rules that are configured on a computer or multiple computers for protecting resources on a computer or network. Security settings can control:
How users are authenticated to a network or computer.
What resources users are authorized to use.
Whether or not a user's or group's actions are recorded in the event log.
You can change the security configuration on multiple computers in two ways:
Create a security policy by using a security template with Security Templates, and then import the template through Security Settings to a Group Policy Object.
Change a few select settings with Security Settings.
A security policy is a combination of security settings that affect the security on a computer. You can use your local security policy to edit account policies and local policies on your local computer.
With the local security policy, you can control:
Who accesses your computer.
What resources users are authorized to use on your computer.
Whether or not a user’s or group's actions are recorded in the event log.
If your local computer is joined to a domain, you are subject to obtaining a security policy from the domain's policy or from the policy of any organizational unit that you are a member of. If you are getting a policy from more than one source, conflicts are resolved in the following order of precedence.
Organizational unit policy
Local computer policy
If you modify the security settings on your local computer by using the local security policy, then you are directly modifying the settings on your computer. Therefore, the settings take effect immediately, but this may only be temporary. The settings will actually remain in effect on your local computer until the next refresh of Group Policy security settings, when the security settings that are received from Group Policy will override your local settings wherever there are conflicts.
For procedures on how to use the Security Configuration Manager, see Security Configuration Manager How To. This section contains information in this topic about:
Applying security settings
Importing and exporting security templates
Analyzing security and viewing results
Resolving security discrepancies
Automating security configuration tasks
Once you have edited the security settings, the settings are refreshed on the computers in the organizational unit linked to your Group Policy Object:
When a computer is restarted, the settings on that computer will be refreshed.
To force a computer to refresh its security settings as well as all Group Policy settings, see the Gpupdate [LH] command-line tool.
Precedence of a policy when more than one policy is applied to a computer
For security settings that are defined by more than one policy, the following order of precedence is observed:
Organizational Unit Policy
Local computer Policy
For example, a workstation that is joined to a domain will have its local security settings overridden by the domain policy wherever there is a conflict. Likewise, if the same workstation is a member of an Organizational Unit, the settings applied from the Organizational Unit's policy will override both the domain and local settings. If the workstation is a member of more than one Organizational Unit, then the Organizational Unit that immediately contains the workstation has the highest order of precedence.
Use the Gpresult [LH] command-line tool to find out what policies are applied to a computer and in what order.
For domain accounts, there can be only one account policy that includes password policies, account lockout policies, and Kerberos policies.
Persistence in security settings
Security settings may still persist even if a setting is no longer defined in the policy that originally applied it.
Persistence in security settings occurs when:
The setting has not been previously defined for the computer.
The setting is for a registry object.
The setting is for a file system object.
All settings applied through local policy or a Group Policy Object are stored in a local database on your computer. Whenever a security setting is modified, the computer saves the security setting value to the local database, which retains a history of all the settings that have been applied to the computer. If a policy first defines a security setting and then no longer defines that setting, then the setting takes on the previous value in the database. If a previous value does not exist in the database, then the setting does not revert to anything and remains defined as is. This behavior is sometimes called "tattooing."
Registry and file settings will maintain the values applied through policy until that setting is set to other values.
Filtering security settings based on group membership
You can also decide what users or groups will or will not have a Group Policy Object applied to them regardless of what computer they have logged onto by denying them either the Apply Group Policy or Read permission on that Group Policy Object. Both of these permissions are needed to apply Group Policy.
Security Configuration and Analysis provides the ability to import and export security templates into or from a database.
If you have made any changes to the analysis database, you can save those settings by exporting them into a template. The export feature provides the ability to save the analysis database settings as a new template file. This template file can then be used to analyze or configure a system, or it can be imported to a Group Policy Object.
Security Configuration and Analysis performs security analysis by comparing the current state of system security against an analysis database. During creation, the analysis database uses at least one security template. If you choose to import more than one security template, the database will merge the various templates and create one composite template. It resolves conflicts in order of import; the last template that is imported takes precedence.
Security Configuration and Analysis displays the analysis results by security area, using visual flags to indicate problems. It displays the current system and base configuration settings for each security attribute in the security areas. To change the analysis database settings, right-click the entry, and then click Properties.
The entry is defined in the analysis database and on the system, but the security setting values do not match.
Green check mark
The entry is defined in the analysis database and on the system and the setting values match.
The entry is not defined in the analysis database and, therefore, was not analyzed.
If an entry is not analyzed, it may be that it was not defined in the analysis database or that the user who is running the analysis may not have sufficient permission to perform analysis on a specific object or area.
This item is defined in the analysis database, but does not exist on the actual system. For example, there may be a restricted group that is defined in the analysis database but does not actually exist on the analyzed system.
The item is not defined in the analysis database or on the system.
If you choose to accept the current settings, the corresponding value in the base configuration is modified to match them. If you change the system setting to match the base configuration, the change will be reflected when you configure the system with Security Configuration and Analysis.
To avoid continued flagging of settings that you have investigated and determined to be reasonable, you can modify the base configuration. The changes are made to a copy of the template.
You can resolve discrepancies between analysis database and system settings by:
Accepting or changing some or all of the values that are flagged or not included in the configuration, if you determine that the local system security levels are valid due to the context (or role) of that computer. These attribute values are then updated in the database and applied to the system when you click Configure Computer Now.
Configuring the system to the analysis database values, if you determine the system is not in compliance with valid security levels.
Importing a more appropriate template for the role of that computer into the database as the new base configuration and applying it to the system.
Changes to the analysis database are made to the stored template in the database, not to the security template file. The security template file will only be modified if you either return to Security Templates and edit that template or export the stored configuration to the same template file.
You should use Configure Computer Now only to modify security areas not affected by Group Policy settings, such as security on local files and folders, registry keys, and system services. Otherwise, when the Group Policy settings are applied, it will take precedence over local settings—such as account policies. In general, do not use Configure Computer Now when you are analyzing security for domain-based clients, since you will have to configure each client individually. In this case, you should return to Security Templates, modify the template, and reapply it to the appropriate Group Policy Object.
By calling the Secedit.exe tool at a command prompt from a batch file or automatic task scheduler, you can use it to automatically create and apply templates, and analyze system security. You can also run it dynamically from a command prompt.
Secedit.exe is useful when you have multiple computers on which security must be analyzed or configured, and you need to perform these tasks during off-hours.
Group Policy is an infrastructure that allows you to specify managed configurations for users and computers through Group Policy settings and Group Policy Preferences. For Group Policy settings that affect only a local computer or user, you can use the Local Group Policy Editor. You can manage Group Policy settings and Group Policy Preferences in an Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) environment through the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC). Group Policy management tools also are included in the Remote Server Administration Tools pack to provide a way for you to administer Group Policy settings from your desktop.
To get started with managing security settings with Group Policy, see Group Policy Overview.
To begin using the Group Policy Management Console, see the Help for the Group Policy Management Console in the TechNet Library.
To begin using the Local Group Policy Editor, see the Help for the Local Group Policy Editor.