Microsoft releases tool to lock IIS systems

Microsoft Corp., whose Web server and security products have been stung recently by a series of high-profile flaws, released a new security tool Thursday, the second time in as many weeks the company has done so.

The new tool, called IIS Lockdown, is targeted at home and small businesses and is intended for use with the company's IIS (Internet Information Server) software -- the Web server software that the Code Red worm attacked successfully in July and August. Code Red used a month-old vulnerability in IIS to infect servers and spread itself across the world. With IIS Lockdown Code Red could never have happened, because the security hole, even if it had been unpatched, would not have been vulnerable, Microsoft said.

IIS Lockdown aims to do just what its name would lead one to believe: lock down the IIS configuration on a system, making it unchangeable and inaccessible. The software offers two configuration options, Express Lockdown and Advanced Lockdown. Express Lockdown is a one-click, general security setting. Advanced Lockdown gives administrators the option to pick and choose the services that will be enabled on the system, Microsoft said.

The software checks a server's configuration against a checklist of security practices provided by Microsoft to create secure systems, said Scott Culp, security program manager at the Microsoft security response center. The checklist, which is also available on Microsoft Web sites as a standalone document, is included in the IIS Lockdown tool, rather than requiring the tool to reference a Web site, he said.

After consulting the checklist, IIS Lockdown turns off all unnecessary or potentially hazardous services, leaving just core IIS functions, Culp said. The software also includes an extensive help system which gives detailed information about what each component does and in which situations it would be used, he said.

IIS Lockdown provides a sneak-preview of the installation process for the forthcoming IIS 6.0, Culp said. IIS 6.0 will include an "interview" process by which the server will be configured with only the necessary services and functions, turning all others off, he said.

Despite the promises made by the company, Microsoft does advise administrators to stay up to date on patching their systems.

Last week, Microsoft released two security vulnerability assessment tools: HFNetChk and Microsoft Personal Security Advisor. IIS Lockdown is not the last tool in this line, Culp said, noting that at least one more such tool will be released in the near future.

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