How many of us take for granted Microsoft’s family of tools that contribute to the security of your organization? The most commonly used and appreciated tools are:
- Forefront Family
- Microsoft Security Essentials
- Windows Intune / Windows Update / Microsoft System Center Family
- Windows Firewall (with Advanced Security)
Let’s take a look at all of these tools and their features. Then, we can look at other less popular tools offered by Microsoft — such as Microsoft Security Compliance Manager and Microsoft Security Assessment Tool.
Microsoft has spent a great amount of time trying to supply a manageable easy-to-use security solution for its products. The result of these efforts is the Forefront Family. It consists of several tools you can use to secure your Microsoft infrastructure. Also, it is designed to interact with other Microsoft tools, such as Active Directory, Group Policy and Windows Update.
Forefront Endpoint Protection is the enterprise-oriented product that delivers real-time, anti-virus, malware and spyware protection. Its integration with the System Center Family of managing products makes it extremely popular and easy for adoption.
Another product in the Forefront Family is Forefront Threat Management Gateway. It is the successor of the Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server and provides advanced firewall functionalities, including URL filtering, intrusion prevention, HTTP/HTTPS inspection, and much more.
The two popular solutions for applications are Forefront protection for Exchange Server and Forefront protection for SharePoint. With the increasing popularity of cloud solutions, Forefront Online Protection for Exchange is used to secure the cloud-based version of Exchange – Exchange Online. All of these products can easily be managed through the Forefront Protection Server Management Console. It supports multiple servers and has great reporting capabilities.
Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager is a great tool that can help you manage access between heterogeneous systems, including Active Directory, Novell, Sun, IBM, Lotus Notes, Exchange, Oracle and SQL Server databases, SAP, and even flat file systems. It supports both password- and certificate-based access.
If you need to provide access to users outside your organization, such as partners or home-based employees, Forefront Unified Access Gateway is there to help you. It supports both VPN and Direct Access to your network and introduces policies and configurations over these connections.
Microsoft Security Essentials
For end clients, who can’t afford to pay for the manageable Forefront client, Microsoft has delivered the free tool Microsoft Security Essentials, which uses the same definitions as Forefront, but lacks the manageability part.
Microsoft Security Essentials does provide antivirus, antispyware, and rootkit protection; it also supports Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2; and it’s still using Dynamic Signature Service, which contributes to the daily definitions updates by detecting newly identified malware.
However, Microsoft Security Essentials doesn’t provide some of the handiest Forefront functionalities, such as Group Policy and External Device control; Network Access Protection integration (the Windows Server 2008 capability to granularly control network access based on who the client is and the groups to which the client belongs); and integrated host firewall management.
It also has the extremely useful capability of limiting processor usage during scans. Do youu ever encounter the problem of processor usage reaching 100% and the computer freezing with some other products? Microsoft promises that doesn’t happen with Microsoft Security Essentials.
As keeping your system updated is a main part of its hardening, Microsoft has many tools that help you get important updates on time.
Your first option is to set your Windows Update feature to automatically download the updates from the Microsoft site. However, this way you don’t have much control over which updates get installed. You can set the feature to let you make a decision as to whether to install a particular update or not, but this then requires extra administrative efforts to achieve what is normally a simple task.
Another option is to use the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) or Windows Intune to centrally manage the updates on all your clients’ computers. Both of these products offer a considerable amount of functionalities, including keeping computers up to date. While SCCM is a hosted application and needs to be installed on a local machine to work, Windows Intune is an entirely cloud-based Microsoft solution that can help you manage your network. All you need is a web browser. And with that, you can make sure your computers all over the world are properly updated.
Windows Firewall (with Advanced Security)
Windows Firewall (In Windows Server 2008, it is called Windows Firewall with Advanced Security) can contribute to your current security configuration, providing a defense-in-depth mechanism for end users. If you haven’t purchased Forefront protection, then you can use the built-in Windows Firewall to specify rules regarding your inbound and outbound traffic.
Microsoft Security Compliance Manager
Microsoft Security Compliance Manager includes various baseline security policies — both for client and server Windows systems and applications. The policies are based on industry practices and let you reduce the security threats your systems are exposed to. You can easily compare your existing policies with these baseline security policies for reference, or deploy the baseline policies to be sure your infrastructure is secured.
Microsoft Security Assessment Tool
Microsoft Security Assessment Tool is a product that can help you secure your entire IT infrastructure by asking you various questions with a Yes/No answer. Questions are based on the ISO 17799 and NIST-800.x standards. Your answers are compared to the best practices that Microsoft has developed. Then a summary with lots of recommendations and relevant online topics is delivered to you. It can be very useful after your initial setup is completed.