Introducing the security configuration framework

Applies to

  • Windows 10

Security configuration is complex. When hardening your deployment of Windows 10, how should you prioritize the hardware you buy, policies you enforce, controls you configure, and behavior your staff exhibit?

Even when configuring policies, with thousands of policies available in Windows, choosing the “best” setting is difficult. It’s not always obvious which permutations of policies are required to implement a complete scenario, and there are often unintended consequences of security lockdowns. Because of this, with each release of Windows, Microsoft publishes Windows security baselines, an industry-standard configuration that is broadly known and well-tested. However, many organizations have discovered that this baseline sets a very high bar for some scenarios.

To help you prioritize your endpoint hardening work, Microsoft is introducing a new taxonomy for security configurations for Windows 10. In this initial preview, we are simply listing recommended hardware, policies, controls, and behaviors in order to gather feedback from more customers and security experts in order to refine the framework and prioritize opportunities to automate.

This new security configuration framework, which we affectionately nickname the SecCon framework (remember "WarGames"?), organizes devices into one of 5 distinct security configurations.

SECCON Framework

  • Level 1 enterprise basic security – We recommend this configuration as the minimum security configuration for an enterprise device. Recommendations for this level are generally straightforward and are designed to be deployable within 30 days.
  • Level 2 enterprise enhanced security – We recommend this configuration for devices where users access sensitive or confidential information. Some of the controls may have an impact to app compat, and therefore will often go through an audit-configure-enforce workflow. Recommendations for this level are generally accessible to most organizations and are designed to be deployable within 90 days.
  • Level 3 enterprise high security – We recommend this configuration for devices run by an organization with a larger or more sophisticated security team, or for specific users or groups who are at uniquely high risk (as one example, one organization identified users who handle data whose theft would directly and seriously impact their stock price). An organization likely to be targeted by well-funded and sophisticated adversaries should aspire to this configuration. Recommendations for this level can be complex (for example, removing local admin rights for some organizations can be a long project in and of itself) and can often go beyond 90 days.
  • Level 4 DevOps workstation – We recommend this configuration for developers and testers, who are an attractive target both for supply chain attacks and access to servers and systems containing high value data or where critical business functions could be disrupted. Level 4 guidance is coming soon!
  • Level 5 administrator workstation – Administrators (particularly of identity or security systems) present the highest risk to the organization, through data theft, data alteration, or service disruption. Level 5 guidance is coming soon!

The security configuration framework divides configuration into Productivity Devices and Privileged Access Workstations. This document will focus on Productivity Devices (Levels 1, 2, and 3). Microsoft’s current guidance on Privileged Access Workstations are part of the Securing Privileged Access roadmap.

Microsoft recommends reviewing and categorizing your devices, and then configuring them using the prescriptive guidance for that level. Level 1 should be considered the minimum baseline for an enterprise device, and Microsoft recommends increasing the protection based on both threat environment and risk appetite.

Security control classification

The recommendations are grouped into four categories.

Hardware Policies Controls Behaviors
Microsoft recommends acquiring hardware that supports the specified hardware features, in order to support Windows security features Microsoft recommends enforcing the configuration of the specified policies in the manner described, to harden Windows to the designated level of security Microsoft recommends enabling the security controls specified in the manner described, to provide protections appropriate to the designated level of security. Microsoft recommends changing organizational behavior towards the endpoints in the manner described.

Security control deployment methodologies

The way Microsoft recommends implementing these controls depends on the auditability of the control–there are two primary methodologies.

Rings

Security controls which don't support an audit mode should be deployed gradually. A typical deployment methodology:

  1. Test ring - deploy to a lab to validate "must test" apps prior to enforcement of any configuration
  2. Pilot ring - deploy to a representative sample of 2-5% of the environment
  3. Fast ring - deploy to the next 25% of the environment
  4. Slow ring - deploy to the remainder of the organization

Audit / Enforce

Security controls which support an audit mode can be deployed using the following methodology:

  1. Audit - enable the control in audit mode, and gasther audit data in a centralized location
  2. Review - review the audit data to assess potential impact (both positive and negative) and configure any exemptions from the security control you need to configure
  3. Enforce - deploy the configuration of any exemptions and convert the control to enforce mode