How UAC failed completely

Tags: Windows.
By lucb1e on 2011-10-26 13:45:50 +0100

User Account Control. Most readers of this blog will have heard of it, but for the ones who don't: It are those annoying questions in Windows Vista and 7 if you want to grant programs admin permissions. Doing a google images search for "User Account Control" will show you what I mean. So why did they do this if it is so annoying?

They actually copied Linux and Mac OS X, where you have to enter the root password for important changes. This leads to root passwords like "g" (yes, just one letter), but it does prevent some malware from doing stuff you don't want. They attempted to secure Windows better via this same method.

But then it is a good thing? No. In Vista you were asked way too often for unimportant stuff. With Windows 7 they made it bearable, but it is still no good. I'll give you three reasons for it:

First of all, you might have noticed how it simply asks you to click "Continue" or "Yes". It never asks you for the actual password unless you are not the admin (which you nearly always are at home). I would not be surprised if software simply emulated the proper keypresses to hit continue itself. Yes, this is really possible with basic software like Game Maker.

Secondly, have you ever asked your grandma what she does with such windows? I actually did ask my grandma, my mother and my father. My father generally uses computer responsibly and doesn't trust stuff blindly (which is why a 9 year old laptop of his still ran as fine as it did when he first booted it up), so he only clicks continue or yes when he is sure that it is alright. But he is the exception. Most people, nearly all users above the age of 30, simply hit Continue, OK or Yes. They have no idea what the thing does. Say bye-bye to your security, the end user ruins it again (Quote: "Programming today is a race between software engineers stirring to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the universe is winning.").

Lastly, it causes bad practices for programs. The best example is Google Chrome. They wanted seemless updates without the user noticing at all, and they managed to. What they did was put the entire appliation in %AppData%, better known as Application Data.
Wasn't the Program Files directory meant to contain programs? The AppData directory is in the user profile folder, it is user-specific and meant to store settings in, not programs.
Changing data in the appdata directory does not require admin priviliges though, so that is why Google put Chrome in there. Updates without "Do you want to continue" boxes. Wasn't it the whole point of the UAC system to prevent this? Wasn't the whole point to make sure that changes to things like programs required admin permission? This way, it is simply circumvented, and the entire UAC system is useless.

This is why turning off UAC is the first thing I do in a new Windows Vista and 7 installation. Of course removing it removes a layer of security (UAC still prevents changes to Windows itself), but I know what I'm doing. Many other users do the same though, and they don't always know what they are doing. They ask the tech guy of the family "Hey I always get those annoying 'continue?'-questions, what are they?" to which the family member will answer something like "I'm not sure, but I find them annoying too. Here, let me turn it off". Or sometimes they claim to know what it is, but most of the time they have no clue what it really does. So after all, it usually gets turned off. Welcome back to the security level of 2001 (WinXP), everyone!

Now who was saying that Windows XP is not secure anymore? Microsoft supports XP with security patches as much as Windows 7 until 2014. But that's another subject :)
Another post tagged 'Windows': Pure magic: rebooting

Look for more posts tagged Windows.

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