A path to a standard desktop

Microsoft offers a way to help agencies meet OMB mandate

Agencies seeking quick implementation of a standard desktop configuration for Microsoft Windows to meet requirements mandated by the Office of Management and Budget can get help from Microsoft Consulting Services.

The Microsoft Standard Desktop Solution, offered as a time-and-materials deal, can help guide federal managers through the planning process and produce a pilot-ready standard desktop, said Wes Anderson, general manager at Microsoft Federal Services.

'What we want to do is take all the experiences, best practices, lessons learned and tools, and package them' into a way to help agencies adopt the core OMB requirements, Anderson said. OMB requires agencies to migrate to a standard desktop configuration for Microsoft Windows XP and Vista by February 2008.

Microsoft's consulting unit has drawn on its experiences helping the Air Force develop a standard desktop configuration for both XP and Vista, and on initiatives with other agencies, Anderson said.

As organizations attempt to move to a standard desktop, information security and information technology operations employees often are not involved in the process from the beginning, he said. Microsoft's solution is designed to engage them early in the process.

The Standard Desktop Solution takes agencies through four phases to improve desktop security, said Shelly Bird, architect for governmentwide standard configurations with Microsoft Federal Services. The phases include:
  • Assessment. This is the stage where priorities and expectations are set and the environment is assessed with free tools such as the Application Compatibility Toolkit. Agencies should have application and hardware inventory reports and project schedules finalized coming out of this phase.

  • Planning. The goal here is to develop a complete list of configuration and security decisions in checklist format, which can be used to prove compliance with OMB requirements. Agencies should also develop a report to show where they might vary from the OMB security configuration and the reason for those changes.

  • Building. This phase focuses on the building of a pilot-ready image to implement decisions made during the planning stage. In addition, employees must be trained to perform application compatibility testing and troubleshooting.

  • Testing. This is where agencies prove the validity of the pilot image through testing with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Security Content Automation Protocol profiles and compliance tools. In addition, agencies will focus on solving any application compatibility issues at this stage.

The process should take about eight weeks for most organizations, Bird said. Two consultants would be required ' one to focus on the infrastructure and building of the actual image and the other with in-depth focus on application compatibility issues, she added.

'We're bringing to the table a fairly deep knowledge of what we've seen with desktop lock-downs,' Bird said.

Ensuring that applications conform to the standard, secure configuration is one of the biggest issues. As a result, Microsoft trains agency security and operations employees on the tools and processes they need to address future application compatibility issues, she said.

Microsoft can play a significant role in helping agencies move to a standard desktop configuration, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute.

One of the biggest challenges for organizations is restricting desktop users from obtaining administrative privileges, a key requirement of the OMB mandate.

Microsoft has the capability to help organizations 'fix legacy applications so they work without giving each user administrative privileges,' he said. Giving admin rights to individual users, which could allow them to change configurations, can make a desktop insecure, he added.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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