What is Operating System hardening and what are the benefits?
Also known as Server hardening, OS hardening and Windows hardening; Operating System hardening is the act of reducing the amount of attack points on a computer by streamlining the running software and services down to the bare minimum required.
How to harden your computer
When you install an Operating System you are presented with various options and additional software choices. Only chose the software that you are going to use. For instance if a particular machine is going to run as a web server then it will not need media applications, games, printer drivers etc.
Once your Operating System is installed you can then look through all the installed components with a view to removing or disabling anything that is not required. For instance in Windows Control Panel you can Add or Remove Programs. From here you can remove any Windows programs that you do not need.
Next you can look at the services that are running and you can disable anything that is not required. There are various web sites that will tell you what each service does so you can make your own mind up if you need a particular service to be running or not. If you disable it and decide later that you needed it after all then you can always go back and re-enable it.
The benefits of OS hardening
By uninstalling or disabling software that is not actually required you are reducing the routes into your PC that a potential attacker or malicious software can exploit. Security patches for Windows are released every month and it soon becomes a never ending process of having to install new patches for newly discovered security vunerabilities. By reducing the amount of software you have installed you reduce the amount of patching you need to do.
In addition to the increased security benefits there are also performance and cost saving benefits. The less software running on your computer means less memory is being used, reducing the need for more memory; and less hard drive space is required, reducing the need for large hard drives. With fewer programs running on your computer the processors have less work to do and therefore the heat they produce is reduced, reducing the load on the cooling system, reducing the overall power required, saving you money (and maybe even doing your bit for the environment!)
Only install what you need. Disable anything that is running that is providing a service you do not need. Less is more. Streamline your computer to run on the bare minimum, but don't forget to run adequate security software! When done right hardening your computer could save you money in terms of the hardware required and the costs associated with running it.
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Article date: 27th January 2011