How To Secure Windows Server?

How To Secure Windows Server?

Whenever An Organization Decides To Implement A Local Network, It Has To Deploy Various Equipment, One Of Which Is A Server. 

Servers are the backbone of corporate networks and help employees share data and perform their daily activities. Some policies and checklists must be followed to keep the servers running correctly, whether the servers are hosted by a private company or a cloud service provider.

The policies help the servers to serve in complete security and without problems. Windows Server is one of the large and small companies’ most widely used server operating systems.

One of the primary and essential tasks of network experts who intend to use Windows Server is to ensure the security of this operating system because it is supposed to be installed on a server that provides critical functional services to users.

What is Windows Server Hardening?

Hardening Windows Server, or in simpler words, securing Windows Server, refers to the principles, techniques, and solutions used to reduce the vulnerability of Windows Server. Most SMBs deploy their physical servers manually but don’t know how to keep them out of the reach of hackers and prevent data leakage. These measures are implemented to increase server security.

Microsoft says: “The security of communication networks affects the performance of an organization, its members, and sub-groups. Any risk that creates the possibility of a security attack is dangerous and causes all the regular and daily affairs of the organization to face serious problems.

The server security process includes implementing security measures such as installing and adequately configuring firewall recovery programs and protecting servers from malware attacks. Securing the server means protecting the servers by deploying protection mechanisms and making it difficult for hackers to penetrate the servers. Cyber ​​attackers always try to access data and information storage resources on servers.

Therefore, to protect servers from hacker attacks, Microsoft has put various controls and security processes in Windows Server that increase its security. One of the practical solutions in this field is to prepare a security checklist. The security checklist helps us identify vulnerabilities and errors, increase awareness of security issues, and improve server security.

In almost all cases, hackers attack servers based on research and identification of system weaknesses. After identifying the penetration points, they look for ways to penetrate their targets quickly.

When hackers break into a server, they try to gain valuable assets of the organization by gradually increasing the level of access in a short period. Implementing the Windows Server Hardening Checklist to improve server security and eliminate the system’s weak points prevents the successful implementation of a wide range of cyber-attacks.

Also, with the increased level of awareness, network and security employees are on standby when an attack occurs to have more time to neutralize the attacks. Finally, by isolating affected systems or parts from the attack, this ability is achieved to limit the scope of the attack and prevent other systems from becoming victims of a cyber attack.

When hackers break into a server, they try to gain valuable assets of the organization by gradually increasing the level of access in a short period. Implementing the Windows Server Hardening Checklist to improve server security and eliminate the system’s weak points prevents the successful implementation of a wide range of cyber-attacks.

Also, with the increased level of awareness, network and security employees are on standby when an attack occurs to have more time to neutralize the attacks.

Finally, by isolating affected systems or parts from the attack, this ability is achieved to limit the scope of the attack and prevent other systems from becoming victims of a cyber attack.

When hackers manage to break into a server, they try to gain valuable assets of the organization by gradually increasing the level of access in a short period. Implementing the Windows Server Hardening Checklist to improve server security and eliminate the system’s weak points prevents the successful implementation of a wide range of cyber-attacks.

Also, with the increased level of awareness, network and security employees are on standby when an attack occurs to have more time to neutralize the attacks. Also, with the increased level of understanding, network and security employees are on standby when an attack appears to have more time to cancel the attacks. Finally, by isolating affected systems or parts from the attack, this ability is achieved to limit the scope of the attack and prevent other systems from becoming victims of a cyber attack.

Finally, by isolating affected systems or parts from the attack, this ability is achieved to limit the scope of the attack and prevent other systems from becoming victims of a cyber attack. Also, with the increased awareness level, network and security employees are alert when any attack occurs to have more time to neutralize the attacks.

Finally, by isolating affected systems or parts from the attack, this ability is achieved to limit the scope of the attack and prevent other systems from becoming victims of a cyber attack.

Windows Server Security Checklist

With the release of Windows Server 2022, Microsoft has somewhat improved the default configuration of Windows Server. However, more security measures still need to be taken to enhance the security of servers. In general, to increase the security of Windows Server, we must identify the security weaknesses of the environment and applications installed on the server and fix them.

To do this, network administrators prepare a standard security checklist that includes the organization’s tasks, policies, and priorities that must be strictly implemented.

Each clause of the Windows Server Security Checklist includes Windows Server security settings or actions that should be taken at the operating system level. You will read the steps you must take to secure the Windows Server.

 Configure users

The guest account is a user account with the lowest privileges (Privilege) used by users who do not have a defined account to access the server and only log in to the server occasionally. Guest accounts have low security and are a good target for hackers. Therefore, it is better to disable guest accounts and rename them on each server so that attackers cannot discover and exploit them.

Similarly, local administrative accounts (Administrators) manage all files, directories, and other resources on the server. It is a popular target for attack as the above statement allows access to the most sensitive information.

If you don’t need it, it’s better to disable the local administrator account or use a strong password. If you disable the local administrator account, you must define a new administrative account. Create user accounts with the required permissions for each role and use strong passwords for all budgets.

Be strict in choosing administrative and system passwords, especially for administrative accounts with high access levels. Also, use a firm password policy for each account on the server and ensure that the chosen password is at least 15 characters long and contains a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Network configuration

Disable network services you do not use on the server and ensure that only authenticated users can access network systems. Enable the network firewall to protect the system from external attacks and block incoming traffic. In the next step, define a static IP address for the servers so that the approved clients can access it easily.

Once you have enabled Windows Firewall, the next step is to change its default configuration so that you can closely monitor incoming traffic. Evaluate which ports should remain open, limit access to ports, and block access to them at the network settings level.

Make sure you have at least two DNS servers and specify and document the changes in advance if you want to make any changes to them. Also, check the name resolution property using the Nslookup command at the command line.

Windows features and role configuration

Microsoft defines specific roles and features to manage the server operating system. These roles include features such as IIS, Internet Information Services, etc., which are configurable. Ensure that any server roles or suite of software applications are properly configured and installed. To ensure the smooth and fast performance of the parts, pay attention to the following:

  • Verify that only the roles and packages you need, such as the .NET Framework or IIS, are installed.
  •  Remove any modules, packages, or programs you do not need, as unnecessary roles or services can be used as an entry point to implement a cyber attack or unauthorized access.
  •  The Windows server operating system should be configured based on the need, and the roles should be added to it so that the server runs efficiently and quickly.

Install updates

Ensure that the released patches and updates are installed on the server. Of course, this does not mean that when a new update is terminated, you install it without evaluating the documentation and reports or testing the updates. Microsoft releases various updates for Windows Server, including the following:

  •  Updates to patch a single vulnerability.
  •  A set of patches to fix multiple but related vulnerabilities.
  •  Service packs are used to repair different types of vulnerabilities.

Finally, do not install updates before confirming the test results. We recommend you visit the Microsoft user forums for more information about updates. These forums give you an idea of ​​how new updates are released and their pros and cons; they help you make informed decisions and stay informed about the changes on the server.

NTP configuration

If your authentication and security mechanisms are based on Kerberos, you may encounter a time difference problem. A time difference may help hackers break security mechanisms and infiltrate Windows Server. Therefore, domain controllers must synchronize their time with the time server to prevent a crash or severe problem.

Consistent timekeeping across the network is essential for security mechanisms, file system updates, and network management systems. After joining a domain, a server automatically synchronizes its time with a domain controller. Therefore, adjust the Network Time Protocol (NTP) if the server is not synchronized correctly. This configuration helps to synchronize the clock time of network member computers.

Firewall configuration

A firewall plays a vital role in network security and must be appropriately configured to prevent cyber attacks. Improper configuration can allow hackers to access network resources even when the firewall is enabled. Hence, proper design of domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses is essential.

Configuring a firewall policy helps to limit incoming traffic to essential ports and routes. Windows Server has a software firewall that can determine the attack level horizon ports and protect network resources.

In general, servers’ firewalls are configured based on organizations’ security policies so that hackers fail to exploit ports. A server equipped with hardware, software, or a combination of firewalls limits the scope of attacks to authorized ports, thus protecting the server from network-based attacks.

Configure remote access

Use the above protocol without the necessary precautions. If you use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to manage Windows, you must use a virtual private network to access the server securely. Hackers will find the chance to intercept your communication channel, eavesdrop and steal the information exchanged between you and the server. Also, ensure that authorized users only use RDP.

After the above protocol is activated on the server, all administrators and people can access it by default. Apart from RDP, you can use more remote access mechanisms to manage the server, which is only available through a virtual private network. For this reason, it is essential to change the default settings and ensure that RDP is only available to trusted administrators.

Among these solutions, we should mention PowerShell and SSH protocol, which should be carefully managed. Finally, do not under any circumstances use unencrypted connections and use a VPN-based SFTP or SSH server instead.

Configuring services

Windows Server is installed on the server with a set of services that run in the background by default. Most of these services are necessary for the operating system to function correctly. Still, others must be disabled so that hackers cannot find a way into the server or compromise other domains. Make certain non-essential services are disabled.

If you use older Windows servers like 2008 or 2003, check them carefully to run only essential services. One of the advantages of running essential services is that when a problem occurs, they speed up the server recovery process, and sometimes, there is no need for network experts to do anything in this field. Duplicate and unnecessary programs can delay the recovery process.

More hardening

Make sure you use appropriate security measures for applications running on the server. Windows Server uses different methods to secure Windows Server to support the feature of scanning and user account control (User Account Control), which prevents the execution of programs that intend to execute without obtaining permission.

Put, even when you log into the server as an administrator and intend to run the software, the UAC feature will ask you about it. The above approach prevents the execution or installation of codes that may infect the system when visiting sites.

Also, apply the principle of least privilege, whereby only a user or a limited group of users can perform specific tasks. Also, enable anti-spyware, DLP, and antivirus software, and scan email attachments before opening them.

Registration and monitoring

Make sure your server monitoring and reporting mechanisms are well configured and collect the necessary data so that when problems occur, you can quickly identify and fix the cause. Reporting differs depending on whether the server is part of a domain. In general, domain logins are processed through domain controllers. You can use Windows components or third-party solutions to collect Windows Server performance data.

In general, it is recommended that you log performance information about the server or servers. Things like available disk space, CPU and primary memory usage, network activity, and even temperature should be continuously analyzed and recorded to identify problems or abnormalities quickly.

last word

In this Windows Server Securing Security Checklist post, we’ve reviewed the essential controls, processes, and principles you need to increase server security. Then, in the following, we examined the basic actions that help the server to be safe.

The critical thing to note is that servers are used to store and share sensitive data and resources over the network; If the security of the server is weak, there is a possibility that cyber attackers will pass through the barrier of the security mechanisms in a short time and gain access to the sensitive information of the organization.

Hence, it is essential to implement techniques and tools that secure your server against hacking and malicious actions. By implementing security best practices, you can protect your critical data.

To do this, ensure you disable guest accounts and set a firm password policy for each account on the server. To access network resources, enable Windows Firewall and change the default mode to block incoming traffic.

Also, keep the server up to date and avoid running new updates without checking the logged results. Finally, don’t forget that data backup helps to restore the situation to the initial state in a short time in case of serious problems.