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[EC-SA-01.2003] Windows XP "welcome screen" exposes the names of all the members of the local administrators group
From: "Eitan Caspi" <eitancaspi () yahoo com>
Date: Fri, 7 Mar 2003 23:46:35 +0200
* Eitan Caspi - Security Advisory - 01.2003 *
Suggested risk level: Low
Type of risk: Information disclosure
Affected software: Microsoft Windows XP with SP1
Local / Remote exploit: Local only
Windows XP has an option of replacing the regular NT / Windows 2000
logon screen with what is called "Welcome Screen".
The "Welcome Screen" lists the full names of ALL the available LOCAL
users registered in the local machine after a regular boot.
The person using the machine locally only needs to choose the desired
name and simply fill in the correct password.
This option can be enabled only when the machine is part of a
"Workgroup" network model (and it can NOT be enabled when it is a part
of a Domain / Active Directory infrastructure).
When booting the machine using "safe mode" (description and usage can
found in http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;315222
("A Description of the Safe Mode Boot Options in Windows XP"), the
welcome screen is loading with a different list of names: The list is
made ONLY from ALL the members of the local "Administrators" group
(including the original administrator account, even if it was renamed).
1. Although it may look obvious due to the nature of the "welcome
screen" (which is "anti security".), still, MS is not stating the
following in a formal article (as far as my current knowledge):
Using the "welcome screen" actually disables / ignores the security
options (in the "Local Security Settings" XP application) of:
A. "Interactive logon: Do not display last user name" (On the one hand
it is really not displaying the name of the last user who logged in as
the only name, but on the other hand it is NOT displaying an empty field
but rather allows to probe ALL the possible local users.
This option applies if you decide to use the normal logon screen after
the "welcome screen" was loaded (see the note in the following
B. "Interactive logon: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL", if Disabled =
CTRL+ALT+DEL is required.
2. If the only user in the local "Administrators" group is the original
administrator account (regardless if its name was changed / renamed, the
reference is to the same user "security identifier" (known as SID), the
one ending with 500) - then this name is listed along with all the other
names in the welcome screen.
If there is at least one more user as a member in the local
"Administrators" group, BESIDE the original Administrator account - then
the "welcome screen" omits the original Administrator from the list of
names in the "welcome screen" (the one displayed in the NORMAL logon,
not in "safe mode").
I guess this behavior is in place to hide at least one "administrator"
account from other users and prevent local users from trying to guess
the password of this account, but on the other hand - this behavior can
help spotting the "Administrator" account (The one that is suddenly
"gone"), and as for the main note above - "safe mode" shows it all...
3. You can still logon to "Safe Mode" (even if the "welcome screen" is
used) using ANY local account by holding down the left "Ctrl" and "Alt"
and at the same time pressing twice the "Delete" key -> the normal logon
screen will replace the welcome screen and will enable to perform a
logon using any valid local account (from any local security group, as
long as the account has the right to perform a local logon).
This is opposing to what MS is stating in article 292742
( http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;292742 "Users
Are Missing from Welcome Screen in Safe Mode") -> "Users with Standard
or Limited account types do not have access to start in Safe mode."
This use of the regular logon screen is possible also after the "welcome
screen" is loaded when performing a normal boot (i.e. not in "safe
4. Any users AUTHENTICATED after a local login procedure (regardless of
its security group membership) - can open the "Computer Management"
application and see the members of ALL the local groups.
I must say I can't see the reasoning for this logic - There must be some
kind of hierarchy so higher accounts can review lower accounts and the
opposite will NOT be possible.
Also, I guess a group can be an object that can accept security
permissions and not be open to all the local authenticated users for
Any local and un-authenticated malicious user(s) can learn of the names
of all the local accounts with administrative privileges, and so they
will know to focus their password guessing efforts on the most
Since in small LANs that don't use any central active directory /
domain, the model used is "workgroup" - usually the same name (and
password...) is given to the local administrator account (be it the
default / original "Administrator" account or a specially created
account) in all the participating stations, in order to simplify network
management - and so it takes only one station to expose the
administrator(s) account(s) for all the other stations in the LAN.
No code is needed.
No direct solution at this time.
Avoid using the welcome screen and use only the normal logon screen.
According to MS KB article 292742
( http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;292742 -
"Users Are Missing from Welcome Screen in Safe Mode" )
it looks like MS is aware of this behavior, but it is referring only to
the functional side and not to the security perspective.
Official vendor response:
Due to bad past experience with MS, regarding its willingness to post a
security bulleting and a binary fix within a reasonable time frame, I
have decided to form my own policy (which will be activated towards any
vendor in the future) - a policy that will limit the vendor's "worry
free" time frame and force it to act seriously towards creating a
solution and notify the public - all within a limited time frame.
MS received this advisory as encrypted text with the following
un-encrypted text. The company declined my policy, so it was sent to
bugtraq without being reviewed by the company, and thus there is no
official response by MS.
The email sent to MS:
My name is Eitan Caspi, from Israel.
I'm sending this email to your company since I believe I found a
security problem with one or several of your products.
I will be happy to cooperate with you in this matter and to conduct an
efficient discussion to reach a solution.
I am attaching my PGP public key so we can exchange email in a secure
Since I wish to keep a balance between giving a chance to the vendor to
fix the problem as soon as possible and the public's right to know about
the security problem with the product they use - I have established the
If, for any reason, you decline this policy (as a whole any part of it)
- I ask you NOT to decrypt the attached encrypted notification and let
me know of your decline as soon as possible and I will act based on your
reasoning for decline.
Of course, there is always the option for you, as the vendor, to decline
this issue(s) as security vulnerabilities from the beginning - and it
this is the case, please let me know of this as soon a possible.
1. First, I notify the vendor of the problem
2. The notification is also sent as a copy to Mr. Dave Ahmad (
da () securityfocus com ), the editor of the BugTraq security mailing list.
This is done to make sure the vendor will handle this issue seriously
and to stamp this report with a "proof of originality".
Mr. Ahmad has agreed to take the role of "Advocate of honor" and he
obligated not to make any use of this notification nor he will reveal it
to anyone but himself - until a publication from the vendor about the
problem is published or by the end of the waiting period (following),
after accepting my approval.
3. I grant the vendor a time frame of 30 CALENDAR days ( pay attention:
NOT business days! ) to publish a public fix or a fully detailed
advisory of the problem that will also include intermediate solutions
for the problem, until a final fix will be released.
Any vendor publication will include a proper and dignified
acknowledgment to my help with this issue
( using the details of: Eitan Caspi ( eitancaspi () yahoo com ) ).
The "waiting period" time frame is starting one day following the day of
this email delivery.
This notification delivery date:
The first date of the "waiting period":
The last date of the "waiting period":
Date of delivery to the BugTraq mailing list:
4. If the vendor fails to response to me at all within 3 days of the
first email delivery and / or to publicize at least one of the above
mentioned publications types until one day after the last date of the
"waiting period" - this notification report will be delivered to the
BugTraq mailing list for a fully public distribution that will be
delivered to all the mailing list subscribers and will be published on
BugTraq web site.
End of Policy.
I believe this policy is balanced and fair for all sides, and I hope you
will accept it.
Eitan Caspi ( eitancaspi () yahoo com )
Email: eitancaspi () yahoo com
Past Security Notes:
You can also find articles I have written in
(filters: Author = Eitan Caspi (second name set), From (year) = 1999)
- [EC-SA-01.2003] Windows XP "welcome screen" exposes the names of all the members of the local administrators group Eitan Caspi (Mar 07)