Securing the MetaBase

Protect the MetaBase file of your IIS server.

The MetaBase is the file used by IIS to store information about the configuration of the hosted Web sites. In addition to the fairly innocuous information about Web sites, the MetaBase also contains the service passwords used by IIS to authenticate anonymous users and to access the service accounts required to execute threads and access system controlled resources.

The metabase.bin file is stored within the %systemroot%system32inetsrv directory. Other than for backup and high-level intensive troubleshooting, you'll never access this file directly. However, if a malicious user is able to gain access to this file, they can quickly extract account names and passwords to obtain system level privileges.

Data stored is stored in the metabase.bin in a binary format that is proprietary and used only by IIS. However, Microsoft was clever enough to include a manual viewing and editing tool named MetaEdit in the Windows 2000 Resource Kit. So, anyone with access to the W2K RK and your metabase.bin file can own your Web server and possibly your network.

Fortunately, the metabase.bin file and its host directory are configured by default with access restriction to only IIS, the system itself, and administrators. The key to keeping this file out of the wrong hands is to keep the default security restrictions or impose even more stringent controls.

Here are a few tips to keep the metabase.bin file safe:

  1. Grant administrative access only to fully trusted individuals
  2. Never host Web site files (documents or scripts) on the boot partition
  3. Never map a virtual directory to the root or any sub-folder on the boot partition
  4. Maintain secure control over backup media
  5. Maintain physical access control over the Web server

About the author
James Michael Stewart is a researcher and writer for Lanwrights, Inc.


This was first published in September 2002

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