Why you should create a 'crash reporting' policy

Over the past decade or so, Microsoft has built various functions into Windows to increase its overall reliability and stability. One of the most powerful, but also the most contentious, is Windows Error Reporting (WER).

WER collects information about a crashed program or system failure and forwards it to Microsoft for analysis. Administrators often express worries that Windows might inadvertently harvest sensitive personal or company information from an application crash. (Some say they believe that Microsoft deliberately harvests personal information from users, but this is hardly credible on the face of it.)

Microsoft has taken a fair amount of pain to insure that any information submitted in a crash dump is segregated as heavily as possible from any uniquely identifying information that might go with it. That said, it is still possible for personal data to be submitted, even though Microsoft has stern internal control over how crash data is handled.

Error reports generally contain whatever data is currently in the system stack, and that stack data could contain anything from a credit card number to a key piece of sensitive e-mail. For that reason, you may want to devise a crash-reporting policy for your organization in which you establish whether or not crash-dump information is to be submitted, either on a system-by-system or department-by-department basis.

For instance, if most of the applications in use throughout

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the organization are stock applications -- such as Microsoft packages like Word and Excel -- then opting out of the crash-reporting process won't be terribly detrimental. After all, there are millions of other users who can submit feedback as needed. However, if you're using a relatively rare third-party application -- a vertical or custom solution of some kind -- and that application uses WER to collect crash data, the program vendor may rely heavily on companies like yours for crash feedback.

For detailed information on how to enable or disable error reporting via polices and unattended installs, Microsoft has a document that deals with doing this in Windows 2000/2003 environments. There's also information on disabling error reporting on an application-level basis (for instance, if you only wanted to disable error reporting for a particular software package but leave it enabled by default for other programs).


Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

This was first published in May 2005

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