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What security savvy Windows admins must know

What's the best certification to raise your security IQ? You'll need more than what's in a Win2k MCSE certification.

In the past month, we've seen an unusual amount of activity on the virus and worm fronts, including Sircam, Goner, BadTrans, various Code Red variants and lots of hoopla about IIS security. That probably explains why I've gotten numerous e-mails from concerned Microsoft professionals asking what they should do, certification-wise, to raise their security consciousness and capabilities.

This fall, I wrote a tip about raising the security bar for the Windows 2000 MCSE. At the time, I was of the opinion that MCSEs who want to cover important security bases would be pretty well served by taking these two exams:

  • 70-220 Designing Security for a Windows 2000 Network
  • 70-227 Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, Enterprise Edition

Today, after spending some time examining the content of those exams in relation to what savvy Windows administrators need to know about security, I've changed my mind. In fact, I've been forced to conclude that while those exams are helpful in covering some security topics for Windows systems and networks, they don't cover enough of the bases that need covering to do the job right.

So what's a conscientious Windows professional to do? Fortunately, there are lots and lots of options:

  • Start exploring the Microsoft Security Web site. Here you'll find all kinds of information and pointers, plus easy access to the equally great TechNet Security site where you?ll find tutorials, white papers, course materials and much, much more.

    You can also sign up for Microsoft's security bulletins here as well. Anyone with security related responsibilities for Windows systems, applications, or services should take advantage of these bulletins.

    For those who want to go it on their own, I'd also recommend obtaining and reading current, useful books on general and Windows security topics. (Richard Bejtlich, Network Security Engineer, has a good reading list on Amazon. Jay Heiser is an Infosec columnist with an equally good, but longer, list.)

  • A basic security certification isn't really necessary, but may give you the focus to learn the concepts, approaches and techniques involved in implementing effective security. BrainBench offers two exams on Internet security and Network security that are worthwhile in this regard. More demanding (and possibly more valuable) is the Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) Security Professional exam (1D0-470), which focuses on securing Web sites and related services, and also gives good coverage to general security topics and concepts. In fact, there's a new certification called CIW Security Analyst that Prosoft has created. You'll qualify if you have an MCSE and then pass the Security Professional exam. For those seriously concerned about security matters, or with heavier security responsibilities, a more professional security certification will give you a whole new perspective on Windows systems and networks. For this kind of program, I'd recommend either the ISC-squared's Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or the Windows-focused GIAC Certified Windows Security Administrator (GCNT) from the SANS Institute. Either one of these will help you augment your knowledge about things Windows, with a good solid general background on security policies, practices and procedures.

    One thing's for sure: more attention to security matters is becoming more important at Microsoft as it is in so many other places. I'm hopeful that when the next generation of Server .NET exams is released, they'll up security content and coverage accordingly. But only time will tell! Until then, I urge you to supplement your knowledge base with one or more of these additional sources of information, skills, and best practices.

    Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series, and has worked on over 30 certification-related books on Microsoft, Novell, and Sun related topics.

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