Windows Server system hardening: Essential measures and tips

From startups to medium-sized businesses to corporations: servers running Windows are found in all sizes of companies. This makes the operating system interesting for cyber-gangsters. System hardening of Windows Server is therefore eminently important.

We explain the background here and give tips on Windows server hardening.

Windows server hardening: What does it mean?

In IT, the abbreviated term “hardening” refers to system hardening. System hardening reduces the attack surface of your systems – for example, your Windows servers – and closes “doors” that could otherwise be used for an attack.

Why is Windows server hardening so important?

Along with various Linux derivatives, Microsoft Windows Server (in its various versions) is the operating system for data center server landscapes. Here, more recent versions such as Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2019 or even the current version Windows Server 2022 are often used.

Occasionally, Windows Server 2008 (R2) or Windows Server 2012 (R2) is still running in companies and data centers, although support for these ended.

Each version of Windows Server is configured at the factory for maximum compatibility and user experience. What is good for the user is not necessarily good for IT security. Cyber criminals as well as companies that like to collect data then often have an easy game and take advantage of that.

By hardening your Windows servers, you can improve information security and data protection in your company, while at the same time meeting existing compliance requirements.

Hardening Windows Server: What does that mean in summary?

By hardening your Windows servers, you reduce, among other things, the risk of your systems being hacked and thus data stolen. Because the leakage of important business information or customer data causes great damage. You can be threatened with high fines and severe damage to your image.

In the worst case scenario, the consequences of inadequately hardened or unhardened Windows server systems can jeopardize your company’s reputation.

You should determine how well your system is hardened – for example, with AuditTAP. The result for a poorly hardened Windows server system, for example, is as follows:

How does server hardening work?

For this, you have a wide range of measures to choose from. These include, for example:

    • Updating (“patching”) the operating system and relevant server applications as quickly as possible.
    • Shutting down all services that are not required. You should pay particular attention to old Windows server versions!
    • The clear restriction of access rights, e.g. by deactivating local administrator rights.
    • The use of strong passwords, supplemented by measures such as fairly short expiration periods and few account lockouts.
    • Logging of successful and faulty logins. Set the number of logs high and make regular backups of them.
    • Blocking special or all types of scripts and disabling insecure algorithms like RC4 and MD5.
    • A reduction of file permissions, for example for “normal” employees. Also implement a detailed file check when saving data.
    • Configure the firewall so that only the ports that are really needed are released. Pay attention to special access via VPN.

These and other implementations ensure that you harden your servers and make them more resilient against “data octopuses” and attacks.

How do you know how to harden Windows servers?

Several industry standards and recommendations for server hardening exist worldwide. These include the CIS benchmarks and DISA STIGS, for example.

In addition, government agencies such as BSI and ACSC issue recommendations. Microsoft itself also regularly publishes its own hardening recommendations – for example, for Windows 10 system hardening, Windows 11 hardening, and server hardening.

Tip: Download the “Windows Server 2016 Security Guide” or the “Windows Server 2019 Hardening Guides” from Microsoft, study them and apply the tips.

How to reduce the time required for server hardening?

Windows Server hardening can be very time-consuming, especially in large organizations with complex IT infrastructures. In addition, you need to perform hardening of your Windows servers on a regular basis to keep the systems up to the state of the art techniques. So a one-time server hardening is not enough!

In addition, it is necessary to monitor the systems during operation and to react to (intentional or unintentional) deviations.

These tasks take up a lot of time if IT experts perform them manually. Configuration, monitoring and control become faster, easier and more transparent through the use of special hardening tools for companies.

How good is the system hardening of your Windows servers?

There are several things you can do to speed up Windows server hardening. The first is to determine how well hardened your systems currently are.

You can perform an automatic analysis very well with the free AuditTAP. This checks your Windows servers as well as other systems and applications (for example Windows 10, MS Office and the popular browsers) for the current system hardening status.

As a result, you get a transparent and clear report with a management summary. Learn how to create this report in this video:

After you know where and what you should improve in terms of server hardening, it’s a matter of carrying out the recommendations. With Enforce Administrator, you can easily harden your Windows servers and other systems.

Windows server hardening: Which tools are suitable?

After you know where and what you should improve in terms of server hardening, it’s time to carry out the recommendations. With a professional enterprise hardening tool like Enforce Suite, you can easily harden your Windows servers and other systems automatically.

With the Enforce Administrator, the main component of the Enforce Suite, you cover the entire security configuration management cycle. This creates a kind of “self-healing system”.

This means that each system independently checks in the background whether hardening settings have been changed. If this is the case, the target state is restored independently.

How hard is automated Windows server system hardening?

Windows system hardening is easy and time-saving with the Enforce Administrator. This is because the included functions do most of the work for you.

You do not have to program any scripts for automated hardening. Instead, with just a few clicks you can set the standards (BSI, CIS, DISA, etc.) according to which your Windows servers should be hardened. No matter if you are running Windows Server 2008 R2, 2012, 2016, 2019 or Windows Server 2022.

This simple system is called #NoCodeHardening. Learn more about that in this video:

Hardening for Windows Server: Do you need support?

Do you want to harden your Windows Server professionally? The expert team of FB Pro GmbH will be happy to assist you with words and deeds! We audit your systems, implement the Enforce Suite or perform regular system hardening to the highest standards.

Contact us!


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