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Power Toys May Compromise Security

Microsoft Power Toys have always been a favorite set of utilities. They were originally simple tools that the Microsoft development team put together for their own use. Microsoft released them under a use-at-your-own-risk policy. As it turns out, there is one good reason to exercise caution with them-they could allow someone to access your computer and bypass network security.

Tweak UI is one of the Power Toys. As its name alludes, it allows you to tweak the User Interface. In fact, it is one of the earliest forms of  the System Policy Editor, being a GUI tool to manipulate Registry values. With Tweak UI, you can modify how Windows 95 (and NT 4.0) boots, which icons appear on the desktop and a host of other useful functions.  One of the most popular features is the Paranoia tab which allows you to clear the MRU (most recently used) lists on shut down. This feature is now included with the IE4.0 desktop upgrade (in fact many of the Tweak UI functions have been integrated into the IE4.0 upgrade). You can clear out the MRU document files, for instance, so that no one can go to your computer (or view your Registry remotely) in order to see what you've been working on.

One of the Paranoia tab settings is Clear Last Known User Logon. Normally, Windows displays the name of the last user to logon to your computer. Sometimes administrators will want this value blank so end-users don't know the administrator's logon name. In some cases, user names need to be as secure as their passwords. Unfortunately, the Registry change that Tweak UI makes can interfere with Policies requiring network validation for access to the computer. Therefore, a user may bypass network validation and gain access to your computer.

Network security is not compromised, but local security (the reason you wanted that Policy in place) is bypassed. The only way to prevent this from happening is to remove Tweak UI from your system or disable the conflicting setting. You can remove Tweak UI through Add/Remove Programs.

Disable the setting through the Tweak UI interface:

  1. Control Panel-Tweak UI-Paranoia
  2. Clear the Clear Last User Logon checkbox. Click OK.
  3. Restart Windows.

Of course, if you want to throw caution to the wind and download the Power Toys, you can find them on Microsoft's  web site at Windows 95 PowerToys Set. Download them into a temporary folder and right-click the INF file for the applet you wish to install, and select Install. The applet, in most cases, creates an applet in your Control Panel. As we mentioned earlier a number of their functions have been superceded by the Internet Explorer 4.0 Desktop Upgrade, so you should consider the merits of each before you install.