Damon Cortesi's blog

Musings of an entrepreneur.

Security Can't Be Halfway

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I was recently on a job where I was analyzing various security settings on Windows XP. In an attempt to automate the process, I create a security template and started playing around with secedit. The template I was using only had a few basic security settings in it as I was just testing the analyzing features of secedit. I also had the GUI interface (Security Configuration and Analysis) open as well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention and managed to click “configure” instead of “analyze”. Which turned out to be a big oops.

The past couple weeks I’ve noticed things have started to go a little wrong since I did that. The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t update my anti-virus definitions. Norton would just die when I tried to update it. There were a few other oddities as well, but nothing that prevented me from being productive…until tonight. The project I’m on requires quite a bit of charting and graphing and inserting Excel objects into Word. I fired up Word to get to work tonight, started typing away at some descriptive paragraphs, and then tried to insert an excel worksheet:

word cannot create excel object

Oh no. Then word asked if it could repair it for me, so I said yes and was consequently greeted with a windows installer error 1601. Perfect. I thought maybe I didn’t have the source media, so I went to add/remove programs in the Control Panel, tried to change the Office installation and received the same windows installer error 1601.


I had a sneaking suspicious this was because of my partially configured security settings, and this definitely started smelling like a permissions problem. I started working in reverse trying to change any of the obvious settings, but as I dug deeper and deeper more things didn’t work. I couldn’t perform various administrative functions, the Microsoft COM+ EventSystem service wouldn’t start, dcomcnfg was crashing whenever I would drill down to the computers folder…this was not much fun. This Microsoft Knowledgebase article about MS05-051 permissions problems had exactly the same symptoms as I did, but I checked the file system permissions and those were fine, and the bypass traverse checking permissions were some of the first I changed back, so those weren’t an issue either. I was getting nowhere fast.

I decided the only solution was to blow away all of my security settings back to the defaults. A quick Google led me right to one of my old favorite sites, JSI FAQ - 5571 ยป How do I reset Windows 2000 / Windows XP security back to the default settings?

secedit /configure /cfg %windir%\repair\secsetup.inf /db secsetup.sdb /verbose

Running that command (I could have probably used the /Areas switch to narrow it down, but I was too anxious) and rebooting got me back on my feet and inserting excel charts and updating my anti-virus in no time.