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From: Colin.Scott at (
Subject: Vulnerability in IBM Windows XP: default hidden
 Administrator account allows local Administrator access


Its my understanding that there is a default policy in Windows XP that 
prevents any accounts from being used over the network if they have blank 
passwords.  This means the IBM machines are no more vulnerable than any 
other XP machine in a "home" setup. 

Correct me if Im wrong.... :)


"Michael Scheidell" <> 
Sent by:
15/09/2004 23:06

<>, <>, 
[Full-Disclosure] Vulnerability in IBM Windows XP: default hidden 
Administrator account allows local Administrator access

Vulnerability in IBM Windows XP default hidden Administrator account 
allows local Administrator access
Systems: IBM Workstations, Laptops, etc.
Vulnerable: IBM Systems with preinstalled Microsoft Windows XP 
Professional RTM and SP1
Not Vulnerable: IBM Systems without Windows XP Professional
Severity: High
Category: Unauthorized Administrator Access
Classification: Default Authentication
BugTraq-ID: TBA
CVE-Number: CAN-1999-0504
Remote Exploit: No
Local Exploit: Yes
Vendor URL:
Author: Jason Lash, SECNAP Network Security
Internal Release date: August 6, 2004
Notifications: August 6, 2004:,,,,,,
August 7, 2004:,
Vendor Response: August 13, 2004
Public Release date: September 15, 2004

Innovation for Business Advantage: IBM helps you become more competitive 
and on demand by delivering products that offer industry-leading 
capabilities, improve productivity and reduce the total cost of owning a 
PC. No other vendor provides as wide a range of PC products, technologies 
and software to support on demand businesses than IBM.

Security: As information technology increases in importance, so do the 
number of threats directed against it; a comprehensive security strategy 
is essential to protect vital data and to ensure continuity of operations. 
IBM security solutions will help protect your system and business from 
network infiltration, data destruction, information theft and unauthorized 

IBM OEM XP and XP SP1 contain a default hidden administrator account.  Use 
of this account will allow anyone with physical access to the computer to 
fully control the computer, add spyware, keystroke loggers, password 
stealing software and read all files, including temp files, local files, 
documents, and any email that has been stored locally.  IBM does not 
inform the installer of this account, does not give them the option of 
putting a password on this account, and if a savvy installer FINDS the 
function to change the password for the Administrator account, they are 
warned that they could lose data. Security best practices REQUIRE a 
password on all administrative (and root) accounts.

Because IBM marketing directly targets large publicly traded businesses, 
government agencies, and research organizations, these systems are used in 
regulated industries. Healthcare organizations must be HIPAA compliant; 
financial institutions must follow GLBA regulations; publicly traded firms 
are required to adhere to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; federally funded 
educational organizations are regulated by FERPA, and government agencies 
must comply with FISMA regulations. With such organizations comprising  a 
major portion of IBM's market share, it would be advantageous to ensure 
that products incorporated into IBM systems would help achieve compliance 
with such regulations.

OEM Version of Windows XP Professional released by Dell, HP and others 
have not shown similar characteristics and has only been observed in IBM 
OEM installations.

This may not be the first report of this behavior. If others have reported 
on this issue before, please let us know: however, we searched the CVE 
database and only  found a distantly related problem dating back to 1999 
where there is a warning against default, missing or weak administrator 

The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) project has assigned the 
name CAN-1999-0504 <>to this issue. 
This is a candidate for inclusion in the CVE list (<
>), which standardizes names for security problems.

A retail setup implementation of Microsoft Windows XP Professional 
Edition, "Out-of-Box Experience" (OOBE), requires that the installer be 
given the option to add an Administrator account. During the installation, 
the XP Installer states : "You must provide a name and an Administrator 
password for your computer. Setup creates a user account called 
Administrator. You use this account when you need full access to your 
computer." While setup will not require that a password actually be 
entered, it does stress that one SHOULD be entered. Additionally, the user 
is prompted to create a regular user account for general use.

In contrast, the IBM setup implementation of Microsoft Windows XP 
Professional Edition does not include such steps. The existence of an 
administrator account is never mentioned. Instead, the setup asks: "Who 
will use this computer? Type the name of each person who will use this 
computer. Windows will create a separate user account for each person so 
you can personalize the way you want Windows to organize and display 
information, protect your files and computer settings, and customize the 
desktop. These names will appear on the Welcome screen in alphabetical 
order. When you start Windows, simply click your name on the Welcome 
screen to begin. If you want to set passwords and limit permissions for 
each user, or add more user accounts after you finish setting up Windows, 
just click CONTROL PANEL in the START menu, and then click USER ACCOUNTS." 
By default, none of the accounts added in this step have passwords. Nor is 
their an option to set passwords during the install. While !
 this is not unique to the IBM install, it is a known weakness in the 
Windows XP OOBE, including retail and OEM versions. Because the 
Administrator account was never requested, this leaves the system in a 
very vulnerable state.

By using the Computer Management application and looking under 'System 
Tools->Local Users and Groups->Users', we see that the Administrator 
account has been added and enabled. This account IS NOT 
password-protected. If the installer sets a password for EVERY user shown 
under the User Accounts tool in the Control Panel, THE DEFAULT 

The Installation Setup never informed the user that the account existed. 
If a user attempts to manually set a password for the Administrator 
account, they are greeted with the following warning: "Password for 
Administrator: Resetting this password might cause irreversible loss of 
information for this user account. For security reasons, Windows protects 
certain information by making it impossible to access if the user's 
password is reset. This data loss will occur the next time the user logs 
off. You should use this command only if a user has forgotten his or her 
password and does not have a password reset disk. If this user has created 
a password reset disk, then he or she should use that disk to set the 
password. If the user knows the password and wants to change it, he or she 
should log in, then press CTRL+ALT+DELETE and click Change Password. For 
additional information, click Help. [Proceed] [Cancel] [Help]." This 
warning exists in all versions of Windows XP, but it is no!
 t presented from the Control Panel Users Accounts tool. If a password is 
changed from the Control Panel's User Accounts section, no such warning is 
issue; but, again, the Administrator account is hidden from User Accounts.

In summary, Due to the lack of an Administrative Setup screen for the IBM 
Windows XP OOBE flow, it is more difficult for a security-conscious 
organization to manage a Windows XP-based IBM environment. In order to 
protect a system, several unintuitive additional steps must be taken on 
each systems in the environment, despite warnings against taking such 

SECNAP has tested this situation against IBM Windows XP RTM, as well as 
IBM Windows XP SP1. The vulnerability has existed since IBM began shipping 
systems with Windows XP. Due to the recent release of XP SP2, an 
opportunity exists for IBM to remedy this issue in a timely fashion. 
SECNAP also recommends that IBM notify all existing registered clients 
using the vulnerable systems to upgrade, possibly to a IBM-released patch, 
or modified version of SP2, that would additionally address the issues.

Local: Press CTRL+ALT+DEL,DEL to get a login prompt. Enter user name 
'Administrator' and NO PASSWORD and Click OK.
Network: Because remote logins using accounts without passwords is 
disabled, it is not typically possible to login to the system using RDP or 
remote shares.

Under control panel, go to Administrative Tools. Open Computer Management. 
Go to System Tools->Local Users and Groups->Users. Set a password for the 
administrator account. Set a password for all other users accounts.

Vendor Response: 8/13/2004
IBM is cooperating with SECNAP concerning these issues. The IBM plan of 
action is as follows:

Release a patch to our manufacturing lines that will change the preload to 
include the standard Microsoft Windows "Set an Administrator Password" 
Screen as part of the Microsoft Windows XP "Out-of-Box Experience." These 
are the standard screens defined by Microsoft for OEMs to display during 
first boot. This patch will be cut into manufacturing during September 
with all world-wide systems and languages being updated no later than the 
end of October. This will include both SP1 and SP2 systems (SP1 will be 
phased out rapidly as Microsoft releases the different language versions 
to OEMs).

Provide a "Tip" on the IBM Support Web Site explaining the potential for 
an Administrator account with no password to be set up and with detailed 
instructions on how to correct this.

Deliver a Message via the IBM Message Center to inform customers of a 
potential exposure and providing the same detailed instructions on how to 
correct this. Customers must "Opt In" to get message center messages.

Jason Lash, SECNAP Network Security,

Original copy of this report (once published) can be found here

Above Copyright(c) 2004, SECNAP Network Security Corporation. World rights 

This security report can be copied and redistributed electronically 
provided it is not edited and is quoted in its entirety without written 
consent of SECNAP Network Security Corporation. Additional information or 
permission may be obtained by contacting SECNAP Network Security at 

Full-Disclosure - We believe in it.


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