Freeware toolbar shows application's privilege level

Controversy continues to swirl about the hazards of doing day-to-day work when you are logged in as administrator. Aside from it being easier to pull off elevated-privilege attacks, it's also that much easier to inadvertently trash things. If you're using variable privilege levels to keep this sort of thing from happening, it's useful to know what privilege context a particular application is running in.

Aaron Margosis has created a freeware toolbar application called PrivBar (direct download here; see instructions for installation in the previous link). PrivBar installs in both Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer and shows you at what privilege level each particular instance of those applications is running. It checks the process token for its membership in a given user group, rather than the active user's privileges. If the process was launched with elevated or restricted privileges, that will show up in the bar.

The bar shows four levels of privilege: administrators, power users, users and guests. When the process runs as administrator, the bar has a bright yellow background for easy identification and a red icon. As a power user, the icon is yellow; for a user, it's green; and as a guest, it's green with a red bar across it. Click on the group/user name and you'll get a pop-up list of all group and privilege tokens associated with the group and user in question.

Note that before installing PrivBar you must make sure that Internet Explorer allows the use of third-party extensions. To do this, open IE and go to Tools | Internet Options | Advanced, and check "Enable third-party browser extensions (requires restart)." This option might be disabled if you have locked down IE to prevent unwanted third-party applications, such as spyware, from installing themselves.

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

This was first published in September 2005

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