Before you begin
Attack surfaces are all the places where your organization is vulnerable to cyberthreats and attacks. Your organization’s attack surfaces includes all the places where an attacker could compromise your organization’s devices or networks. Reducing your attack surface means protecting your organization’s devices and network, which leaves attackers with fewer ways to attack. Configuring attack surface reduction (ASR) rules—one of many security features found in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint—can help.
ASR rules target certain software behaviors, such as:
- Launching executable files and scripts that attempt to download or run files
- Running obfuscated or otherwise suspicious scripts
- Behaviors that apps don’t usually occur during normal day-to-day work
By reducing the different attack surfaces, you can help prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
During your initial preparation, it’s vital that you understand the capabilities of the systems that you’ll put in place. Understanding the capabilities will help you determine which ASR rules are most important for protecting your organization.
This guide provides images and examples to help you decide how to configure ASR rules; these images and examples might not reflect the best configuration options for your environment.
Before you start, review Overview of attack surface reduction, and Demystifying attack surface reduction rules – Part 1 for foundational information. To understand the areas of coverage and potential impact, familiarize yourself with the current set of ASR rules; see Attack surface reduction rules reference.
ASR rules are only one capability of the attack surface reduction capabilities within Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. This document will go into more detail on deploying ASR rules effectively to stop advanced threats like human-operated ransomware and other threats.
Rules by category
As outlined in Use attack surface reduction rules to prevent malware infection, there are multiple attack surface reduction rules within MDE that you can enable to protect your organization. Following are the rules broken out by category:
|Polymorphic threats||Lateral movement & credential theft||Productivity apps rules||Email rules||Script rules||Misc rules|
|Block executable files from running unless they meet a prevalence (1000 machines), age (24 hrs), or trusted list criteria||Block process creations originating from PSExec and WMI commands||Block Office apps from creating executable content||Block executable content from email client and webmail||Block obfuscated JS/VBS/PS/macro code||Block abuse of exploited vulnerable signed drivers |
|Block untrusted and unsigned processes that run from USB||Block credential stealing from the Windows local security authority subsystem (lsass.exe)||Block Office apps from creating child processes||Block only Office communication applications from creating child processes||Block JS/VBS from launching downloaded executable content|
|Use advanced protection against ransomware||Block persistence through WMI event subscription||Block Office apps from injecting code into other processes||Block Office communication apps from creating child processes|
|Block Adobe Reader from creating child processes|
(1) Block abuse of exploited vulnerable signed drivers isn’t currently available in MEM Endpoint security. You can configure this rule using MEM OMA-URI.
(2) Some ASR rules generate considerable noise, but won’t block functionality. For example, if you’re updating Chrome; Chrome will access lsass.exe; passwords are stored in lsass on the device. However, Chrome should not be accessing local device lsass.exe. If you enable the rule to block access to lsass, it will generate a lot of events. Those events are good events because the software update process should not access lsass.exe. Enabling this rule will block Chrome updates from accessing lsass, but will not block Chrome from updating; this is also true of other applications that make unnecessary calls to lsass.exe. The block access to lsass rule will block unnecessary calls to lsass, but won’t block the application from running.
Although multiple methods of implementing ASR rules are possible, this guide is based on an infrastructure consisting of:
- Azure Active Directory
- Microsoft Endpoint Management (MEM)
- Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices
- Microsoft Defender for Endpoint E5 or Windows E5 licenses
To take full advantage of ASR rules and reporting, we recommend using a Microsoft 365 Defender E5 or Windows E5 license, and A5. Learn more: Minimum requirements for Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.
There are multiple methods to configure ASR rules. ASR rules can be configured using: Microsoft Endpoint Manager (MEM), PowerShell, Group Policy, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), MEM OMA-URI. If you are using a different infrastructure configuration than what is listed for Infrastructure requirements (above), you can learn more about deploying attack surface reduction rules using other configurations here: Enable attack surface reduction rules.
ASR rules dependencies
Microsoft Defender Antivirus must be enabled and configured as primary anti-virus solution, and must be in the following mode:
- Primary antivirus/antimalware solution
- State: Active mode
Microsoft Defender Antivirus must not be in any of the following modes:
- Passive Mode with Endpoint detection and response (EDR) in Block Mode
- Limited periodic scanning (LPS)
Cloud Protection (MAPS) must be enabled
Microsoft Defender Antivirus works seamlessly with Microsoft cloud services. These cloud protection services, also referred to as Microsoft Advanced Protection Service (MAPS), enhances standard real-time protection, arguably providing the best antivirus defense. Cloud protection is critical to preventing breaches from malware and a critical component of ASR rules. Turn on cloud-delivered protection in Microsoft Defender Antivirus.
Microsoft Defender Antivirus components must be current versions
The following Microsoft Defender Antivirus component versions must be no more than two versions older than the most-currently-available version:
- Microsoft Defender Antivirus Platform update version – Microsoft Defender Antivirus platform is updated monthly.
- Microsoft Defender Antivirus engine version – Microsoft Defender Antivirus engine is updated monthly.
- Microsoft Defender Antivirus security intelligence – Microsoft continually updates Microsoft Defender security intelligence (also known as, definition and signature) to address the latest threats, and to refine detection logic.
Keeping Microsoft Defender Antivirus versions current helps reduce ASR rules false positive results and improves Microsoft Defender Antivirus detection capabilities. For more details on the current versions and how to update the different Microsoft Defender Antivirus components visit Microsoft Defender Antivirus platform support.
ASR rules deployment phases
As with any new, wide-scale implementation which could potentially impact your line-of-business operations, it is important to be methodical in your planning and implementation. Because of the powerful capabilities of ASR rules in preventing malware, careful planning and deployment of these rules is necessary to ensure they work best for your unique customer workflows. To work in your environment, you need to plan, test, implement, and operationalize ASR rules carefully.
For Customers who are using a non-Microsoft HIPS and are transitioning to Microsoft Defender for Endpoint attack surface reduction rules: Microsoft advises customers to run their HIPS solution side-by-side with their ASR rules deployment until the moment you shift from Audit to Block mode. Keep in mind that you must reach out to your 3rd-party antivirus vendor for exclusion recommendations.