Windows Server

Windows Server 2003 : Using the Secondary Logon

12/14/2011 9:08:38 AM
Recommended administrative practice dictates that an administrator be logged on to a privileged account (one with administrative rights) only while doing chores that require privileges. For ordinary work, the administrator is supposed to log off from the privileged account and then log on again to an ordinary account. Of course, 10 minutes later a situation usually arises requiring use of the privileged account, making it necessary to log off from the ordinary account and log back on to the administrator account, with the process reversed again a few minutes later when the administrative chore is completed.

After a few days of this, even the most security-conscious person begins to toy with the idea of logging on to the administrator account and staying there. In time, most administrators succumb to the temptation and stay in the privileged account most of the time.

This practice makes Microsoft Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 systems highly susceptible to Trojan-horse attacks. Using an administrator account while running any browser exposes your entire network to potential problems. Even with the very best antivirus and antispyware protection, and a full-featured firewall, it is a bad idea to browse the Internet with an administrative account. A Web page with Trojan-horse code can be downloaded to the system and executed. The execution, done in the context of administrative privileges, can cause considerable harm, including a reformatted hard disk, the capture of critical user and customer financial information, or the creation of a new user with administrative access. It’s like handing the keys to your network to a complete (and known to be malicious) stranger.


For an excellent discussion of the reasons why users should not run programs using administrator credentials, and how to work around the problem of installing and running programs that require administrator credentials in order to work, see the weblog of Aaron Margosis at

This problem was finally addressed in Windows 2000 with the Run As feature (enabled by the Runas service, which is on by default). This feature, also included in Windows Server 2003, allows you to work in a normal, nonprivileged account and launch applications or tools while using the credentials of a different account (most likely your administrator account) without logging off and then logging back on again.

To use the Run As feature, create an ordinary user account for your own use (if you don’t have one already). Make sure that the user account has the right to log on locally at the machine you want to use.


Windows Server 2003 views all domain controllers as special cases. On a domain controller, by default, users can’t log on locally.

Opening Programs Using Run As

To open a program or system tool using a user account (most likely an account with Administrator privileges) different than the one you are in, use the following steps:

Right-click the desired program, Control Panel tool, or Administrative Tools icon.

Choose Run As from the shortcut menu. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Choosing the Run As options

Select The Following User, and enter the user name and password for the account you want to use.

Click OK to open the program or tool using the specified account’s credentials.

You can also choose to run the program using your current account but with restricted access by selecting the Protect My Computer And Data From Unauthorized Program Activity box.


Some administrative tasks, such as setting system parameters, require an interactive logon and do not support Run As.

Making Shortcuts to Run As

The idea of Run As is to encourage administrators to work outside the administrator’s account; configuring useful shortcuts makes this more likely to happen. Perform this task using an account without administrative rights. Right-click an open area of the desktop, choose New, and then choose Shortcut. Table 1 shows some examples of useful shortcuts.

Table 1. Useful Run As shortcuts
A Shortcut toType
A command prompt with local administrative privileges.runas /user:AdministratorAccountName@ComputerName cmd
A command prompt with domain administrative privileges but no profile.runas /user:DomainAdminAccountName@Domain /noprofile cmd
A command prompt with domain administrative privileges. This command prompt also loads the account profile.runas /user:DomainAdminAccountName@Domain cmd
Active Directory Users and Computers with domain administrative credentials.runas /user:DomainAdminAccountName@Domain “mmc %windir%\system32\dsa.msc”
Performance Monitor with enterprise administrative credentials.runas/user:EnterpriseAdminAccountName@Domain “mmc %windir%\system32\perfmon.msc”
Command prompt to administer server in another forest.Runas /netonly/user:Domain\AdministratorAccountName cmd

Keep a few of the most frequently used shortcuts on your desktop and you’ll find it easier to stay in your less-privileged account most of the time.

Using Runas for Printers or Control Panel

Some applications, such as the Printers folder and Control Panel, are launched from the shell at the time of logon, so if you’re logged on as an ordinary user, the Control Panel functions stay in that context (although you can open individual tools with a different account using the runas command as shown in Table 1).

To stop the shell and start it again as an administrator so that you can use functions such as the Printers folder, follow these steps:

Right-click the taskbar, and choose Task Manager from the shortcut menu.

Click the Processes tab. Select Explorer.exe, and click End Process. A warning message appears. Click Yes. The entire desktop, except for Windows Task Manager and any active applications, disappears.

Select the Applications tab in Windows Task Manager, and then click New Task.

In the Create New Task box, type runas /user:<domain\username> explorer.exe. As before, username is the account with administrative privileges. If you’re logged on locally, use the command runas /user:<machinename\username> explorer.exe.

Enter the password for the user name. The desktop, along with the taskbar, returns. This desktop is in the security context of the user name you specified in the command.

To return to the ordinary user’s desktop, use Task Manager again to shut down Explorer.exe. Then start a new instance by typing explorer.exe (without runas, so that Internet Explorer is restarted in the original security context) in the Create New Task dialog box.


Don’t close Task Manager while you’re working in the desktop’s administrative context—just minimize it to the taskbar. Closing Task Manager can have unpredictable results.


You can start a separate copy of Windows Explorer using the /separate switch. Combine this with runas to open Explorer in a different user context. Or, if you’re on an x64 machine and want to run a copy of 32-bit Explorer, use it to run the 32-bit version of Explorer.exe that is in the %windir%\SysWOW64 directory.

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