Attack surface reduction frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Is attack surface reduction (ASR) part of Windows?

ASR was originally a feature of the suite of exploit guard features introduced as a major update to Microsoft Defender Antivirus, in Windows 10, version 1709. Microsoft Defender Antivirus is the native antimalware component of Windows. However, the full ASR feature-set is only available with a Windows enterprise license. Also note that some Microsoft Defender Antivirus exclusions are applicable to ASR rule exclusions. See Attack surface reduction rules reference - Microsoft Defender Antivirus exclusions and ASR rules.

Do I need to have an enterprise license to run ASR rules?

The full set of ASR rules and features is only supported if you have an enterprise license for Windows 10 or Windows 11. A limited number of rules may work without an enterprise license. If you have Microsoft 365 Business, set Microsoft Defender Antivirus as your primary security solution, and enable the rules through PowerShell. Using ASR without an enterprise license isn't officially supported and you won't be able to use the full capabilities of ASR.

To learn more about Windows licensing, see Windows 10 Licensing and get the Volume Licensing guide for Windows 10.

Is ASR supported if I have an E3 license?

Yes. ASR is supported for Windows Enterprise E3 and above.

Which features are supported with an E5 license?

All of the rules supported with E3 are also supported with E5.

E5 adds greater integration with Defender for Endpoint. With E5, you can view alerts in real-time, fine-tune rule exclusions, configure ASR rules, and view lists of event reports.

What are the currently supported ASR rules?

ASR currently supports all of the rules below.

What rules to enable? All, or can I turn on individual rules?

To help you figure out what's best for your environment, we recommended that you enable ASR rules in audit mode. With this approach, you'll determine the possible effect to your organization. For example, your line-of-business applications.

How do ASR rules exclusions work?

For ASR rules, if you add one exclusion, it will affect every ASR rule.

ASR rules exclusions support wildcards, paths, and environmental variables. For more information on how to use wildcards in ASR rules, see configure and validate exclusions based on file extension and folder location.

Be aware of the following items about ASR rules exclusions (including wildcards and env. variables):

  • Most ASR rules exclusions are independent from Microsoft Defender Antivirus exclusions. However, Microsoft Defender Antivirus exclusions do apply to some attack surface reduction (ASR) rules. See Attack surface reduction rules reference - Microsoft Defender Antivirus exclusions and ASR rules.
  • Wildcards cannot be used to define a drive letter.
  • If you want to exclude more than one folder, in a path, use multiple instances of \*\ to indicate multiple nested folders (for example, c:\Folder\*\*\Test)
  • Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager supports wildcards (* or ?).
  • If you want to exclude a file that contains random characters (automated file generation), you can use the '?' symbol (for example, C:\Folder\fileversion?.docx)
  • ASR exclusions in Group Policy don't support quotes (the engine will natively handle long path, spaces, etc., so there's no need to use quotes).
  • ASR rules run under NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM account, so environmental variables are limited to machine variables.

How do I know what I need to exclude?

Different ASR rules will have different protection flows. Always think about what the ASR rule you are configuring protects against, and how the actual execution flow pans out.

Example: Block credential stealing from the Windows local security authority subsystem Reading directly from Local Security Authority Subsystem (LSASS) process can be a security risk, since it might expose corporate credentials.

This rule prevents untrusted processes from having direct access to LSASS memory. Whenever a process tries to use the OpenProcess() function to access LSASS, with an access right of PROCESS_VM_READ, the rule will specifically block that access right.

block credential stealing LSASS

Looking at the above example, if you really had to create an exception for the process that the access right was blocked, adding the filename along with full path would exclude it from being blocked and after allowed to access LSASS process memory. The value of 0 means that ASR rules will ignore this file/process and not block/audit it.

exclude files asr

How do I configure per-rule exclusions?

For information about configuring per-rule exclusions, see the section titled Configure ASR rules per-rule exclusions in the topic Test attack surface reduction (ASR) rules.

What are the rules Microsoft recommends enabling?

We recommend enabling every possible rule. However, there are some cases where you shouldn't enable a rule. For example, we don't recommend enabling the Block process creations originating from PSExec and WMI commands rule, if you're using Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (or, System Center Configuration Manager - SCCM) to manage your endpoints.

We highly recommend you that you read each rule-specific information and/or warnings, which are available in our public documentation. spanning across multiple pillars of protection, like Office, Credentials, Scripts, E-Mail, etc. All ASR rules, except for Block persistence through WMI event subscription, are supported on Windows 1709 and later:

Is Local security authority subsystem enabled by default?

The default state for the Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) rule "Block credential stealing from the Windows local security authority subsystem (lsass.exe)" will change from Not Configured to Configured and the default mode set to Block. All other ASR rules will remain in their default state: Not Configured. Additional filtering logic has already been incorporated in the rule to reduce end user notifications. Customers can configure the rule to Audit, Warn or Disabled modes, which will override the default mode. The functionality of this rule is the same, whether the rule is configured in the on-by-default mode, or if you enable Block mode manually.

What are some good recommendations for getting started with ASR?

Test how ASR rules will impact your organization before enabling them by running ASR rules in audit mode for a brief period of time. While you are running the rules in audit mode, you can identify any line-of-business applications that might get blocked erroneously, and exclude them from ASR.

Larger organizations should consider rolling out ASR rules in "rings," by auditing and enabling rules in increasingly broader subsets of devices. You can arrange your organization's devices into rings by using Intune or a Group Policy management tool.

How long should I test an ASR rule in audit mode before enabling it?

Keep the rule in audit mode for about 30 days to get a good baseline for how the rule will operate once it goes live throughout your organization. During the audit period, you can identify any line-of-business applications that might get blocked by the rule, and configure the rule to exclude them.

I'm making the switch from a third-party security solution to Defender for Endpoint. Is there an "easy" way to export rules from another security solution to ASR?

In most cases, it's easier and better to start with the baseline recommendations suggested by Defender for Endpoint than to attempt to import rules from another security solution. Then, use tools such as audit mode, monitoring, and analytics to configure your new solution to suit your unique needs.

The default configuration for most ASR rules, combined with Defender for Endpoint's real-time protection, will protect against a large number of exploits and vulnerabilities.

From within Defender for Endpoint, you can update your defenses with custom indicators, to allow and block certain software behaviors. ASR also allows for some customization of rules, in the form of file and folder exclusions. As a general rule, it is best to audit a rule for a period of time, and configure exclusions for any line-of-business applications that might get blocked.

Does ASR support file or folder exclusions that include system variables and wildcards in the path?

Yes. See Excluding files and folders from ASR rules for more details on excluding files or folders from ASR rules, and Configure and validate exclusions based on file extension and folder location for more on using system variables and wildcards in excluded file paths.

Do ASR rules cover all applications by default?

It depends on the rule. Most ASR rules cover the behavior of Microsoft Office products and services, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, or Outlook. Certain ASR rules, such as Block execution of potentially obfuscated scripts, are more general in scope.

Does ASR support third-party security solutions?

ASR uses Microsoft Defender Antivirus to block applications. It is not possible to configure ASR to use another security solution for blocking at this time.

I have an E5 license and enabled some ASR rules in conjunction with Defender for Endpoint. Is it possible for an ASR event to not show up at all in Defender for Endpoint's event timeline?

Whenever a notification is triggered locally by an ASR rule, a report on the event is also sent to the Defender for Endpoint portal. If you're having trouble finding the event, you can filter the events timeline using the search box. You can also view ASR events by visiting Go to attack surface management, from the Configuration management icon in the Defender for Cloud taskbar. The attack surface management page includes a tab for report detections, which includes a full list of ASR rule events reported to Defender for Endpoint.

I applied a rule using GPO. Now when I try to check the indexing options for the rule in Microsoft Outlook, I get a message stating, 'Access denied'.

Try opening the indexing options directly from Windows 10 or Windows 11.

  1. Select the Search icon on the Windows taskbar.

  2. Enter Indexing options into the search box.

Are the criteria used by the rule, "Block executable files from running unless they meet a prevalence, age, or trusted list criterion," configurable by an admin?

No. The criteria used by this rule are maintained by Microsoft cloud protection, to keep the trusted list constantly up to date with data gathered from around the world. Local admins do not have write access to alter this data. If you are looking to configure this rule to tailor it for your enterprise, you can add certain applications to the exclusions list to prevent the rule from being triggered.

I enabled the ASR rule, 'Block executable files from running unless they meet a prevalence, age, or trusted list criterion'. After some time, I updated a piece of software, and the rule is now blocking it, even though it didn't before. Did something go wrong?

This rule relies upon each application having a known reputation, as measured by prevalence, age, or inclusion on a list of trusted apps. The rule's decision to block or allow an application is ultimately determined by Microsoft cloud protection's assessment of these criteria.

Usually, cloud protection can determine that a new version of an application is similar enough to previous versions that it does not need to be reassessed at length. However, it might take some time for the app to build reputation after switching versions, particularly after a major update. In the meantime, you can add the application to the exclusions list, to prevent this rule from blocking important applications. If you are frequently updating and working with new versions of applications, you may opt instead to run this rule in audit mode.

I recently enabled the ASR rule, 'Block credential stealing from the Windows local security authority subsystem (lsass.exe)', and I am getting a large number of notifications. What is going on?

A notification generated by this rule does not necessarily indicate malicious activity; however, this rule is still useful for blocking malicious activity, since malware often targets lsass.exe to gain illicit access to accounts. The lsass.exe process stores user credentials in memory after a user has logged in. Windows uses these credentials to validate users and apply local security policies.

Because many legitimate processes throughout a typical day will be calling on lsass.exe for credentials, this rule can be especially noisy. If a known legitimate application causes this rule to generate an excessive number of notifications, you can add it to the exclusion list. Most other ASR rules will generate a relatively smaller number of notifications, in comparison to this one, since calling on lsass.exe is typical of many applications' normal functioning.

Is it a good idea to enable the rule, 'Block credential stealing from the Windows local security authority subsystem (lsass.exe)', alongside LSA protection?

Enabling this rule will not provide additional protection if you have LSA protection enabled as well. Both the rule and LSA protection work in much the same way, so having both running at the same time would be redundant. However, sometimes you may not be able to enable LSA protection. In those cases, you can enable this rule to provide equivalent protection against malware that target lsass.exe.

See also