Monthly Archives: June 2012

Want to learn about cryptography? I know where.


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Do you have some spare time and want to know how cryptography works? What is the most secure cipher? And why λ is always more than ε… Well, the latter is not true =)
Anyhow, there is a place where you can learn more about cryptography for free. Stanford University provides such a course for free at I’m at the second week now, and already tampered one cipher text and know how decrypted another (it’s not that tricky, but very time consuming).

So welcome to the world of knowledge Winking smile

Looking for a GP object?


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Well, some time ago I wrote about finding the exact setting in your group policy editor, which is, certainly, quite useful. But this is vital when you try to create a new GPO or find a value in an exact existing one. But what if you want to look at the GPOs in your environment which contain settings from some area? From the age of Server 2003 there is an answer. Not the ideal one, but still, it is better than nothing.

So, you need to find which of your GPOs have settings related to security? Let’s find one:

1) Start a GPMC console and right click on a domain you want to look through:



After clicking on “Search…” you’ll get the search interface:


Say, we are looking for security settings in computer parts of GPO. Ok, here we go, just add this into search criteria:



And hit the search button:


As you can see: there are two GPOs in the domain (those are default ones) which contain security settings.

Wonderful! Or is it? Well, as I said, it is better than nothing, but not everything you’d like to see. What can be improved? For example, I’d like to search for the GPOs under any OU, not only from the root of the domain. Next, it’d be great to have an ability to look for the name of a particular setting. Any ideas from you, my readers?

Myths #2: PKI edition.


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BTW, did you know what do certificate template options like “Allow private key to be exported” or “Prompt the user during enrollment and require user input when the private key is used” really do? Do they make you more secure or not?

Certainly, some people who read my blog do know the answer, others have already guessed the answer: no. They don’t enforce any behavior on a client: it just communicate the requested by CA features.

A good example of it was windows 2003: while you weren’t able export the certificate through GUI you could do this with… some certificates. Furthermore, in Windows 2008 R2 (or Windows 7, as it goes) even some GUI instruments can export such a key. So you cannot restrict your user from exporting and moving the certificate.

Be careful and take care to think if you can trust what you see Winking smile

Trustworthy computing: non-SDL view. Part 2: non-corporate.


Do you think my latest post was about corporate products because only corporate products are subject to not being designed to be secure in deployment? No, consumer ones are built the same way. Say, the famous story about Windows Live Mail and Live Mail’s SSL. Till the recent changes you weren’t able to use both of them. Either you expose your communication without using SSL or you couldn’t use convenient client. I was very glad to receive the ability to use them both.

To sum up: we have excellent products, which aren’t exploitable in the most of the cases through their functions. Still those products don’t have all the necessary abilities to be incorporated into the strict environment. Some things are being changed, some not, but still there is many possibilities to do it before I or any other user discovers the problems in our own network.

I’m glad that Microsoft is on steady way to improve those things, but I want them to do some things prior the RTM. Do you remember any cases, similar to what I described in these two blogs?

Trustworthy computing: non-SDL view


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Well, finally it is my time to scold Microsoft. I’m not a fun of this type of self-promotion, still I believe that the only way to move forward is to receive, process and answer some constructive criticism. So let’s begin:
Several years ago Microsoft announced its widely-known Trustworthy Computing initiative (actually they just celebrated its 10 years). I probably don’t have to remind you the goals and means for the initiative to you, they all can be found without any problems. Anyway, this letter doesn’t pretend to be some kind of thorough analysis after which I will exclaim “MS lies!” On the contrary, it is more about just trying to show that in my humble opinion something in current approach to security can be improved.
I am an IT Pro with 10+ years of experience, and this fact definitely affects how I see the World, security and Microsoft’s products regarding both of them. My recent impression of Trustworthy Computing is like that:
“SDL! SDL this! SDL that! SDL is everything and everywhere!”
Don’t get me wrong, SDL is great even from the perspective of a systems administrator who almost cannot write code. Seriously, I have the feeling that Microsoft’s code itself has become much more secure over the past years. Most of the recent vulnerabilities need me to turn off some safeguards (like DEP or UAC) or to not configure any of them in extremely hazardous environment (not turning off Server service on an Internet-facing computer). As a consequence I feel much safer than, say, 10 years ago with the products I use. Still there are some features in recent situation development that make me believe that the current SDL lacks something vital. One may ask “what exactly do you mean?” Well, it is testing in the environments, which are built according security best practices and creating not only the code which is not vulnerable, but also which provides features to implement the controls recommended by the best practices and can deliver this features without failing. Everything, literally everything starting with smart card authentication and finishing with separation of duties or delegation of access has to be incorporated into the products to build somewhat secure environment. You cannot feel secure if those who make your backups are able to restore them and configure the way they are being created, or if you have to give SQL farm administrator permissions to someone who is to make some basic job. During past several years I have been witnessing some events which made me think that those matters haven’t been in focus for some PGs at least for several years if not at all. To be not accused of making this up I’ll give you some examples from my own experience and observations.
1) When MS SharePoint Server 2007 was just released, we tried to install it in the company I worked for. Our policies required using of Constrained Kerberos Delegation, publishing of any web application through ISA server SSL bridging and all that stuff including smart card authentication. Sound requirements, aren’t they? Unfortunately, the product obviously wasn’t tested with such constraints. We stepped into multiple problems, which were solved throughout the flow of several MS Support cases. Fortunately all of them were a success. At the very least we received workarounds For example, indexing didn’t work on SSL site, and if you first created SSL site on port 443 and then extended it to the 80th port (which was to be crawled by MOSS), then indexing worked fine, but search didn’t return result. The correct sequence was to install site on the 80th port and then extend it to the 443rd. Not a big deal, one may say, but this could be detected by automatic testing in the relevant environment (BTW, this behavior was told to be in place by-design and was fixed in the following SPs 😉 ).
2) The second case which is relatively close to the SharePoint is from the people who created WebDAV. The technology is very useful, though it was again, never tested in a secure environment. Publish it through the ISA Server, require users to use their smart cards to get access to the WebDAV resource and… voila! There are your problems.
3) Smart card support really seems to be the weak point for the developers. We absolutely love to use UC products of Microsoft: Exchange and OCS/Lync. But can you use Outlook and Communicator to authenticate by certificate? Hell, no! Build a VPN channel (or DA), and then use it if you want secure communications.
4) Data Protection Manager. It is our beloved one. Being as simple yet powerful as it is, it is just charming. Still, three major releases later we didn’t have any duty separation. If I am a local administrator I can backup, restore and configure everything. If I am not a local administrator, I can almost nothing. There are some valuable exceptions, but not all we need. The latest release has RBAC in it as it was promised by PG, still, 5 years without it sucked.
5) A problem with the SQL server. In order to receive highly available solution some can use SQL Server Mirroring technology. It is great and has really saved our applications many times. But when we stepped over the boundary where we had to implement RBAC for administrative tasks we run into the following problem. Running ALTER DATABASE for any database which is in the recovery mode while having permissions lesser then administrator causes crashing of the process and dumping it into the file by default. The operation described above is very often used with a mirrored database, for example to mirror it. Again the bug was admitted but we were proposed using the administrator’s permission for the job as a workaround. The bug will be fixed in the next release they said. This bug can be costly, at least it is for us (BTW, technically it can cause DOS for the SQL server as dumps can be very large and be created very fast)
All the bugs above could have been found by testing against the environment built in accordance with the security best practices. Those features which are just absent (not bugs) could be introduced much earlier if someone really thought of secure deployment for them. Unfortunately all the examples above show that the job hasn’t been done. I would like to think that those are only individual mistakes, but if only one man (me) ran into so many of them, then I am afraid they are just the consequence of the lack of integrity in the approach of PGs to the trustworthy computing.

Freebies: books

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A couple of books I believe are worth at least stealing a look at. Free books, of course.


1) The book has been advertised in almost every Windows-related blog for several days. I believe that you couldn’t have missed it but just in case you haven’t read about it I give you the link. Introducing Windows Server 2012 is quite small and cannot cover all I would want to know, but it is named “Introducing…”. It’s definitely the place to start if you haven’t been tracking news all over the internet. You can get it in four different formats: 3 to download and paper version.
2) Security and Privacy for Microsoft Office 2010 User. Easy-to-read book about security and privacy. It unlikely teach anyone who is not already concerned with those matters, but is users read it it would make security professionals a bit less tired and less paid Winking smile 

MS SIR #12

like_a_sir Okay, better late than never. I finally got to the latest Microsoft Security Intelligence Report. While usually there is not much unexpected this time I was almost shocked with the first section of the document. And I believe it’s excusable, because it is named…

How Conflicker CONTINUES to propagate.

Conflicker! The three-years-old malware! CONTINUES to be a THREAT! Are we going nuts? =)

60% of people who could have got it (if not for antivirus) have weak admin’s passwords. Also 17 to 42% (XP only) have the vulnerability which is used by the worm. Three years after the patch was issued…

This is crazy word, guys =)

Everything else in the report is not half as thrilling as this:


1) HTML/JavaScript exploits are on the rise

2) It seems like document exploiting steadily grows too. Probably sooner or later we’ll see some book reader exploited Winking smile

3) SPAM seems to decline in quantity (at least in this report =) ). What become a surprise for me is the fact that the #1 contributor to the spam flow were emails with content advertising non-sexual pharmacy. Probably I wasn’t interested in the section while reading previous reports. Still it’s very refreshing to find that health is more reliable way to earn money than “enlarging someone’s manhood” =)

4) No surprise in the fact that most successful malware needs user action to be installed. But Conflicker is #6… Like I said – shocking discovery =(

Yep, I’m paranoid. The question is am I paranoid enough…

Well… It seems like Google finally officially turned up into The Evil Empire. Not that they haven’t behaved that way in the recent years… Neither do I believe that other companies don’t collect my information as well. Still no company has been barefaced enough to declare that my data just is theirs and no one can complain.

So, as long as Google went rogue, I decided to go Google-free. For me it is hard, yet not impossible. Here is what I personally have to do:

  • I have my Russian blog on BlogSpot. Since it has been accessible via my own domain name, I’ll just move it to other hosting, no sweat.
  • I have my RSS feeds for blogs on FeedBurner. This one will be tough, as I’m risking losing my subscribers, but I hope they still are reading all my posts, so, I’ll take a risk and migrate my feed to another hosting too. I believe it’ll be here, but just in case, you can subscribe to the direct feed.
  • Gmail. huh… I’m actually glad something forced me to live it. It’s good and all that stuff, but earlier I was too eager to subscribe to anything that looked interesting to me. My new address will be sent to every person I’ll be able to remember and it is searchable, if you need it. Anyhow, you can find me on my blog 8) I still will have some trouble in turning to the new addresses some of mail flows, but…
  • Google analytics: I use it rarely. Primarily to get my statistics for the MVP Award program and from time to time the search referrals tell me what is interesting for my readers. It’ll be harder to get this info from now on, but I believe I’ll succeed.
  • Chrome. The only thing I used it is to play. I can totally do without it, especially since we had Jagged Alliance 3 launched =)
  • Google search. That’s the most tough, probably. I haven’t yet found a suitable replacement for searching English-based content, but I will try. And I’ll give one more chance for, say, BING =)

After all that I’m going to delete my account. C U, Google (Unless they hire me, of course 8) )