Using Extended Events For Login Tracking

Steve Jones shows us how to track logins with Extended Events:

I can select any number of fields for capture. You can see I’ve picked the client_hostname. I would also add the NT_Username and Username from the list. You could add more, but in this case, I’m more concerned with seeing who’s logged in.

I could add filters, but I choose not to. I click on Data Storage to determine where to store this data.

If you’re not already familiar with Extended Events, that grace period is slowly slipping away.  Profiler’s going away sometime, and it’ll be a rude shock for a lot of DBAs.  Don’t be one of those…

Keep .Net Framework Up To Date

Allan Hirt with a public service announcement:

Microsoft recently published an official .NET team blog post reiterating that .NET Framework versions 4, 4.5, and 4.5.1 will no longer receive security updates, support, or hotfixes as of January 12, 2016. This was first announced back in August of 2014, so it’s not like this is new news, but I can say from experience virtually no one is talking about it. MS’ new post talks more about the upgrade path. To sum it up, you need to install .NET Framework 4.5.2, 4.6, or 4.6.1 to be considered supported when it comes to your .NET Framework version. Security is a real issue for many, and those responsible may not know that your version of .NET Framework could be a possible attack vector. Is your security team aware of this impending problem? How will this affect your version matrices (you do have those, right?)?

This is a cross-cutting concern, and I know a majority of database administrators aren’t directly responsible for .Net Framework patches, but work with whoever is responsible and keep them up to date.

SQL Injection Blacklists Are Bad

Eli Leiba created a function to try to generate a blacklist against SQL injection:

The suggested solution presented here involves creating a user defined T-SQL scalar function that checks the input string for any suspicious key words that might indicate the SQL injection intents.

The function checks the input string against a set of pre-defined keywords that are known to be used in SQL injection cases.

I get the intent here, but blacklists don’t work.

The first line of defense that many developers come up with is a blacklist: we know that keywords like “select,” “insert,” and “drop” are necessary to perform a SQL injection attack, so if we just ban those keywords, everything should be fine, right? Alas, life is not so simple; this leads to a number of problems with blacklists in general, as well as in this particular case.

The second-biggest problem with blacklists is that they could block people from performing legitimate requests. For example, a user at a paint company’s website may wish to search for “drop cloths,” so a naïve blacklist, outlawing use of the word “drop” in a search would lead to false positives.

The biggest problem is that, unless extreme care is taken, the blacklist will still let through malicious code. One of the big failures with SQL injection blacklists is that there are a number of different white-space characters: hex 0x20 (space), 0x09 (tab), 0x0A, 0x0B, 0x0C, 0x0D, and 0xA0 are all legitimate white-space as far as a SQL Server query is concerned. If the blacklist is looking for “drop table,” it is looking for the word “drop,” followed by a 0x20 character, followed by the word “table.” If we replace the 0x20 with a 0x09, it sails right by the blacklist.

With this particular blacklist, you have a pretty high probability of false positives:  the list includes dashes, “tran,” “update,” “while,” “grant,” and even “go.”  These are tokens used in SQL injection attempts, but they’re also very common words or word segments in English.  This means that if you’re trying to blacklist a publicly-accessible search box which reads common English phrases, the incidence of false positive is going to be high enough that the blacklist changes.  But even if it doesn’t, a dedicated attacker can still get around your blacklist; as the old saying goes, the attacker only needs to be right once.

Azure SQL Database Threat Detection

Troy Hunt introduces us to a fantastic new feature with Azure SQL Databases:

Azure has just introduced another tool to help in the fight against SQL injection known as SQL Database Threat Detection. You can go and read all the Microsofty bits there or watch it work in a real live app here.

Firstly, this is threat detection, not prevention. In a nutshell, this feature will tell you when an attack is mounted against your database and in order to do that, the upstream app has to have a vulnerability in it that’s allowing the attack to get that far. Now before you give it a bit of “well that’s pretty useless then”, the main reason this makes sense is that you can go and enable it with a single checkbox tick and it won’t break your things. Plus, even if the code is solid and you have a device or a service like a WAF, this is just one more layer that’s good to have in place. Let’s just jump into it.

This is a useful tool. If you’re using Azure SQL Databases, go forth and activate this.

When CHECKDB Fails

Andy Galbraith has a tale of woe and a cautionary message:

Paul’s blog post “Issues around DBCC CHECKDB and the use of hidden database snapshots” discusses the need to have certain permissions to be able to create the snapshot CHECKDB uses.  I checked the DATA directory and the SQL Server default path and found that the service account did have Full Control to those locations.

What happened next ultimately resolved my issue, and it reflects something I constantly tell people when they ask me how I research things relatively quickly (most of the time anyway :)) – whenever you read a blog post or article about a subject, MAKE SURE TO READ THE FOLLOW-UP COMMENTS!  Sometimes they are nothing beyond “Great Article!” but quite often there are questions and answers between readers and the author that add important extra information to the topic, or just “Don’t Forget This!” style comments that add more detail.

Indeed.

Always Encrypted

Kenneth Nielsen takes a look at Always Encrypted:

The way Microsoft have implemented this always encrypted feature, is to let all the data in the tables be encrypted. The application that needs to look at data will have to use the new Enhanced ADO.net library, which will give your application the methods to de/encrypt data.

This way, the only way to insert data into a table, which contains encrypted columns, is to use parameterized insert statements from your application. It is not even possible to insert data from SQL Server Management Studio, if we try, the statement will fail.

This way we ensure that only the persons using the application will be looking at un-encrypted data, thus reducing the number of people with a direct access to sensitive data.

If you go down this route, it looks like the only method available for modifying data is going through ADO.NET, although that could change later.  My biggest concern here is how much of a performance hit—if any—systems will take.

SQL Server 2016 IFI

Nic Cain has an outstanding blog post on enabling Instant File Initialization in SQL Server 2016, specifically wondering what happens when group policy explicitly prohibits setting Perform Volume Maintenance Tasks privileges:

Much to my surprise the virtual SQL account showed up in the PVMT secpol setting. I had no idea how it got there. Reviewing the setting I was able to confirm that the account I used for install was not able to make any adjustments and yet somehow the permissions were set.

I’m happy to hear why I’m wrong, but I’d consider this a reasonable instance of privilege escalation:  I may not want the DBA to be able to perform volume maintenance tasks on just any server, but I do want him to do it on SQL Server instances.

Back Those Things Up

Brian Krebs reminds us to back up all the things:

The tools for securely backing up computers, Web sites, data, and even entire hard drives have never been more affordable and ubiquitous. So there is zero excuse for not developing and sticking with a good backup strategy, whether you’re a home user or a Web site administrator.

PC World last year published a decent guide for Windows users who wish to take advantage of the the OS’s built-in backup capabilities. I’ve personally used Acronis and Macrium products, and find both do a good job making it easy to back up your rig. The main thing is to get into a habit of doing regular backups.

There are good guides all over the Internet showing users how to securely back up Linux systems (here’s one). Others tutorials are more OS-specific. For example, here’s a sensible backup approach for Debian servers. I’d like to hear from readers about their backup strategies — what works — particularly from those who maintain Linux-based Web servers like Apache and Nginx.

This article doesn’t directly relate to SQL Server, but it does act as a nice reminder:  go make sure you have good backups.  Of everything.

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