FIPS 140

FIPS 140-2 Logo

Oh yeah, I have a blog! I almost forgot.  I've been busy working.  Let's talk about an extraordinarily fascinating topic: Federal compliance!

FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) has many different standards.  FIPS holds sway mainly in the U.S. and Canada.  Within each standard, there are multiple revisions and multiple levels of classification.  FIPS 140 is about encryption and hashing algorithms.  It’s about accrediting cryptographic modules.  Here’s an example of a certificate.  The FIPS 140-2 revision is the current standard, and FIPS 140-3 is under development with no announced release date yet.  It does not matter if your homebrew cryptography is technically “better” than anything else ever.  If your cryptographic module has not gone through the code submission and certification process, then it is not FIPS-approved.  You have to submit your source code/device/module to the government, in order to gain FIPS approval.  Even if you have the most amazing cryptography the world has ever seen, it is still not FIPS approved or compliant until it goes through the process.  In fact, the government is free to certify weaker algorithms in favor of stronger ones just because the weaker algorithms have undergone the certification process when the stronger ones have not, and they have historically done so.  (Triple-DES being the prime example.)

There is even a welcome kit, with stickers.  You need to put these tamper-proof stickers on your stuff for certain levels of FIPS compliance.

So if you are ever writing any software of your own, please do not try to roll your own cryptography. Use the approved libraries that have already gone through certification. Your custom crypto has about a 100% chance of being worse than AES/SHA (NSA backdoors notwithstanding,) and it will never be certifiable for use in a secure Federal environment anyway.  Also avoid things like re-hashing your hash with another hashing algorithm in attempt to be ‘clever’ – doing so can ironically make your hash weaker.

And the Feds are picky.  For instance, if programming for Windows in .NET, the use of System.Security.Cryptography.SHA1 classes may be acceptable while the use of System.Security.Cryptography.SHA1Managed classes are not acceptable.  It doesn’t mean the methods in the SHA1Managed classes are any worse, it simply means Microsoft has not submitted them for approval. 

Many major vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco go through this process for every new version of product that they release.  It costs money and time to get your product FIPS-certified.  Maybe it’s a Cisco ASA appliance, or maybe it’s a simple Windows DLL. 

The most recent publication of FIPS 140-2 Annex A lists approved security functions (algorithms.)  It lists AES and SHA-1 as acceptable, among others. So if your application uses only approved implementations of AES and SHA-1 algorithms, then that application should be acceptable according to FIPS 140-2.  If your application uses an MD5 hashing algorithm during communication, that product is NOT acceptable for use in an environment where FIPS compliance must be maintained. 

However, there is also this contradictory quote from NIST:

“The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology says, "Federal agencies should stop using SHA-1 for...applications that require collision resistance as soon as practical, and must use the SHA-2 family of hash functions for these applications after 2010" [22]”

So it seems to me that there are contradictory government statements regarding the usage of security functions.  The most recent draft of FIPS 140-2 Annex A clearly lists SHA-1 as an acceptable hashing algorithm, yet, the quote from NIST says that government agencies must use only SHA-2 after 2010.  Not sure what the answer is to that. 

These algorithms can be broken up into two categories: encryption algorithms and hashing algorithms.  An example of a FIPS encryption algorithm is AES (which consists of three members of the Rijndael family of ciphers, adopted in 2001, and has a much cooler name.)  Encryption algorithms can be reversed/decrypted, that is, converted back into their original form from before they were encrypted.

Hashing algorithms on the other hand, are also known as one-way functions.  They are mathematically one-way and cannot be reversed.  Once you hash something, you cannot “un-hash” it, no matter how much computing power you have.  Hashing algorithms take any amount of data, of an arbitrary size, and mathematically map it to a “hash” of fixed length.  For instance, the SHA-256 algorithm will map any chunk of data, whether it be 10 bytes or 2 gigabytes, into a 256 bit hash.  Always 256 bit output, no matter the size of the input.

This is why the hash of a password is generally considered decently secure, because there is NO way to reverse the hash, so you can pass that hash to someone else via insecure means (e.g. over a network connection,) and if the other person knows what your password should be, then they can know that the hash you gave them proves that you know the actual password.  That's a bit of a simplification, but it gets the point across.

If you were trying to attack a hash, all you can do, if you know what hash algorithm was used, is to keep feeding that same hash algorithm new inputs, maybe millions or billions of new inputs a second, and hope that maybe you can reproduce the same hash.  If you can reproduce the same hash, then you know your input was the same as the original ‘plaintext’ that you were trying to figure out.  Maybe it was somebody’s password.  This is the essence of a ‘brute-force’ attack against a password hash.

Logically, if all inputs regardless of size, are mapped to a fixed size, then it stands to reason that there must be multiple sets of data that, when hashed, result in the same hash.  These are known as hash collisions.  They are very rare, but they are very bad, and collisions are the reason we needed to migrate away from the MD5 hashing algorithm, and we will eventually need to migrate away from the SHA-1 hashing algorithm.  (No collisions have been found in SHA-1 yet that I know of.)  Imagine if I could create a fake SSL certificate that, when I creatively flipped a few bits here and there, resulted in the same hash as a popular globally trusted certificate!  That would be very bad.

Also worth noting is that SHA-2 is an umbrella term, that includes SHA256, SHA384, SHA512, etc.

FIPS 140 is only concerned with algorithms used for external communication.  Any communication outside of the application or module, whether that be network communication, or communication to another application on the same system, etc.  FIPS 140 is not concerned with algorithms used to handle data within the application itself, within its own private memory, that never leaves the application and cannot be accessed by unauthorized users.  Here is an excerpt from the 140-2 standard to back up my claim:

“Cryptographic keys stored within a cryptographic module shall be stored either in plaintext form or encrypted form. Plaintext secret and private keys shall not be accessible from outside the cryptographic module to unauthorized operators…”

Let’s use Active Directory as an example.  This is why, when someone gets concerned about what algorithms AD uses internally, you should refer them to the above paragraph and tell them not to worry about it.  Even if it were plaintext (it’s not, but even if hypothetically it were,) it isn’t in scope for FIPS because it is internal only to the application.  When Active Directory and its domain members are operated in FIPS mode, connections made via Schannel.dll, Remote Desktop, etc., will only use FIPS compliant algorithms. If you had applications before that make calls to non-FIPS crypto libraries, those applications will now crash.

Another loophole that has appeared to satisfy FIPS requirements in the past, is wrapping a weaker algorithm inside of a stronger one.  For instance, a classic implementation of the RADIUS protocol utilizes the MD5 hashing algorithm during network communications.  MD5 is a big no-no.  However, see this excerpt from Cisco:

“RADIUS keywrap support is an extension of the RADIUS protocol. It provides a FIPS-certifiable means for the Cisco Access Control Server (ACS) to authenticate RADIUS messages and distribute session keys.”

So by simply wrapping weaker RADIUS keys inside of AES, it becomes FIPS-certifiable once again.  It would seem to follow that this logic also applies when using TLS and IPsec, as they are able to use very strong algorithms (such as SHA-2) that most applications do not natively support.

So with all that said, if you need the highest levels of network security, you need 802.1x and IPsec if you need to protect all those applications that can't protect themselves.

Bare Minimum Required to Promote a Domain Controller Into a Domain


This is something I meant to blog about months ago, but for some reason I let it slip my mind. It just came up again in a conversation I had yesterday, and I couldn't believe I forgot to post it here. (It also may or may not be similar to a test question that someone might encounter if he or she were taking some Microsoft-centric certification tests.)

It started when someone on ServerFault asked the question, "Do you need a GC online to DCPROMO?"

Well the short answer to that question is that no, you don't need a global catalog online (or reachable) from the computer you are trying to simply promote into a domain controller. But that got me thinking, I'd like to go a step farther and see for myself what the bare minimum requirements for promoting a computer to a domain controller in an existing domain, especially concerning the accessibility of certain FSMO roles from the new DC. I don't care about anything else right now (such as how useful this DC might be after it's promoted) except for just successfully completing the DCPromo process.

On one hand, this might seem like just a silly theoretical exercise, but on the other hand, you just might want to have this knowledge if you ever work in a large enterprise environment where your network is not fully routed, and all DCs are not fully meshed. You might need to create a domain controller in a segment of the network where it has network connectivity to some other DCs, but not all of them.

Well I have a fine lab handy, so let's get this show on the road.

  1. Create three computers.
  2. Make two of them DCs for the same single-domain forest (of the 2008+ variety.)
  3. Make only one of them a global catalog.
  4. Leave all FSMOs on the first domain controller, for now.

So when you promote a writable domain controller, you need two things: another writable domain controller online from which to replicate the directory, and your first RID pool allocation directly from the RID pool FSMO role holder. When you promote an RODC, you don't even need the RIDs, since RODCs don't create objects or outbound replicate.  If the computer cannot reach the RID pool master, as in direct RPC connectivity, DCPROMO will give you this message:

You will not be able to install a writable replica domain controller at this time because the RID master is offline.

But you can still create an RODC, as long as the domain controller with whom you can communicate is not also an RODC - it has to be a RWDC.

So the final steps to prove this theory are:

  1. Transfer only the RID master to the second domain controller.
  2. Power down the first domain controller.

At this point, only the RID pool master is online, and no global catalog is online. Now run DCPromo on your third computer. Can you successfully promote the new domain controller as a RWDC?

Yes you can.

Now, you'll encounter some other problems down the road, such as the new DC not being able to process password changes because it cannot contact the PDCe, but you've successfully added a new domain controller to the domain nonetheless.

Site Upgrade

Upgraded this site from Blogengine.NET 2.5 to 2.8 this evening. This post is basically a test just to see if anything is broken from the upgrade. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Testing quotation.

Edit: Ugh, looks like the code formatter's broken. :(

Edit: Put the old SynatxHighlighter back in. It's not awesome, but it's better than nothing.

Edit: Well, one positive thing that came out of this is that I vastly improved Alex Gorbatchev's old SyntaxHighLighter for this blog. I just modernized the Powershell brush to include all the new Cmdlets and aliases, since the brush had not been updated since around 2009. Just let me know if you want it.

Locating Active Directory Site Options with Powershell

So as you may know, I hang out on ServerFault a lot.  And last night, one of my favorite ServerFault members, Mark Marra, asked an interesting question there that sent me on a long journey of research in order to answer it.

(Mark's got his own IT blog by the way which you should totally check out. He's a world class Active Directory guy, the kind of guy that doesn't usually ask easy questions, so I'm proud of myself whenever I'm able to answer one of his questions.)

The link to the actual question and answer on ServerFault is here, most of which I am about to repeat in this post, but I'll see if I can embellish a little here on this blog.


How can I use PowerShell to find AD site options like +IS_INTER_SITE_AUTO_TOPOLOGY_DISABLED in PowerShell? I've been playing around with the following command, but can't get it to spit out anything useful.

Get-ADObject -Filter 'objectClass -eq "site"' `
-Searchbase (Get-ADRootDSE).ConfigurationNamingContext `
-Properties options


The above command is very close, but off by just a hair. The short and simple answer is that the above command is searching for the options attribute of the Site object itself, when we actually need to be looking at the NTDS Site Settings object belonging to that site. And furthermore, there is no Powershell-Friendly way of getting this data as of yet, i.e., there is no simple Get-ADSiteOptions Cmdlet... but we may just have the cure for that if you can get through the rest of this blog post. We just need to figure out where exactly to find the data, and then we can use Powershell to grab it, wherever it may be hiding.

Take the following two commands: 

repadmin commands

Repadmin /options <DC> gives us the DSA options that are specific to the domain controller being queried, such as whether the domain controller is a global catalog or not, and the Repadmin /siteoptions <DC> command gives us the options applied to the Active Directory Site to which the domain controller being queried belongs (or you can specify that you want to know the settings for another site with the /site:California parameter. Full repadmin syntax here, or just use the /experthelp parameter.)

Note that these settings are relatively advanced settings in AD, so you may not work with them on a regular basis. Sites by default have no options defined, so if you find yourself working with these options, chances are you have a more complex AD replication structure on your hands than the average Joe. If all you have are a few sites that are fully bridged/meshed, all with plenty of bandwidth, then you probably have no need to modify these settings. More importantly, if you modify any of these settings, it's very important that you document your changes, so that future administrators will know what you've done to the domain.

So where does repadmin.exe get this information?

The settings for individual domain controllers come from here: 

ADSI Edit 1

That is, the options attribute of the NTDS Settings object for each domain controller.

The site options come from the NTDS Site Settings object for each site. (Not the site object itself: ) 

Site Options

Here is the basic MSDN documentation on the Options attribute:

A bitfield, where the meaning of the bits varies from objectClass to objectClass. Can occur on Inter-Site-Transport, NTDS-Connection, NTDS-DSA, NTDS-Site-Settings, and Site-Link objects.

Now we know exactly which bits repadmin.exe works on when we issue a command such as repadmin /options DC01 +IS_GC or repadmin /siteoptions DC01 /site:Arlington +IS_INTER_SITE_AUTO_TOPOLOGY_DISABLED. Fortunately, repadmin.exe as well as the ADSI Edit MMC snap-in both have bitmask translators in their code, so that they can show us the friendly names of the value of the options attribute, instead of just a 32-bit hexadecimal code.

If we want to roll our own Get-ADSiteOptions Cmdlet, we'll have to build our own bitmask translator too.

Fortunately the bitfields for both the DC settings and the Site settings are documented, here and here. Here is an excerpt for the Site options bitmask: 

Site Options Bitmask

So now we have enough information to start working on our Get-ADSiteOptions Cmdlet. Let's start with this basic snippet of Powershell:

ForEach($Site In (Get-ADObject -Filter 'objectClass -eq "site"' -Searchbase (Get-ADRootDSE).ConfigurationNamingContext)) 
    Get-ADObject "CN=NTDS Site Settings,$($Site.DistinguishedName)" -Properties Options 

What that does is get the DistinguishedName of every Site in the forest, iterate through them and get the attributes of each Site's NTDS Site Settings object. If the options attribute has not been set for a Site (which remember, is the default,) then it will not be shown. Only Sites with modified options will show as having an options attribute at all. Furthermore, in Powershell, it will come out looking like this:

Powershell site options

It's in decimal. 16 in decimal is 0x10 in hex, which we now know means IS_INTER_SITE_AUTO_TOPOLOGY_DISABLED.

So, without further ado, let's see if we can build our own Get-ADSiteOptions Cmdlet:

#Require -Version 3
#Require -Module ActiveDirectory
Function Get-ADSiteOptions
    This Cmdlet gets Active Directory Site Options.
    This Cmdlet gets Active Directory Site Options.
    We can fill out the rest of this comment-based help later.
    Written by Ryan Ries, October 2013.
        Set-StrictMode -Version Latest

        # This enum comes from NtDsAPI.h in the Windows SDK.
        # Also thanks to Jason Scott for pointing it out to me.
        Add-Type -TypeDefinition @" 
                                   public enum nTDSSiteSettingsFlags {
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_AUTO_TOPOLOGY_DISABLED            = 0x00000001,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_TOPL_CLEANUP_DISABLED             = 0x00000002,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_TOPL_MIN_HOPS_DISABLED            = 0x00000004,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_TOPL_DETECT_STALE_DISABLED        = 0x00000008,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_INTER_SITE_AUTO_TOPOLOGY_DISABLED = 0x00000010,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_GROUP_CACHING_ENABLED             = 0x00000020,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_FORCE_KCC_WHISTLER_BEHAVIOR          = 0x00000040,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_FORCE_KCC_W2K_ELECTION               = 0x00000080,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_RAND_BH_SELECTION_DISABLED        = 0x00000100,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_SCHEDULE_HASHING_ENABLED          = 0x00000200,
                                   NTDSSETTINGS_OPT_IS_REDUNDANT_SERVER_TOPOLOGY_ENABLED = 0x00000400  }
        ForEach($Site In (Get-ADObject -Filter 'objectClass -eq "site"' -Searchbase (Get-ADRootDSE).ConfigurationNamingContext)) 
            $SiteSettings = Get-ADObject "CN=NTDS Site Settings,$($Site.DistinguishedName)" -Properties Options
            If(!$SiteSettings.PSObject.Properties.Match('Options').Count -OR $SiteSettings.Options -EQ 0)
                # I went with '(none)' here to give it a more classic repadmin.exe feel.
                # You could also go with $Null, or omit the property altogether for a more modern, Powershell feel.
                [PSCustomObject]@{SiteName=$Site.Name; DistinguishedName=$Site.DistinguishedName; SiteOptions='(none)'} 
                [PSCustomObject]@{SiteName=$Site.Name; DistinguishedName=$Site.DistinguishedName; SiteOptions=[Enum]::Parse('nTDSSiteSettingsFlags', $SiteSettings.Options)}

And finally, a screenshot of the fruits of our labor - what we set out to do, which was to view AD Site options in Powershell: