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Windows: The Confusion over DisableLoopBackCheck, DisableStrictNameChecking and Kerberos

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Introduction

I’ve been answering technical questions in Forums and at customers for a while now and in the recent years there were many related to issue related to DisableLoopBackCheck and DisableStrictNameChecking security features from Windows. I also regularly noticed a lot of confusion and misinformation about these. This post is a modest attempt to explain them more in-depth.

DisableLoopBackCheck

LoopBackCheck is, like its name says, a security feature applicable to connection established to the loopback address (127.0.0.1). It applies to NTLM authentication only. It allows protecting a Windows computer against threat exploiting connections to the loop back adapter specifically. This extra protection level applies to all incoming connections and protocols

What is often misleading with LoopBackCheck is the error message making believe invalid credentials have been provided while it is actually not the case. Example with IIS: HTTP 401.1 – Unauthorized: Logon Failed.

Why isn’t it applicable to Kerberos authentication? Simply because Kerberos authentication is so strongly linked to names (host and service names) that is does actually need this security feature.

When will you experience this issue? Usually, in a test/dev environment when you redirect services such as IIS web sites or SharePoint to the loopback address. It might also affect production SharePoint when the crawler process is configured to crawl from the locally-deployed WFE role thanks to a modification of the HOSTS file. You may also experience this problem when the server’s are part of an NLB cluster or when an IIS-based application accesses a SQL Server instance located on the same server using the loopback address together with Windows Authentication.

This feature was originally implemented with Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and is therefore present in all recent versions of Windows

Solutions/Workarounds

Note: MS KB Article states you have to disable Strict Name Checking as well; this is not true or at least not true if you don’t plan to use file & print sharing over the loopback adapter (see below)

Note2: My field experience tells not to use the loopback adapter anymore for SharePoint crawler because it may also generate other issue related on security software (anti-virus, local firewall…) adding their load of security checks to the communication channel to the loopback adapter.

DisableStrictNameChecking

Strict Name checking is a security feature specific to the Windows implementation of the SMB protocol (File & Print sharing). It will prevent connections from being stabled to a network share or to a shared printer if the host name used is not the server’s real one. The error message might also be considered as misleading: System error 52 has occurred. A duplicate name exists on the network.

The feature has been originally brought by Windows 2000 and is implemented is all subsequent versions of Windows.

Solutions/Workarounds

Kerberos and how it is related to Names

Like I stated upper in this post, Kerberos authentication protocol integrates name checking in its foundation since the secret exchanged between the client and the service are partially based on the name the service is accessed by. If the name of the service is missing or incorrectly configured in the Kerberos database (Active Directory in the Windows world), the authentication will fail with the internal error KRB5KDC_ERR_S_PRINCIPAL_UNKNOWN and is likely to fall back in NTLM authentication, which will ultimately lead to a successful authentication with a less secure protocol

Therefore, if one or multiple alternate names are used to access a service, the appropriate configuration must be associated with the user account (or computer account) running the service, using, for example SETPSPN or NETDOM like in the example above. Note: While some software offer the possibility to auto-magically register Service Principal Names in AD, very few do that actually)

Marc

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Author: Marc Lognoul

Relentless cloud professional. Restless rider. Happy husband. Proud father. Opinions are my own.

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