Sam

Senior Cloud Solution Architect @ Microsoft

Homepage: http://www.samkhanjar.com

[Event] Azure Cloud Adoption & Well-Architected Framework

I will be running a webinar on behalf of UK Cloud Infrastructure User Group on the 27th of October @ 6 PM UK time. Please join me to take you through both Microsoft Cloud Adoption and Well Architected frameworks.

To register for the event: https://www.meetup.com/en-AU/UK-Cloud-Infrastructure-User-Group/events/273793787

I hope to see a lot of you there.

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Zero Trust approach

We talk a lot about security and protecting ourselves from external threats, threats started to emerge from inside your enterprise fence, hence protecting your business assets became a necessity. The question we hear a lot now is how do we protect our business? The answer is by embracing the “Zero Trust model”.

So, what is “Zero Trust model”? I hear you say! It is a set of rules and principles that dictates the way we should look at our identity, network/data and infrastructure security, and devices (both corporate and with companies implementing BYOD).

Lets look at those principles in more detail and define a simple strategy in setting our goal for more secure environment without impeding productivity.

Identity – people when they hear identity they think of two-factor authentication straight away, problem solved! or is it? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as implementing 2FA or multi-factor authentication (MFA), it’s about knowing who, what, where and which:
Who – who are you in the context of a username and password, a lot of business are going passwordless (i.e. bio-metrics)
What – what device are you using to access, does the device comply with company policy (such as patches, anti-virus etc)
Where – where are you accessing from (i.e. geo location), are there any anomalies, such as login attempt from distant geo locations in a short period of time.
Which – which service/data are you trying to access, so having appropriate permissions set is a key, using least privilege as the base for applying permissions. Not to forget auditing those permissions and their access is also a must to ensure access is being evaluated appropriately.

There are many factors that need to be surfaced in order for the IT department to be able to understand how their staff are authenticating and being authorised to access corporate data or service.

As we discussed earlier that businesses are facing a lot of threats not just from external sources but internal ones as well, including rouge admins (whom hold the key to the kingdom!). Implementing identity management is important in the era of cyber wars, having services such as Azure AD that integrates and compliments your on premise AD enables you to detect and prevent suspicious logon’s by taking all the above into consideration.

Azure AD uses Machine Learning in the core to look at billions of signals received to learn and detect anomalies, conditional access would also complement this solution, through understanding the context and risks of sing ins and provide the right access.

How can you start protecting yourself?
Identity management life-cycle management is a key topic, policies to enforce strong passwords but also making it easier for users to remember them without the need to write them on a sticky note and leave them on their laptop, or even better
The use of multi-factor authentication, so just a password isnt enough anymore. How can I verify my staff identities? With something they are (i.e. username), something they remember (i.e. password) and something they have (i.e. phone or physical token).
Some of the points above might not be news to you, but ensuring appropriate policies are in place with audit trail and appropriate assessment of access is a must, through assume breach approach.

The high level architecture above shows level of security taken by corporations such as Microsoft to secure their assets and services, Microsoft doesnt take it lightly when it comes to security, it’s the heart of their service of which Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 are built.

As shown through the simplistic architecture above, the extensive use of Azure AD services such as MFA, Conditional access, in addition to enrolling devices into Microsoft Intune to manage device health would ensure that access is traced and authorised appropriately. This approach would provide a cloud scale and an enterprise grade service.

Its important now days to minimise the blast radius when it comes to a compromise, by minimising lateral movements through the appropriate use of network segmentation, using encryption through all user access sessions and between different tiers, in addition to using analytics to get visibility and drive threat detection and improve defences such as Azure Sentinel.

Using this as the core topic for our next discussions, by building security and zero trust model in the core of our design offerings.

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Update!

It has been a while since I posted a blog article, I have been busy since joining Microsoft to refocus my efforts and learnings to make the biggest impact for our clients and partners. During this time I have gained few certifications along the way to aid me in my journey.

I am planning on blogging on few topics which I see has a major traction currently in the market.

So, watch this space šŸ™‚

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ARM Templates vs Terraform

comparing_apples_to_oranges

We get asked why do we use one over the other, I see a lot of discussions made around this topic. I can say there is no definitive answer, it all depends on your internal strategy and human capabilities.

So, I hear you say, are there capabilities that puts one ahead of the other?

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) vs. Terraform templates:

  1. Ā ARM is a declarative language as in it submits the entire “goal state” to ARM for deployment – but doesn’t store a state of your infrastructure deployment like Terraform does
  2. Ā ARM template syntax is specific to Azure – not portable – Resources can be deployed to AWS, GCP and Azure alike using Terraform
  3. Ā Azure resources released in ARM template first – Terraform catches on later
  4. Ā Terraform plan checks the deployment behaviour before it deploys and displays any changes before it actually happen – ARM can wipe out infrastructure as quickly as it can create them – what I want to say here – have change control in place to avoid this happening to you šŸ™‚
  5. Ā Some people find Terraform easier to read and digest especially if those templates are moved between developers – Terraform gives you the flexibility of adding comments while this isn’t available in ARM
  6. Ā Both languages lets you embed custom scripts (i.e. in other languages such as Bash, Powershell etc.) in your templates which gives Terraform the advantage when a resource API provider is not yet available in Terraform
  7. Ā Terraform runs pre-flight checks which means you can avoid failed deployments – ARM doesn’t warn you and your deployment might fail half way through deployment

This is my unbiased take on the matter ā€¦ at the end of the day a clear business strategy should drive those concerns around deployment language and pattern. DevOps mindset has changed, people need to adapt as technologies change and evolve.

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Time for change

Group of white paper ship in one direction and one red paper ship pointing in different way on blue background. Business for innovative solution concept.

I have spent last few years focusing on Microsoft Azure while helping clients either on their first steps or expanding presence on Microsoft Azure . The journey has taken me through some interesting projects and challenges the business face today (i.e. elasticity/availability/global presence, among many more).

Ending the year, I am turning another page in my career. I am thrilled to say that I will be starting the new year joining Microsoft as a Cloud Solution Architect, part of the One Commercial Partner team. Working closely with our partners to grow their Azure practice, close any knowledge gaps and assist them in growing their business in the new cloud era.

I would like to use this opportunity to wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Azure Key Vault Access Policies

Azure-KeyVault_COLORAzure Key Vault is used to safeguard system critical data, such as keys, secrets and certificates that are part of your infrastructure core operations.

Key Vault access is managed through two interfaces: management plane – this dictates access to the Key Vault itself but not managing its content which is based on RBAC model, data plane – this enables granular control of keys/secrets/certificates, which relies on Access Policy.

This brings us nicely to Access Policies which is meat of this article. I have had to deal with a situation lately while applying access policy for a colleague while a restriction is imposed on my Azure AD account (see example below)

 

AKV1

AKV2

This would have limited access to my account (which is external) to AAD, which means I cant read or search AAD which is required when adding access policy via the GUI – Setting RBAC without access to AAD works (as an exception) if you know the full FQDN of the user you are adding.

The way around is to use PowerShell, but this requires a prerequisite which is the Azure AD object ID for the user you want to add, this can be achieved by adding them temporarily on management plane to access their user properties and copy object ID before deleting that rule.

Now to the command I used to apply that permission:

Set-AzKeyVaultAccessPolicy -ObjectId *** -VaultName **** -PermissionsToKeys **** -PermissionsToSecrets **** -PermissionsToCertificates **** -BypassObjectIdValidation 

 

Key property here is the BypassObjectIdValidation, if the Object ID exists in AAD then it will be linked and the user will have their access policy applied to Azure Key Vault.

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Azure Custom Script Extension

It has been a while since I had the opportunity to blog. It has been a very busy period which is good in some ways …

Anyway, today I wanted to pick up on Azure CSE. Azure CSE is beneficial in many ways when it comes to configuring VM’s, installing application and making app configuration changes.

Normally, when running an Azure CSE for Windows, people do favour Powershell scripts which gives them the power (in the name) and functionality to do their configuration elements with ease.

The recent issue I faced with Powershell scripts are particularly around Invoke-Command which runs a script block inside the VM under VM System context. Those Invoke-Command statements were issued to install a sequence of applications and configure the app in a certain way.

My word of advice is to avoid using Invoke-Command and use Start-Process instead.

For example:

Invoke-Command -ScriptBlock { “C:\Temp\Setup.exe /q”}

You would think this would go and install that Setup.exe program, but it many cases it doesn’t and you find there is a missing element in your application sequence.

A better and more effective way of doing this is:

Start-Process “C:\Temp\Setup.exe” -ArgumentList “/q” -Wait

This would ensure running of the Setup.exe installer and waiting for finish flag before it continues with the rest of your Azure CSE script, which the Invoke-Command doesn’t offer.

Simple things like that would make you script neater especially in managing error/failure codes during the install of the application.

To be honest, I would prefer the DSC way if you have the time and knowledge.

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Windows 2016 with Containers

Windows 2016 has a feature to add Windows and Hyper-V containers, both with their own advantages and limitations but I am not going to go over that in detail here. Below is a diagram that shows the architecture of each implementation and as we can see straight away that the Kernel is shared when using Windows Server Containers, hence it can only run Windows based instructions. This implementation doesn’t provide any security boundaries between containers as it exposes instructions of a container to the host and to all other VM’s, I wont go to comparision.

Windowscontainer

What I wanted to go over is a recent deployment that I have gone through which experienced some unusual behaviours.

Using Windows Server 2016 with Containers image from Azure gallery, provisioned a new Windows 2016 host, but that host on completion was missing Host Network Service (HNS network adaptor), this adaptor will be used for any communication that is external to the host, for example accessing the Internet.

The host was showing that Docker host network was bound to an adaptor that wasn’t showing in Network Connections and as you know that we don’t have access to see the status of that network adaptor on the host VM.

Using commands below I managed to clear Docker network settings and bring that network adaptor back online.

Using Powershell ran under admin credentials:

Stop-service hns

Stop-service docker

Get-ContainerNetwork | Remove-ContainerNetwork -force

Get-NetNat | Remove-NetNat

Start-Service docker

 

Your containers should have Internet/External access.

 

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Gain access to SQL

sql_locks

Have you had instances when your DBA left you with a DB that no one has SA access rights to?

For any instance of Microsoft SQL install, including SQL Express, there is a mode which would enable a local admin on that SQL server machine to gain/assign access to DB.

 

There are few steps which you have to follow:

1. Stop all SQL services

2. Start a command prompt with Admin permissions

3. Navigate to:
C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL14.SQLEXPRESS\MSSQL\Binn

4. Run:
sqlservr.exe -m “Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio” -s SQLEXPRESS or any SQL instance name

5. Start SQL Server Management Studio as local admin and assign relevant groups/users access to DB

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StorSimple on site appliance factory reset

StorSimpleWith a recent client, we had to re-register the StorSimple physical appliance to a new instance of StorSimple device manager instance, the old instance was deleted and no longer available on Microsoft Azure (ASM).

If you attempt to run Invoke-HcsSetupWizard on the appliance, it would error with the appliance is already registered to another instance and the only way to register it to a new instance is to factory reset the device.

While resetting, the device hang up on phase 3 and wouldn’t go past that stage. After speaking to Microsoft Support, they have advised to shutdown both controllers and re-attempt to run the factory reset again which was successful in this case.

Just keep in mind that you will be losing all your device configuration and any data that you have accumulated on the device after the reset, ensure you update device after the reset.

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