Category Archives: Azure

Top 5 Azure Information Protection Limitations

Before I discuss the limitations of any product, I try my best to point out all of the things I appreciate about a product. In general, you will not hear Microsoft tell you about product limitations. I suspect it is a culture thing. But then again, do you expect a new car salesman to tell you about the limitations of the car they are trying to sell you?

So let me first point out that I have been a longtime fan of Microsoft’s Rights Management Services (RMS) which debuted in Windows Server 2003. As the product evolved over the years into what is now called Azure Information Protection, I became an even greater admirer of the product as well as the team within Microsoft responsible for its development.

A key milestone came when RMS was ported to Azure, because it became easy to enable (with one mouse click), eliminating the effort to configure servers on-premises, and especially the underlying Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) environment that RMS required.

With the rise in popularity of Office 365 (100 Million subscribers), many began to take advantage of RMS because it is included for free in the most popular business subscription (known as the “E3” license).

One of my favorite RMS features came in September of 2015, when Microsoft announced Document Tracking and Revocation capabilities (here). I’m still amazed by how cool this feature is, allowing you to see a map of the world and the location of where your documents have been opened!

Another key milestone in the evolution of RMS came when they acquired Secure Islands (announced by Takeshi Numoto on 11/9/2015). Six months later, Dan Plastina (@TheRMSGuy) first announced on 6/22/16 (here) that RMS would be rebranded as “Azure Information Protection” (AIP) and later reached general availability in October 2016 (here).

AIP is a truly jaw-dropping experience. As you are authoring content, the document will automatically be labeled and encrypted with a strong 2048 bit encryption key on-the-fly if sensitive information is found (ex: credit card numbers, social security numbers, or data you define as sensitive using regular expressions).

As a consultant, my job is to listen to customer problems, and then recommend solutions. This leads me to the title of this post – AIP Limitations.

Azure Information Protection Limitations

1. External Sharing using AIP with business partners who are still running Office 2010 (or older) needs improvement

When you protect a document with AIP, and you want to send that document to an external user, things go smoothly if they are running Office 2013 or Office 2016.

However, a lot of companies still run Office 2010. This is what their experience would look like:

“Dear External User,

We would like to share sensitive documents with you. If you are running Office 2013 or 2016, and if you have an Office 365 subscription, then you should be able to open the attachments without a problem.

Otherwise, if you are using Office 2010, you will need the following before you can open the documents we send you:

      1. Local Administrator Rights are required to install the Azure Information Protection Client
      2. Download and install the Azure Information Protection Client
        1. If you are running Windows 7, you first need to install KB 2533623 (This will require a reboot)
        2. Note: Office 2010 require Microsoft Online Services Sign-in Assistant version 7.250.4303.0. This version is included with the AIP client installation, however, if you have a later version of the Sign-in Assistant, uninstall it before you install the Azure Information Protection client.
        3. Note: The AIP Client will automatically install the .NET 4.6.2 Framework, so be sure not to deploy this on any machine that has known compatibility issues with the 4.6.2 framework.
      3. Be advised, that in some cases, even if you follow all of the steps above, you may still get an error message when attempting to open an RMS or AIP protected document in Office 2010. The work-around is to create a few registry entries for the service location as documented in the AIP Client Admin guide (here).

If you do not have an Office 365 Subscription, you will need to sign up for “RMS for Individuals” (this is a free identity platform that allows you to open the documents we send to you).”

2. Ad/Hoc External Sharing using an AIP Label is not possible

Let’s say you get a call from a new customer or business partner who wants you to send them a Microsoft Word document. The document is too large to email so you host it in online storage (ex: OneDrive, SharePoint, Dropbox, etc). You might be tempted to click an AIP label that says “Business Partner” or “Client Confidential” but that would not work in the current implementation of AIP, because the Labels must be associated with an RMS Template, and RMS Templates must be associated with Mail Enabled Security Groups, and those Groups must contain a Contact Object. Since normal end-users cannot create contact objects in their Active Directory or Azure Active Directory, they must submit a helpdesk ticket for the external contact to be created, then added to the appropriate Mail Enabled Security Group. You get the picture that this process just broke down fast. Essentially, there is no way with AIP today to associate a label with ad/hoc external sharing. Labels can only be used for defined and known business partners who are pre-configured as contact objects in a group associated with an RMS template that is then tied to a Label. It would be just as exhausting to implement this in a process as it was to type this all out I am sure!

3. There is no Mac OSX client for Azure Information Protection.
The work-around, as best as I can tell, is to have Mac users try the legacy “RMS Sharing App” for Mac OSX. This was the application written before the AIP client was released.

4.In April of 2016, there was a vulnerability discovered in the RMS technology that allows someone with View rights to escalate their privilege and change the document by stripping RMS from the document (which could be potentially undesirable if they then re-share that document with unauthorized parties, or if that document is exposed in the wild (ex: lost/stolen laptop, ransomware, etc). This is documented on Wikipedia here, and proof of concept code is available for testing from GitHub (here). This issue isn’t too great in my opinion, because it requires that one of the named users who is authorized to view the document has to compromise the document. In other words, an unauthorized party cannot break the 2048 bit encryption.

5.OneDrive.
Protecting documents with AIP or RMS automatically when they are uploaded to OneDrive is currently not a great idea. First, Microsoft has removed the navigation button permitting you to do this, so you would have to find the direct hyperlink to the document library settings to enable IRM on your OneDrive document library. Even if you were to do this, it would prevent you from sharing any of those documents with outside users because there is no straight-forward way to make a OneDrive library’s IRM settings understand external users. It essentially ends the ad/hoc sharing capabilities of OneDrive. Perhaps that is why MSFT removed the navigation button for site settings in OneDrive.

Guidance

So given these limitations, what do I recommend?

  • I recommend you use AIP to protect sensitive information that should be accessible to internal employees, or known/named individuals from business partners. When communicating with the business partner for the first time, try to find out if they use Office 2010, and if so, warn them that it will be a rocky road for them (see sample email template above). Fortunately, Office 2013 and 2016 seem to natively open AIP encrypted documents.
  • If you need to share documents with encryption in transit, then use Office 365 Message Encryption (OME). The limitation of OME (today) is that the recipient can save the document and do anything they want to it (the encryption does not follow the attachments after the recipient saves it to their computer). This will be resolved with the upcoming Secure Email feature that was announced at the 2016 Ignite conference.
  • If you need to securely share emails and documents with Gmail users, then wait for the upcoming Secure Email solution that was announced at the 2016 Microsoft ignite conference (watch the video here, starting around the 46 minute mark).

Roadmap

Will things get better? In many cases, yes, however, not for the external user who needs to edit the AIP/RMS protected document using Office 2010.
The proposed Secure Email solution will make it seemless for any user to VIEW AIP/RMS protected documents by providing a web-browser experience. But if the business process requires the external user to make changes and send those back, my understanding is that capability is not going to be in Secure Email when it is released (from what I have heard anyway). To be clear, if the external user is given edit rights, and if they are still on Office 2010, they are going to have the same pain points as I described above with Office 2010.

AIP Licensing

AIP can be licensed in one of four methods:

  1. You can get AIP as a standalone license for $2/user/month.
  2. You can get AIP as part of the Azure Active Directory Premium P1 or P2 license families.
  3. You can get AIP in the Enterprise Mobility + Security E3 or E5 license families.
  4. Or you can get AIP as part of the Secure Productive Enterprise E3 or E5 license families.

If you just need the original RMS capabilities (encryption, access control and policy enforcement) then you can license that individually or as part of the Office 365 E3 license.

If you need the Document Tracking and Revocation Capabilities, you’ll find that in the Enterprise Mobility + Security E3 or Secure Productive Enterprise E3.

Note: AIP automatic labeling is an advanced feature that requires the AADP P2, or EMS E5, or SPE E5 license. Otherwise, the down-level version of AIP requires the user to manually label documents they create.

Moving from Azure Classic to Azure Resource Manager (ARM)

Microsoft has made great strides it making it easy to migrate from Azure Classic (aka IaaS 1.0) to Azure Resource Manager, (aka ARM or what I consider IaaS v2.0).

At a very high level, the process involves migrating the vNet first, which automatically migrates the underlying VM’s. Then the next step is to migrate the storage accounts.

This process is straight-forward and easy to follow the step-by-step guidance in PowerShell (here) and there is a nice video walkthrough (here).

One interesting thing I observed is that the vNet, VM and Storage account will all have the “-Migrated” name appended to the end of the previously named object.

At this time it doesn’t appear possible to rename a resource group (feature request is marked as ‘pending’ on this website here).

The work-around is to create a new resource group and then migrate the migrated objects into the new group.

Avoid Cisco Meraki for S2S VPN with Azure

Just got off a phone call with some engineers at Microsoft who informed me that both Cisco and Microsoft have mutually agreed that using a Cisco Meraki firewall is not recommended for creating site to site (S2S) VPN tunnels to Microsoft Azure.

The issue is the Phase 1 IKE Timeout value that the Meraki uses is not supported.

This was rumored to be fixed in late 2016, and then later in a firmware update in February 2017, but as of yet, we have not seen it yet.

If anyone has updated information on this please post it in the comments as I have a few clients running the Meraki’s.

Thanks,

Joe

Top five reasons to consider Azure DNS

Azure DNS was first announced at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago in May of 2015. I was there in the conference session when it was announced, because I confess – I love DNS. In this blog post I will provide some criteria that can help you determine whether Azure DNS is right for your external DNS zones. Warning: This is a 300 level article – if you do not have an intermediate understanding of DNS, I recommend first reading this article (here).

Since Azure DNS was announced almost 12 months ago, the only administration interface for Azure DNS was PowerShell. This limited the early adoption of Azure DNS to hyper enthusiasts (like myself) or people who look for any excuse to use PowerShell (you know who you are!). Microsoft announced today that Azure DNS can now be managed in the new Azure Portal, which is now sure to increase interest and adoption of this service.  So if you are managing your DNS today, why switch to Azure DNS?  Here are a few principles that I suggest for guiding this decision:

  1. Are your external DNS zones hosted on an unsupported version of Windows Server? If so, then this would be an opportunity to migrate to a supported solution. I have witnessed many environments where external DNS is running on Windows 2003 and even Windows 2000. The scary thing is these are internet-facing services, and since these operating systems are no longer receiving security updates, this could be an open door for hackers or worms to infiltrate into the environment.
  2. Are all of your external DNS servers in the same physical location? If so, then Azure DNS provides an opportunity to migrate to a more resilient solution since Azure DNS is automatically load balanced across multiple regions.
  3. Have you heard of a routing technique called Anycast? Unless you have deployed your own external DNS infrastructure across the world, it will be hard to beat the performance that Azure DNS offers because of its implementation of “Anycast.” DNS queries automatically route to the closest name servers for the best possible performance. And this translates into better application performance since application latency won’t be waiting on DNS responses. For a nice PDF of how Anycast works (click here).
  4. Does the idea or need to programmatically create DNS records in PowerShell downright excite you? Then Azure DNS is for you. Get your geek on with this nice walkthrough by Alexandre Brisebois. Just. Because. You. Can. https://alexandrebrisebois.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/moving-to-azure-dns/
  5. Do you need very short TTL values? Some DNS providers like Network Solutions will not allow you to create a record with anything less than a 60 minute TTL. They do this because they do not charge you by query, so they would prefer to have less DNS traffic hitting their network. Microsoft, on the other hand, charges by individual query, so it benefits them to offer low TTL values, since every time the record expires from DNS cache, that results in another query and therefore more $$ to MSFT. Smart.

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Pricing

Azure DNS is currently in preview and prices below reflect a 50% preview discount

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https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/dns/

Tips

  • Use DNSStuff.com to create a baseline of your current DNS performance before considering switching to Azure DNS. Then run the same report after you switch to see if performance improved favorably.
  • Configure TTL values of 3600 (60 minutes)  to keep the DNS queries low and therefore your price low. Lower TTL values will give you greater flexibility to quickly redirect traffic to another host, with the tradeoff of increased cost.

Limits

Contact Support if you need the limits below increased. These are the limits during preview, so they may change when Azure DNS reaches general availability.

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https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/azure-subscription-service-limits/#dns-limits

Definitions

– A record set is two records with the same name. For example, two A records with the name ‘WWW’ pointing to two separate IP addresses is a single record set. You can have up to 20 ‘WWW’ records in a single record set.

– A record is a type of DNS entry such as ‘A’ ‘MX’ ‘CNAME’ ‘TXT’ ‘SRV’ and so on. You can have up to 1000 records per Azure DNS zone.

 

Getting started with Azure DNS

Disclaimer: DO not proceed on a production DNS zone –> this service is in Beta and the information below is for educational purposes only for LAB/Testing environments. Use at your own risk.

1. Create your new Zone in Azure DNS first.

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2. Create DNS Records in your new zone

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You can use the new GUI method when you have just a single record to update, but when you want to do bulk administration, . First, you have to have the right PowerShell modules installed and then logon to your Azure Tenant: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/dns-getstarted-create-dnszone/

Then once you have powershell connected, a minimum of three lines of code are required to create a single record in your DNS zone. For example, to create an A record for WWW to point to 1.1.1.1, you would run these three commands:

$rs = New-AzureRmDnsRecordSet -Name “www” -RecordType “A” -ZoneName “contoso.com” -ResourceGroupName “Website” -Ttl 3600

Add-AzureRmDnsRecordConfig -RecordSet $rs -Ipv4Address 1.1.1.1

Set-AzureRmDnsRecordSet -RecordSet $rs
For more information on the PowerShell syntax, see: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/dns-getstarted-create-recordset/

TIP:  If you were previously hosting your DNS zone on Godaddy, you can export your zone to a file for easy importing into Azure.

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5. When you are happy with your Zone then you are ready to point the world at it. This is done through Delegation. Read: “Delegate your domain to Azure” here for more info:
https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/dns-domain-delegation/

For example, in Godaddy, this is done in the Manage DNS and Settings tab > Manage.

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These name servers can be found in your new Azure DNS settings here:

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Summary

Azure DNS is still in preview, so Microsoft’s official recommendation is to wait until it reaches the generally available milestone before migrating production zones onto it. However, if you think you would benefit from it, you can begin experimenting with it now to gain familiarity with it.

Often, hosting external DNS with your DNS registrar is free, but it may not always have the best performance. For example, when I queried the authoritative name servers for my DNS records, I received a 100ms TCP response. After switching to Azure DNS, queries against my DNS zone improved to 50ms! Therefore, Azure DNS might be worth the price when you consider the reduced latency in DNS lookups for your domain name, or the increase high availability compared to hosting it yourself.

ExpressRoute Providers in Southern California

If you work in Southern California, you may be interested in finding out which telecommunications providers have connectivity into Microsoft Data Centers such as Azure and Office 365.

The list below ranks providers based on their proximity to Southern California. For the full list of locations and providers, scroll down.

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Note: This is not an endorsement for any particular provider, but just a list of those who have local connections near Los Angeles.

Need help with your next Office 365 Project? We can help you deploy any or all of the 21 features Included in Office 365 for a flat rate per month.  Contact us at Hello@PatriotConsultingTech.com.

The full list of providers is located here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/expressroute-locations/

Using the new Microsoft OMS to monitor Active Directory Health from Azure

Microsoft Operations Management Suite, which runs in Azure, can check the health of on-premises Active Directory, including replication health.

Why is it so important to check AD replication health? Well, if you are responsible for managing Active Directory then you know how easy it is for AD to become unhealthy, and you also know how problematic it can be to restore health. For example, a power outage that results in an Active Directory server going offline for longer than tombstone life of 180 days can cause ‘lingering objects’ to have to be removed.

So the best practice is to use monitoring tools to make sure AD remains healthy, so that you don’t have to spend long hours repairing AD.

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Need help installing Microsoft OMS? We are here to help. Drop us a line at Hello@PatriotConsultingTech.com

Azure AD Connect (Dirsync) Password Sync taking too long

I was assisting a customer who reported that Azure AD Connect (aka Dirsync) was taking too long for passwords to synchronize. It was such a huge lag that they assumed it was broken entirely.

Upon inspecting the Application Event Log on the Dirsync server for event ID 656, I observed a large gap between when the password was set on the Domain Controller and when the Event log on the Dirsync server picked up the change.

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This is not expected because the synchronization service polls on-premises AD for password changes every 2 minutes for password updates. The overhead to then hash the password, transfer it to Azure AD’s connector, and received on the far end is an additional minute (if all the stars are aligned). So three minutes is a reasonable expectation for passwords to sync to Azure AD. However, 14 minutes? Something ain’t right!

Upon inspection in the MIIS client, I observed that the domain controller that Dirsync was connecting to was 62 milliseconds away, and *not* the nearby DC in the same site as Dirsync. This is viewable in the ‘last used’ field in the screen shot below.

The Fix

Configuring Azure AD Connect to use preferred domain controllers solved the problem.

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Results

This reduced the synchronization lag from 14 minutes to 40 seconds! That is a 95% percent reduction in lag!

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Need help with an Office 365 Project? Visit our website at www.PatriotConsultingTech.com or drop us a line at hello@patriotconsultingtech.com

When to use an Instance Level IP (ILPIP) in Azure

Instance Level IP addresses (ILPIP) are distinct from other types of IP addresses in Azure and have a very specific purpose and benefit. They are limited to 5 per Azure Subscription and intended to permit applications such as passive FTP to function, which requires a lot of open ports. They bypass the load balancer and firewall, allowing direct access to the VM. They do not take the place of the VIP assigned to the load balancer, but they can only be added alongside a VIP. At this time, an ILPIP cannot be added to VM’s that have multiple NICs (yet?).

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Instance Level IP’s cannot be reserved and therefore are lost when the VM is shut down. They can dynamically register to a hostname that can be used in a CNAME record, so that if the IP changes, you are still fine as long as you point things to the CNAME record and not the IP address.  Another benefit is that the source IP address comes from the VM rather than from the IP of the load balancer.

Something to be aware of is that ILPIP’s do not use the Endpoints feature in Azure, and therefore all internet ports are open – requiring the use of a host-based firewall to be running on the VM to filter traffic.

You can assign ILPIP to an existing or new VM by piping set-AzurePublicIP as follows:

Get-AzureVM -ServiceName ftp01 -Name ftp01 | Set-AzurePublicIP -PublicIPName ftp01pip01 -IdleTimeoutInMinutes 4 -DomainNameLabel ftp01pip01 | Update-AzureVM

Then the CNAME record would point to the PublicIPFQDNs that is revealed when you run a get-AzureVM command. For example: ftppip01.ftp01.cloudapp.net

To request an ILPIP during VM creation you would use this command:

New-AzureService -ServiceName FTPService -Location "Central US"
$image = Get-AzureVMImage|?{$_.ImageName -like "*RightImage-Windows-2012R2-x64*"}
New-AzureVMConfig -Name FTPInstance -InstanceSize Small -ImageName $image.ImageName `
| Add-AzureProvisioningConfig -Windows -AdminUsername adminuser -Password MyP@ssw0rd!! `
| Set-AzurePublicIP -PublicIPName ftpip | New-AzureVM -ServiceName FTPService -Location "Central US"

References:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/virtual-networks-instance-level-public-ip/

http://blog.siliconvalve.com/2015/06/29/setting-instance-level-public-ips-on-azure-vms/

Containers in Windows Server 2016

Mark Russinovich demonstrates containers in Windows Server 2016. There are enhancements to the windows 2016 server kernel that allows multiple instances of user mode processes.

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/an-early-look-containers-windows-server-2016-hyper-v-and-azure-with-mark-russinovich/

After watching the 15 minute video, here is the quiz:  what is the difference between a Windows Server 2016 Container and a Windows Server 2016 HyperV Container?

Answer: Hyper-V Containers provide isolation whereas Server 2016 Containers do not isolate the container processes form the host.

Which is right for you? A HyperV container or a Windows Server container?  Mark answers that question at 9:45.

When does a Windows Server container make sense over a HyperV container? It seems that when you do not require isolation, you would use Windows Server Containers.

Both of the above options are relevant for on-premises data centers. A 3rd option to evaluate is Azure Container Services, which is what cloud first companies will select first.

Azure AD Connect Password Sync fails for multiple forests

In two different environments I have reproduced behavior where Azure AD Connect does not synchronize passwords when it is configured for multiple source AD forests.

The fix has been to change the ‘Configure Directory Partitions’ credential setting from ‘Use default forest credentials’ to ‘Alternate credentials for this directory partition’

No service restart or reboot required. The way to test it is to reset a password and then monitor the Application event log on the Azure AD Connect Server. Within 2 to 3 minutes you should see an event log entry that the password has been successfully set.

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