Windows 10 Fall update 1709 Security Feature 2: Exploit Guard - Controlled Folder Access

Posted by Ahmed Nabil | 0 comments»
Today we will discuss another new security feature released in windows 10 fall update 1709 which is the controlled folder access. This feature was mainly introduced as a step to try stop or contain Ransomware attacks on endpoint clients by protecting specific folders from unauthorized access by malicious apps or processes.

This protection is real time and will block instantly such malicious activity and give you immediate warning message on your desktop notifications.

When you enable the controlled folder access feature, it will protect specific folders by default as your desktop, documents, favorites, pictures and videos. however you can add any other folder to get protected as well.

If you received a notification that an app was blocked access to one of  your protected folders You can allow this app if you are aware of its usage and you are sure its a business legitimate app.

How to enable Controlled Folder Access:

  1. From the Windows Defender Security Center - Virus and Threat Protection settings (Check below screen shots)                                                                                                                                                                           

  2. After Clicking on the Virus and Threat Protection Settings - scroll down to the Controlled Folder access and enable it.                                                                                                                                                                       
  3. Click on Protected folders to give you list for current default protected folders or click Allow an app through Controlled folder access to allow legitimate app that might not be known to Microsoft and is getting blocked.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Configuring Group Policy to enable Controlled Folder Access:

  1. You can use powershell as usual to enable controlled folder access and for enterprise users group policy can be implemented by editing the Computer Configuration - Policies - Administrative Templates - Windows Components - Windows Defender Antivirus - Windows Defender Exploit Guard - Controlled Folder Access                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  2. Please remember to extend your AD Group policy templates with the new 1709 templates as mentioned in part 1 of this series.                                                                                                                                          
  3. To enable it you need to edit the "Configure Controlled Folder Access" settings as shown below, either to enable it or keep in Audit mode (Changes to protected folder will be allowed but audited which means you can view these changes in the Event logs)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  4. The other two settings is to add another protected folder other than the default ones and to allow specific app to access the protected folder.

How to view Controlled Folder Access Events:

  1. Download the Exploit Guard Evaluation Package  (Zip folder that need to be extracted)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  2. Open Event Viewer - Action - Import Custom View                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  3. Open the downloaded Evaluation Package and pick cfa-events.xml                                                                                                                                                                                                    
  4. Confirm the selection and add it to the custom view                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  5. It will appear under the Event Viewer custom view as shown below                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  6. Upon checking some logs, i noticed that the Controlled folder access blocked Adobe to make a change on a file on my desktop and here comes the value of the Audit mode. Adobe is a legitimate application and IDM i have PDF files that need to be edited on the desktop. If Audit mode was set, the change/edit will be done however i will be notified in the logs to later on add Adobe as approved app to the list of apps in the controlled folder Access.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Controlled Folder Access (CFA) is another useful tool introduced in Windows 10 1709 tackling mainly Ransomware problems. Hope you enjoyed this post and see on the next feature.

For more information on the first blog post please check the below Link

Windows 10 Fall update 1709 Security Feature 1: Windows Defender Application Guard

Posted by Ahmed Nabil | 6 comments»
Microsoft celebrated my birthday and released the new Windows 10 fall update on October 17, 2017 with many new exciting features and updates especially in the security field which will be our main concern in this series of articles. My intent is to go through each new Security feature targeted to Endpoint users (Windows 10 users) one by one in a separate blog post and we will start today with the Defender Application Guard.

What is the Windows Defender Application Guard ?

Windows Defender Application Guard is a new security feature in Windows 10 1709 that is integrated in Edge Browser (only Edge for now) that allows you and your Organization users to browse suspicious/un-trusted sites and check them without affecting or exposing your Operating System to any harm.

This happens with the beauty of Virtual machines (Windows Hyper-V) by opening the Edge browser in application guard mode which is simply opening the browser in an isolated virtual machine that totally isolates this web site/sites opened by the defender application guard mode from reaching your Operating System core components as well as your files and data. Once the Edge browser is closed (Virtual Machine turned off), all the site data opened is the browser is deleted and completely wiped.

What are the modes of Defender Application Guard ?

Windows Defender Application Guard comes in two flavors:

  1. Standalone: The user will manually start the Edge in Application Guard mode when he is feeling suspicious regarding opening a specific website and would like to test it in secure mode. There are no policies (Organization forced Group policies) governing this, its just the user perspective.                                                                                                                                                                                          
  2. Enterprise: The organization will set rules and policies to identify trusted sites and un-trusted sites. When users tries to open one of these un-trusted sites, these URLs will be loaded in the Application Guard Edge mode (Isolated Virtual Machine)

How to Install Application Guard ?

In General application Guard  requires a computer capable to run virtualization, remember the Application guard will leverage the Virtual Machine technology to isolate your suspicious URLs. Machines need to be 64 bit with Virtualization extensions support and some RAM for the Virtual machine (Microsoft recommendation is to have a system with at least 8 GB RAM)

Application Guard is disabled and you need to enable it from Control Panel - Turn Windows Features on or off.

After enabling the feature, it will get installed and requires reboot.

You can install it also using Powershell and link it to group policy if needed for mass distribution.

For more info check the below article 

How will the user open Edge Application Guard (Standalone) ?

As agreed before, in the standalone mode, the user will manually open the Edge browser in Application Guard mode to examine and open any suspicious URL

  1. The User will open normal Edge browser - Settings - New Application Guard Window                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  2. It will take few minutes when you open it for the first time as it prepares the environment and loads the isolated virtual machine. Later on when you open another URL it will work faster since the environment is already set and VM is up and running.                                                                  
  3. A new Edge browser is loaded with Application Guard enabled (Top Left)

How to apply the Application Guard for Enterprise Users ?

So this is the second mode we discussed which is applying the application guard settings for the enterprise using group policies.

  1. Installation of Application Guard as discussed earlier by enabling the respective windows feature.                                                                                                                                                          
  2. For Enterprise users we will be controlling the settings using Group policies and for this reason we need to download the latest Windows 10 1709  Group policy Administrative templates (ADMX and ADML) and copy them to the Domain Controllers Central store.                                                                         
  3. To download the latest 1709 administrative template, please check the link below                                                                               
  4. By default the files will be installed under C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Group Policy\Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (1709)\PolicyDefinitions.                                                               
  5. Copy the Admx files under Local folder Policy definitions (mentioned in step 4) to the Central store (I hope everyone is using central store) Policy definitions  under \\\SYSVOL\\Policies\PolicyDefinitions                                                                  
  6. Repeat the same for the Adml files from the local folder mentioned in step 4 under PolicyDefinitions\en-US to \\\SYSVOL\\Policies\PolicyDefinitions\en-US. This will ensure your domain controllers have the latest needed templates for the network Isolation group policies.                                                                                                                                                           
  7. Next we need to set the Network Isolation policies for the computers. You need to create a new Group policy for the computers OU - Edit Policy - Computer Configuration - Policies - Administrative Templates - Network - Network Isolation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  8. There are two main settings that you need to configure as shown in the above image                                                                                                                                                                             Enterprise Resource Domain hosted in the cloud: These are enterprise approved Cloud resource domain URLs that will be opened in the normal Edge, for example * or/and *                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Domains Categorized as both work and personal: You can add list of your internal or external work domains as well as personal domains used by users to be safely opened by normal Edge browser.                                                                                                                                                       
  9.  Next step is to enable the Application Guard for Enterprise mode using group policy settings from Administrative Templates - Windows Components - Windows Defender Application Guard                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  10. Other settings in the same location (Step 9) allows you to set the behavior of copying and pasting from sites opened in Application Guard with other components in Desktop as well as print settings. You can enable or disable copying from this virtualized container to other systems.

So this concludes the first blog post in our new Windows 10 version 1709 Security features. Hopefully you are getting excited and see you on our next episode.


LepideAuditor Suite Review

Posted by Ahmed Nabil | 1 comments»
Securing the Infrastructure and company domain is one step and auditing is another step that works side by side to close any gap. Unfortunately some system admin or security admins invest time, effort and money in several solutions and devices to protect their network under the assumption that these devices or software are working out of the box with no need to continuously monitor and audit them.

Most of your domain infrastructure as Active Directory, Exchange, File servers, SQL.........etc generate a lot of log files and we as administrators tend to turn on logging for everything but the question is do you periodically check these intense detailed deep logs and the answer is that only few admins periodically check it while others will only check the log when a problem occur as User lockout, file deletion............etc

Auditing is very crucial and it need to be done periodically and not after the fact, you need to have a system that fully audit your Infrastructure and generate easy to use reports and provide the capability to customize your reports as per your domain. This will help draw a baseline of your environment and alert you with any abnormal behavior. Being proactive and fully visualizing your environment will surely pay off than being reactive.

During the last week i have been reviewing the LepideAuditor Suite and I thought of sharing my feedback for this Audit tool starting by the setup, configuration till the reporting phase.

Setup and Installation:

  1. The full auditor suite can be downloaded from Lepide website, the trial version runs for 15 days with all needed features.                                                                                                                      
  2. The Suite was installed on a Windows 10 (1703) machine.                                                                        
  3. SQL 2016 Express was installed and a DB for Lepide was created (Installed SQL Management Studio).                                                                                                                                                         
  4. Group Policy Management console need to be installed to collect/get Group policy data.                             
  5. After downloading the LepideAuditor Suite, you get a Zip folder with 4 files as shown below                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  6. I picked the LepideAuditor Suite and installed the EXE in this folder.                                                    
  7. It took me another 3 or 4 clicks (Next) and the suite was installed. The overall process is around 7-8 minutes.


  1. After Installation and opening the Lepide Icon you get prompted to either use the logged in account or another account.
  2. The Next screen is to start adding the components that you would like to Audit                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  3. For the trial purpose I picked the AD, Exchange, GP........etc components which will give you great details and deep auditing on your domain, Exchange, Usernames.....etc since everything is tied to the Active directory. For the configuration type you get the Express option and the advanced option, as the name implies the express is the quicker way to setup your domain configuration with default values and you have the flexibility to change it later from the Lepide settings. I picked the Express option to get my system up and running in few clicks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  4. Enter your domain credentials and pick the option of Auditing with or Without agent. I tried both and i can't see major difference regarding the audit data. For large Organizations with huge data activity the agent option can provide better option for data compression and reporting.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  5. I picked all options on the next configuration screen, the wizard already listed all Domain controllers, Exchange servers in the environment and Group policy servers with health monitoring and change Auditing enabled.                                                                                                                                                                                             
  6. The next step is to configure the SQL DB, I already installed SQL express on my PC and I created a DB named Lepide using the SQL Management studio. I entered my local machine details and picked the DB I created earlier.                                                                                                                                                              
  7. Finish and that's it, you have a running Auditing system for your AD, Exchange, Group Policy, User modifications in 5 clicks. LepideAuditor Suite will restart and you will get the dashboard/360view and it start pulling data within few minutes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Example of Auditing report:

I started to run several changes and check whether they are reflected in the LepideAuditor Suite, One of the changes was moving a mailbox from one Exchange DB to another Exchange DB (This is common task for Exchange admins to provide the user with better mailbox storage or even move him to the cloud)

I moved the user mailbox and after the batch move was done i checked Lepide Audit Reports - Domain - Exchange Modification Reports - MS Exchange Modification Reports - Mailbox Modifications - Mailbox Moved and it was logged as shown below.

The change is already logged in the Exchange changes from the Main Dashboard change.

Active Directory has several detailed reports including computer, user, printers, containers, OUs and many other reports.

File Server Audit Setup/Installation:

The Next thing i planned to do during my Lepide test was Auditing the file share server and the installation was straight forward as shown below:

  1. Go to Settings - Component Management and add component (File Server)                                                    
  2.  In the File server Console Settings, click on the + Icon to add the Windows File server                                                                                                                                                                        
  3. You need to enter the Server IP, Domain and User credentials.                                                                                                                              
  4. Enter the SQL settings. You can use an existing DB or create a new one to host your File Server Audit changes.Tracking.                                                                                                                                                                      
  5. The Wizard will install the agent and then Finish.  
  6. The File Server Reports in the Audit Reports are very detailed including file modifications, deletions, permissions.......etc                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  7. The first thing to test the FileServer Audit was to delete a test file from one of the shares and check the Audit Reports (File and Folder Deletion) for the File Server and it was clearly shown with all details on which file, who deleted, when..........etc                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Compliance Reports:

One very nice feature that might be required by several organizations is the compliance reports. The LepideAuditor Suite provides detailed list for several regulatory reports.                                                                            

The Reports in general in Lepide can be easily grouped, filtered as if you are playing with native SQL reporting system with enhanced GUI options and you can save all these reports to PDF or CSV.

Health Monitoring:

This a nice feature added to the Auditor Suite which monitors the health of your servers (Active Directory, Exchange........etc) and lists the general health (Processors and RAM), services status, AD DB performance, Replication status, LDAP status, NTDS counters and many other indicators. This option is not present in several other Audit tools and i find it very beneficial.


Auditing is very critical and should be thoroughly considered for all Organisations since we all depend on our systems and use them on our day to day operations, I have seen several issues that were re-mediated at early stages due to a correct audit and alerting rule. LepideAuditor Suite provides an easy to use and very simple installation and setup tool to audit your environment. The reporting will provide with huge amount of data and the nice thing is that you can customize a lot of your audit and reporting settings.

For more Information on LepideAuditor Suite -

To download LepideAuditor Suite -

Microsoft OMS: Antimalware Assessment Not Reporting/Unknown Clients

Posted by Ahmed Nabil | 2 comments»
Microsoft OMS (Operations Management Suite) offers a very nice solution in its gallery which is the Antimalware assessment.  After installing the OMS agent on all your servers (On-premise or Azure) this solution will check the Antimalware/AV status, whether its lacking real time protection, not updated............etc.

For more information on this solution please check the below link

I noticed in my environment that i have several clients with insufficient protection

After clicking the assessment for more details, i noticed that these 13 clients have status of Not Reporting. Upon checking them one by one i noticed that most of them are 2008 and 2008 R2 servers. They have Antimalware client updated and real time protection configured.  you can use ms office 2018 best evern & I suspected the AV client as some of them are not microsoft client but rather Symantec and/or Trend Micro however these clients were approved and added to the list queried by OMS

So to make the story short one of the major requirements for OMS Antimalware Assessment that these clients should have Windows Management Framework 3 or higher installed which includes Power shell V3 which is not installed by default on Server 2008R2.

So the fix was simply installing the WMF 3 update on the 2008 Servers from the below link (6.1 for 2008R2 and 6 for 2008)

After updating these clients and installing the WMF 3, i expected the issue will be resolved and they will get reporting to the OMS assessment however their status turned to be Unknown !!

A very common case for this Unknown status after checking with Microsoft team is that the WMI provider is not registered.

So the resolution is as follows:

  1. Open administrator Powershell on these Unknown computers                                                                 
  2. Ensure the "Execution Policy" allows running scripts. You can check it by running get-executionpolicy                                                                                                                                           
  3. Import the needed Power Shell module by running                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Import-module "$env:ProgramFiles\Microsoft Security Client\MpProvider\MpProvider.psd1"
  4. Run the command  Get-MProtComputerStatus                                                                                          
  5. Most probably you will get invalid Namespace error                                                                               
  6. If so then you need to run the below command to register the WMI provider                                
    Register-CimProvider.exe -ProviderName ProtectionManagement -Namespace root\microsoft\ProtectionManagement -Path "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Security Client\ProtectionMgmt.dll" -Impersonation True -HostingModel LocalServiceHost -SupportWQL -ForceUpdate                                                                                                                                                                                  
  7. This will register the ProtectionManagement provider and fix the agent Unknown problem.                    
  8. If you changed the execution policy to allow running scripts, you may need to turn it back to the default restricted mode or at least remotesigned.

Hopefully this post is useful for anyone encountering the same issue.

Server Manager Refresh Failed: Call was Cancelled by the Message Filter

Posted by Ahmed Nabil | 0 comments»
Lately I noticed that the server manager of one of the Windows 2012 R2 File servers refresh is failing continuously, a normal reboot and normal checks/scans didn't fix the problem and i ended having the below screen shot.

The details of the failure was "Call was cancelled by the message filter"

I have noticed in the event viewer that the below error is repeated all the way in the server event viewer (Event ID 1000 - Faulting application Cscript.exe)

The Server Manager wasn't the only one with error but the File Server Resource Manager (FSRM) MMC returned error when i opened it and it was unable to connect to the WMI repository.

So after extensive search the most recommended solution was to recompile and refresh the MOF files on the Windows 2012R2 server. Several people reported that it didn't work with them so i am sharing below the exact steps i did to work it out.

  1. Ensure all MMC including Server Manager is closed.                                                                                        
  2. Open Elevated CMD prompt                                                                                                                      
  3. Navigate to C:\Windows\Ssytem32\wbem\AutoRecover (Its very important to run it from the AutoRecover folder and not the wbem root.                                                                                               
  4. Type for /f %s in ('dir /b *.mof *.mfl') do mofcomp %s                                                                                       
  5. It will start Parsing the MOF files (one by one) till the end as shown in the below screenshot                                                                                                                                                                                          
  6. You should get the done confirmation after each MOF file is parsed. If it hanged on "Storing data in the repository" for long time with no action then you need to kill the "WMI Provider Host" from the Task Manager as shown below. As soon as the WMI provider task is ended the above command that was hanged will continue running without any problem.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  7. Reboot the Server

After rebooting the server the Server Manager opened and refreshed its status without any problem as well as other MMC as the File Server Resource Manager.

Hopefully this might be beneficial for users facing the same issue.

Microsoft Windows Defender ATP Protection Step by Step implementation and Configuration - Part 2

Posted by Ahmed Nabil | 3 comments»
On part 1 of this series i went through the configuration of the new Windows Defender ATP service, in this blog post i will move forward and try a demo attack and how its analyzed in the ATP portal.

For more Info please check Part 1

The main goal of this article is to understand how the attacks are reported and how to analyze and move through the ATP portal. Microsoft did a good job and provided a Do IT Yourself (DIY) document for any user who is undergoing ATP trial. These are safe Scenarios with no harm to test and explore the functionality of ATP (Only to be used on test environments)

So based on this DIY attack scenario document, the attack sequence is as follows:

  1. User will receive a link in the email (Typical type of attack) that will ask him to download a normal word file. This "Fake" word document has a bad fake macro that drops malicious executable file on your machine.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Few points to consider here is that the attacker will search on the best user who can click this link without hesitation. The attacker need to target specific profile users who won't take security seriously. The number one source to get this information on your users, their interests is the social media as LinkedIn and Facebook. User might be huge football fan and the whole document/process will be geared towards this interest (Targeted attacks). A very nice tool that can help you in scanning each and every link in your email is the Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection which is different that the Defender ATP as i explained in my first blog.                                                                              
  2. This executable will open a backdoor that allows the attacker to run commands on the victim machine. In our test scenario (Microsoft DIY document) it will open Power Shell.                                                                
  3. Last step will be running couple of reconnaissance commands, copying few files and getting some system info to complete the scenario. In real life scenarios this can be wiping your hard disk or encrypting it (Ransomware)

So in our case i received the file, opened it and its done, the executable will run and session will be open with the attacker server and i am completely hacked.

So let us take a look on the ATP Portal dashboard after simulating the attack.

An active alert is displayed showing that a Right to Left Override technique is used. Right to left is an encoding mechanism for those who writes from Right to Left as the Arabic Language, the problem is that you can use this method to hide something bad and show it in another state. In our case the malware was hidden in this file and using this technique it was shown to users as word file which they didn't suspect and opened it.

For more info on the RLO, please check the below link

You can click on this warning which will dive in more details on how this attack occurred and how it was triggered on the user machine and which applications were used........etc

This will give you more info on the attack and how it was triggered on the user, starting by getting it from outlook.exe, then opening the email and clicking on the attachment which opened the word file with the malware that loaded the powershell. This is a complete detailed tree of the attack process using the RLO technique.

We can also check the machines and open this suspected machines to check other event as shown below:

The machine view will display all attacks, warnings and event on this machine. Other stages of our attack scenario is listed here. The RLO technique, Hiding files, running suspicious Power shell and running some commands (The whole picture)

Of course you can configure the ATP to send you email alerts once these attacks are listed and reported.

One important thing to note about Windows Defender ATP is that its an EDR product (Endpoint Detection and Response). Its a behavior based and it takes some time to detect these attacks that other real time protection tools as Antivirus, Firewalls........etc.

Detection will vary based on the complexity of the attack. If its a simple attack it will be displayed on the ATP portal in no time. If its very complex it will take some time before it show up on the portal as it need more time for analysis.

ATP team is working hard on improving this accuracy and adding integration to other services as Office 365 and Microsoft ATA solution.

I would highly recommend going on a trial and checking this nice solution. The industry average standard to detect a breach without EDR is 146 days so definitely detecting them in few hours using ATP will add more defense to your current environment.

Hope this post was helpful and enjoy your ATP trial.