LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE is a gem

Introduction

The registry value LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE is a gem. It is found under the HKLM\SOFTWARE hive in the key \Microsoft\AzureMfa. It plays a critical part to get the NPS extension for Azure MFA to work in real-life scenarios.

LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE is a gem

For the NPS extension for Azure MFA to work we need to have a match between the User Principal Name (UPN) in the on-premises Active Directory and in Azure Active Directory (AzureAD). The mapping between those two values is not always one on one. You can have Azure AD Connect use different a attribute to populate the Azure Active Directory UPN than the on-premises UPN.

There are many reasons you can need to do so and it happens a lot in real-world environments. Changing a UPN is possible but not always in the manner one wants. Sometimes these reasons are technical, political, or process-driven. In the end, you don’t want to break other processes, confuse your users or upset the powers that be. No matter what the reason, what can you don when you cannot change the UPN to make them match up?

LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE is a gem

When you have installed the NPS extension for Azure MFA you will find part of its configuration in the registry. In there you can add values or leverage existing ones. One of those is LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE. It allows using the NPS extension for Azure MFA despite the fact the UPN for users does not match between on-premises Active Directory and the UPN in Azure Active Directory.

What it does is instead of sending the on-premises UPN to Azure AD it uses an alternate value. The trick is the select the attribute that was used to populate the Azure AD UPN in scenarios where these do not match. In our example that is the mail attribute.

AD connect uses the mail attribute to populate the Azure AD UPN for our users. So we have [email protected] there.

AD DS mail attribute set to a different value than the UPN.

In our example here we assume that we cannot add an alternate UPN suffix to our Active Directory and change the users to that. Even if we could, the dots in the user name would require a change there. That could get messy, confuse people, break stuff etc. So that remains at [email protected]

Our AD DS UPN is set to the domain name suffix and the account name has no dots.

When we have the NPS extension for Azure MFA set up correctly and functioning we can set the LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE to “mail” and it will use that to validate the user in Azure and send an MFA challenge.

LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE to the rescue

Need help configuring the NPS extension for Azure MFA ?

By the way, if your need help configuring the NPS extension for Azure MFA you can read these two articles for inspiration.

Conclusion

There are a lot of moving parts to get an RD Gateway deployment with NPS extension for Azure MFA to work. It would be a pity to come to the conclusion it takes a potentially disruptive change to a UPN, whether on-premises and/or in Azure is required for it to work. Luckily there is some flexibility in how you configure the NPS extension for Azure MFA via its registry keys. In that respect, LDAP_ALTERNATE_LOGINID_ATTRIBUTE is a gem!

MFA for a highly available RD Gateway

MFA for a highly available RD Gateway

Recently I decided to write up a couple of articles on how to set up MFA for a highly available RD Gateway. Why? Because so much information on the internet is fragmented and as such incomplete. So I wanted a reference document for myself. As I was making that document I realized I needed to explain the why and not just the how. The “why” is what helps people support and troubleshoot the solution during its life cycle.

The above, in combination with me being a verbose son of * led to 44 pages of information. So, I decided to publish it as a two-part article series.

MFA for a highly available RD Gateway
Figure 1: MFA for a highly available RD Gateway

You can find the articles here Transition a Highly Available RD Gateway to Use the NPS Extension for Azure MFA – Phase I and Transition a highly available RD Gateway to use the NPS Extension for Azure MFA – Phase II

Why and when should you read them?

If you have RD Gateway running and you have no MFA solution set up for it, I highly recommend you head over to read these two articles. That is especially true when your RD Gateways solution is a high availability (HA) deployment with an RD Gateway farm behind a load balancer. In that case, you want your MFA components to be HA as well! For some reason, so many guides on the internet ignore or brush over HA very cavalierly. That is one thing I hope these two articles remediate.

Next to that, it has many details on every aspect of the deployment to make sure you get it up and running successfully and correctly.

Finally, I present you with a collection of troubleshooting information and tools to help you figure out where the problem is so you can find a way to fix it.

That’s it. I really think it can help many of you out there. I hope it does.

SMB over QUIC POC

SMB over QUIC POC

I have had the distinct pleasure of being one of the first people to implement a SMB over QUIC POC. It was in a proof of concept I did with Windows Server 2022 Azure Edition in public preview.

That was a fun and educational excercise. As a result, I learned a lot. As a result, I decided to write a lab and test guide, primarily for my own reference. But also, to share my experience with others.

SMB over QUIC POC
So happy I did this POC and I am very happy with the results!

You can read the lab guide in a two part series of articles. SMB over QUIC: How to use it – Part I | StarWind Blog (starwindsoftware.com) and SMB over QUIC Testing Guide – Part II | StarWind Blog (starwindsoftware.com)

I am convinded it will fill a need for people that require remote access to SMB file shares without a VPN. Next to that, the integration with the KDC proxy service make it a Kerberos integrated solution. In addition, the KDC Prosy service has the added benefit of allowing for remote password changes.

If you need to get up to speed on what SMB over QUIC is all about I refer your to my article SMB over QUIC Technology | StarWind Blog (starwindsoftware.com). I’m sure that will bring you up to speed.

Finally, I hope you will find these articles useful. I’m pretty sure they will help you with your own SMB over QUIC POC and testing.

Thank your for reading!

Symbolic Link to an Azure File Share

Symbolic link to an Azure file share

We recently used a symbolic link to an Azure file share to transparently replace a local folder in which data sets are cached for download. That means that the existing service transparently copies the data sets to an Azure file share without having to change anything in the code to do so. With a small adaptation of the code, we can now provide download links to data in the Azure file share so this process is also transparent for the clients downloading the data sets.

You can already guess the reason for this exercise. We did this to fix a bandwidth issue on-premises by creating an easy workaround with minimal code changes. As more and more clients download more and more data sets, this service consumes too much bandwidth. This means we have to throttle the service and/or implement QoS to it. While this helps the other services using that internet connection, it does nothing to improve download speeds for the clients. This is just an example and is not meant as architectural or design advice. It is an interim fix to an existing problem. This trick is something that is used with AKS as well for example.

How to add a symbolic link to an Azure file share

Create an Azure file share

Create a storage account and create a file share.

Symbolic Link to an Azure File Share
Our Azure file share.

Handling credentials

Dealing with the credentials needed for this is easy. All we need to do is add the information into the credential manager as a Windows credential. That would be the user, the password, and the file share UNC path. Note that here the password is our storage account key.

Symbolic Link to an Azure File Share
Go to the connect settings of your file share.

Grab the info you need from the “connect” settings for your Azure file share. We will not map the the files hare to a drive, so there is no need to run this PowerShell script.

So in this example that is:
Internet or networkk address: \\datasets.file.core.windows.net\fscache
User name: localhost\datasets
Password: real2Nonsense4Showing8AfakeStorage28Accountkey/goobledeGookStuffa/AndSomeMoreNonsentMD==

We will add these credentials to the Credential Manager as Windows Credentials.

Click on “Add a Windows Credential”.
Add the file share UNC path, the username and the storage account key

That is it, if you entered everything correctly, this will work.

Creating the symbolic link

Once you have added the credentials creating the symbolic link is very easy.

mklink /d "E:\Download\Cache" "\\datasets.file.core.windows.net\fscache"

You do need to take care you create the symbolic in the right place in your folder structure. But other than that, that is all you need to do.

Symbolic Link to an Azure File Share
the symbolic link to the Azure file share

The symbolic link is available and can be used transparently by the service/application.

To test the file share in Azure you can upload or download data via azcopy or Azure Storage Explorer. The download functionality in our case is handled in the code, But here is a quick example of how to do a download it via azcopy using a shared access key signature.

azcopy copy "https://datasets.file.core.windows.net/fscache/DataSetSatNavSouthernUtah.zip?sv=2020-02-10&ss=bfqt&srt=sco&sp=rwdlacuptfx&se=2021-06-25T06:06:02Z&st=2021-06-24T22:06:02Z&spr=https&sig=%2FA%9SOrrY4KFAKEikPKeysOycLb4neBLogpPostpAQ624%3D" "ED:\MyDataSetDownloads" --recursive

Pro tip: if you need to remove the symbolic link but keep the data, use rmdir “E:\Download\Cache” and not del “E:\Download\Cache” or you will delete the data. That might not be what you want.

Next steps

Mind you, this was the easy and quick fix for a problem this service was facing. This is not a design or architecture. We are considering replacing the symbolic link solution with Azure File Sync. With a bandwidth cap and QoS on-premises, we would offer the primary download link to the cloud. There they can get all the bandwidth Azure can offer. Next to that, we would have an alternative link, marked as slow, that still points to the on-prem version of the data. This means the current implementation is still fully functional even when the Azure files share has an issue. Sure, the local copy comes with a significantly reduced performance, but it provides a failsafe.

The future

Well, the future lies in turning this into a solution running 100% in the cloud. Now, due to a large number of dependencies on various on-premies data sources, this is a long-term effort. We decided no to let perfection be the enemy of the good and fixed their biggest pain point today.

Conclusion

For sure, the use of a symbolic link to access an Azure file share is not something that will amaze people that have been working in the cloud for a while. It is however a nice example of how the use of Azure combined with on-premises services can result in a hybrid solution that solves real-world problems

This particular scenario enables them to distribute their data sets without having to worry about bandwidth limitations on-premises. That means they do to invest in a bigger internet pipe and a firewall with more throughput, or having to port their service and all its dependencies to a full-blown Azure solution.

Sometimes successful and cost-effective solutions come in the form of little tweaks that allow us to fix pain points easily.