20.3. NetBIOS for TCP/IP Name Service and Windows Internet Name ServiceNetBT name service is the NetBT service used to translate NetBIOS names to IP addresses. There are two ways to get name service under NetBT: a broadcast mechanism in which each machine keeps a database, and a unicast mechanism in which there is a designated server. In theory, that designated server is called a NetBT Name Server, or NBNS. However, Microsoft's NBNS implementation is called Windows Internet Name Service (WINS). It's rare to see the general term "NBNS" used outside of standards documentation, even for non-Microsoft servers, which are technically implementations of NBNS, not WINS.
In order to minimize the inevitable confusion, we will call broadcast-based NetBT name service "NetBT name service", and unicast-based service "WINS". This reflects common usage and is no more arbitrary and confusing than any other naming scheme.
A NetBIOS name is up to 15 characters long. NetBIOS names are "unqualified" (according to Microsoft documentation) which means two things:
Technically speaking, all NetBIOS names are exactly 16 characters long, and Microsoft reserves the 16th character for administrative use. Short names are automatically and transparently padded to 16 characters. To the user, this is indistinguishable from having names up to 15 characters long.
NetBIOS scopes are much more limiting than NIS domains. Machines that are in different NetBIOS scopes cannot speak any NetBIOS protocols to each other, including file and printer sharing. On controlled networks, this can actually be an advantage, as it provides a small security improvement; the NetBIOS scope setting effectively acts as a password for network access. This is a protection from accidental misconfiguration, not from hostile action. The NetBIOS scope is passed in cleartext across the network as part of the NetBIOS hostname, and any attacker can simply read it from valid packets (it is particularly simple because it is sent in broadcast packets, so no special ability to snoop the network is required.)
It is important to keep in mind that WINS and NetBT name service are merely variants on the same service. Clients that use broadcast resolution run their own name servers, and although they expect only broadcast-based queries, they will respond to unicast queries. Do not assume that you are safe from remote requests just because you have avoided running WINS; normal NetBIOS clients are still running name servers that will feed their own data and any other data that they have cached to anybody who asks them. As we will see later, even machines that use WINS exclusively must have servers running that will respond to unicast name queries in order to have full WINS functionality. This is one of the things that the "Server" service normally does on clients.
Even though these services are tightly interrelated, the same machine may run both servers, in which case the WINS server will get unicast packets and the NetBT name server will get broadcast packets (Unix aficionados will probably find this upsetting). This means that the two services will run completely independently and may have different data on them. A WINS server will not provide data gathered by WINS to a NetBT name service client, or data gathered by NetBT name service to a WINS client, even though the servers are running on the same port on the same computer. (Therefore, a machine that runs a WINS server but is not configured as a WINS client won't advertise its own services via WINS!)
20.3.1. Name Resolution Under WindowsFor historical reasons, Microsoft provides multiple methods of name resolution. Windows 2000 uses DNS wherever possible, but other icrosoft Windows machines may use numerous methods to translate a name to an address, depending on their configurations. They may try multiple methods to translate the same name, attempting various things until something succeeds.
For this purpose, there are two kinds of names: possible NetBIOS names and non-NetBIOS names. A genuine NetBIOS name is one known to the NetBIOS name service, but a possible NetBIOS name is any name that is up to 15 characters long. (In theory, a name with a period in it is not a possible NetBIOS name, but in fact, it will be treated as one under some versions of Windows NT.) Names that are not possible NetBIOS names (that is, ones that are over 15 characters long) must be resolved via DNS. The methods recent Windows machines can use for possible NetBIOS names are:
icrosoft has a complicated naming scheme for describing these options; a machine that does only broadcast is a b-node, one that only does WINS queries is a p-node ("p" for "point-to-point"), one that does broadcast and then WINS is an m-node ("m" for "mixed"), and one that does WINS first and then broadcast is an h-node ("h" for "hybrid"). This naming scheme is useful mostly for understanding Microsoft documentation, since knowing what kind of node a machine is does not tell you where in the process it consults DNS or lmhosts. However, you may wish to remember that "m-node" and "b-node" both mean a "machine that generates lots of annoying broadcast packets". As you can determine by careful reading of the definitions and the preceding steps, Windows NT machines configured to use WINS are normally h-nodes.
Clients may get DNS data without making DNS queries; WINS servers can act as gateways into DNS, and other machines may cache DNS data and return it in answer to NetBIOS queries. In some configurations, this will result in a puzzling situation where the clients cannot reach hosts with names over 15 characters long. Since these are not valid NetBIOS names, clients must speak DNS directly in order to resolve them.
Just to further confuse matters, Microsoft DNS servers are capable of acting as gateways to WINS servers, making WINS queries to try to resolve DNS queries. This has two advantages; it obviously simplifies DNS administration for sites that are already using WINS, by making it nearly nonexistent. More importantly, WINS supports dynamic host registration. When a host comes up, it tells the WINS server what its name and network address are. By contrast, standard DNS provides no way for a host to give this information to the server; the server must be preconfigured with the name-address mapping. (DNS and dynamic update are discussed earlier.) Forwarding DNS queries to WINS provides dynamic DNS registration without modification of DNS.
The nbtstat command will show you information about NetBT names on a machine. Using nbtstat to check NetBT naming information and nslookup to check DNS naming information will often help you straighten out questions about where information is coming from (and therefore what to fix in order to get things to work correctly).
20.3.2. NetBIOS NamesNetBT name service is used to resolve more than just hostnames. There are two basic types of NetBT names: unique names and group names. A unique name maps to exactly one IP address, while a group name may map to multiple IP addresses. Each of these has multiple subtypes, used for different purposes. For instance, one type of group name is used to indicate a multihomed host; another type is used to indicate an administrative group (all the printers, for instance); and a third type is used for showing domain and workgroup membership. Different types of unique names are used for different services. The sixteenth byte of a NetBIOS name is used to indicate the type, and this byte is typically shown in hexadecimal notation when names are displayed (you may see type 03 displayed as "0x03", "<03>", or "03h").
If you actually look at packet traces, particularly if you are using a packet trace system that is not aware of NetBT, you may see NetBIOS names in mangled form. NetBT is based on DNS packet formats. DNS names are longer than NetBIOS names but can't contain the arbitrary hexadecimal values NetBIOS uses for type indicators. In order to make NetBIOS names fit into DNS name fields, NetBT applies a system that converts each byte of the NetBIOS name into two uppercase ASCII characters, which results in eye-catching, if incomprehensible, name strings. They are made even more noticeable by the fact that the mangling algorithm converts spaces, which are used for padding, into "CA", so that almost every name ends in "CACA". Many English speakers (including presumably the engineer who designed the algorithm) attach no special meaning to this string, but the repeating pattern is still very striking. For details of the name-mangling algorithm, see RFC 1001. If you are on a icrosoft machine, most packet sniffing programs will unmangle the names for you; if you are on a Unix machine, the Samba package contains name mangling and unmangling routines. See Appendix A, "Resources", for information on how to get Samba.
When a computer boots, it registers multiple names of different types. These names are not necessarily based on the hostname of the machine; they are chosen according to the purpose the name will be used for. For instance, one of the NetBT names that machines normally register is a unique name for the Messenger service. This service is used to send messages, and if a user is logged in to the console of the machine, the Messenger service will be registered under the user's name as well as under the computer's name. This is designed to allow you to send messages to people by name (human beings rarely want to talk to computers, after all), but it means that NetBT name registrations will contain not only hostnames, but also usernames, and in many cases will let you figure out whether or not somebody is logged in to a machine.
A machine will also register a group name for the workgroup or domain it is part of. This does not make the machine a valid member of a domain; machines may register as parts of domains they don't belong to, and it will not have any security implications. For clients, there is no difference between the registration for a domain and a workgroup. Domain controllers will make some extra registrations; there is a group name for all of the domain controllers and a unique name for the primary domain controller.
In addition, machines that are running the Windows Browser server will register a number of special names used by this service. These name registrations are sometimes treated specially. See the section on the Windows Browser, later in this chapter, for more information about these names and their registration.
Group names can contain large numbers of hosts, which makes them expensive to maintain. As a result, WINS servers are allowed to skip a lot of the verification they do on hostnames when they're dealing with group names, and invalid group names may remain registered for long periods of time.
20.3.3. NetBT Name Service OperationsDNS is a simple question-and-answer system. NetBT name service, because it's dynamic, is nowhere near as straightforward. Clients and servers interact in numerous ways, in order to register names, refresh and release them, and look up other names. The details of this process are quite intricate, and despite the daunting amount of detail here, a number of special cases and possible interactions have been glossed over.
188.8.131.52. General principles of NetBT operationsThere are some generalizations about how NetBT name service works:
184.108.40.206. Name registrationWhen a client starts up, it registers the names it wants to answer to, starting with a name registration request. Under NetBT name service, it does this by broadcasting the registration request; with WINS, the request is sent directly to the WINS server. In either case, it may turn out that some other machine already has a name the client wants, which will set off a procedure of name conflict resolution that's discussed later. A WINS server will always answer the request, while NetBT name servers will answer name registration requests only in order to dispute them. If the name is not already taken, the client will send out a name announcement that confirms that it has the name to the same place or places it sent the original request.
For a normally configured Windows NT machine that's trying to register the nonconflicting name "unique" and is configured with a WINS server address, the process looks like this:
220.127.116.11. Name refreshIn order to keep WINS server databases free of old junk data, WINS servers hand out limited-time registrations. Clients need to send a name refresh request before the TTL given to them with the name registration expires. If they don't send a name refresh, the WINS server will eventually remove the name. This process is not particularly fast. Windows NT normally gives out registrations with six-day TTLs, so a client that goes away may still be visible in the database for up to six days if nobody tries to release or register the name.
Clients may also send out name refresh requests for reasons of their own (for instance, a client that changes its configuration to use WINS will send a name refresh request to the WINS server).
18.104.22.168. Name resolutionWhen a client wants to map a name to an IP address, it sends out a name query request, either by broadcast or to the WINS server. Every machine that has a mapping for the name will reply with that mapping. A WINS server will reply to the request even if it doesn't have the answer. Suppose "unique" wants to talk to "stupid", which is a misconfigured client on the local network that doesn't use WINS and didn't boot recently. The procedure will look like this:
22.214.171.124. Name releaseWhen a client shuts down or changes its name, it sends a name release request to the WINS server and/or the broadcast address to give notice that the name is now available. As usual, the WINS server will always respond, while other servers will respond only if they have something to say (in this case, if they reject the name release). A client that is trying to release its own name will consider a name released and continue if it receives any response to the name release request (positive or negative). If it gets no answer, it will try again before continuing.
Name release requests may also be sent by machines other than the client that registered the name. This is supposed to allow a machine to correct invalid data. A machine that receives a response from the server, but gets no response at that address, can send a name release request for the name. The WINS server will then do a name query request and release the name if it fails. Other servers will respond to name release requests only for names that they own, for which they will return negative responses. A client that tries to release somebody else's name pays attention to the contents of the response and does not release a name for which it gets a negative response.
126.96.36.199. Conflict managementWhat happens if a machine tries to register a name as a unique name, but it's already in use, or tries to refresh a name that some other host has registered? Using broadcasts, when a machine sends out the name registration request, the machine that already has the name registered will respond with a negative response. Machines that have conflicting cached data will not respond.
A WINS server has a somewhat more complicated task. It can't be sure that the existing record it has is for a machine that's still running -- in fact, there's a significant chance that the existing record is actually for the same machine, and it's just been moved from one network to another. Therefore, the WINS server will check to see if the record is correct by sending a name query request for the name to the address it's registered at. If the host is still there, it will answer, and the WINS server will send a negative response to the new registration.
There's an important subtlety to note here. Machines that are not WINS servers normally receive name query requests only via broadcast; unicast name queries are the business of WINS. But name query requests used for conflict resolution and verification of third-party release requests are unicast, so non-WINS servers must answer them. Machines that don't run name servers cannot defend against conflicting name registrations, even if they otherwise use WINS.
Conflict management is one case where groups have a special exemption. If a host tries to register an existing group name as a unique name, the WINS server is not required to check that the group registration is still valid; it can simply reject the attempt.
20.3.4. WINS Server-Server CommunicationAs well as picking up information from clients as they boot, WINS servers can also exchange information with other WINS servers. This approach is used to provide redundancy and to allow name information to be propagated across large networks.
Unlike DNS servers, WINS servers have no hierarchical structure and do not normally forward queries from one server to another. WINS servers that talk to each other are trying to cause both servers to have identical databases. The replication protocol uses several tricks to try to distribute only updates rather than entire databases between servers, but there is nothing like a DNS zone that would allow them to subdivide the database.
The protocol allows a WINS server to answer a query by directing the client to query another server, but this facility does not appear to be used in practice; in any case, there is no direct server-server forwarding.WINS server replication is a complicated topic, involving numerous options (for instance, WINS servers need not replicate symmetrically). The details are beyond the scope of this book but are covered in most references about Windows NT network administration (for instance, in Microsoft's Windows NT Server Networking Guide, Microsoft Press, which is part of the Windows NT Server Resource Kit). From a firewall point of view, the interesting points about WINS server replication are:
By default, WINS servers will send data only to machines that are configured as replication partners. It can be reset via the WINS anager or the registry. It should be left in the default mode to help prevent attackers from pretending to be replication partners and pulling the entire WINS database with all of its information about valid hostnames and usernames.
20.3.5. The WINS ManagerIt is possible to control and configure WINS servers on remote machines with the WINS manager, which uses Microsoft RPC. The security implications of icrosoft RPC are discussed in Chapter 14, "Intermediary Protocols".
20.3.6. Security Implications of NetBT Name Service and WINSNetBT Name Service and WINS are very vulnerable and are much more sensitive than DNS. The information they provide is valuable to attackers; it's not just the hostname data DNS provides, which is already useful, but also information about what usernames are valid and whether anybody is logged in, plus structural information about what machines provide what services. This information gives all sorts of leads to further possible attacks.
In addition, these services modify their databases and take other actions based on information from clients, which vastly magnifies the risks. An attacker who can send packets to a WINS server can cause the WINS server to send packets other places, using it as an amplifier to spread denial of service attacks and as a gateway to get those attacks to networks that may not be directly vulnerable to the attacker. It's also easy for an attacker to contaminate NetBT name service and WINS databases with bad data, which is relatively difficult in DNS.
The protocols are more complex than DNS. The extra protocol layers and headers are all opportunities for implementors to introduce bugs that can become denial of service attacks. Some of these problems have already been found by accident by people implementing these protocols on other platforms and are fixed in recent versions; others are presumably lurking, waiting for malicious people to run out of easier targets.
Finally, DNS servers are relatively rare. Any given site has a handful. NetBT name servers are everywhere. Every machine that uses NetBT name service must also be a NetBT name server. For an attacker who is going after quantity, rather than quality, NetBT name service is a very tempting target; it has information-rich servers everywhere accepting queries and data from arbitrary hosts.
20.3.7. Packet Filtering Characteristics of NetBT Name ServiceNetBT name service uses TCP and UDP port 137. Almost all NetBT name service traffic will be UDP; clients normally use TCP only if they issue a query via UDP and get a truncated response because the response is too long to fit into a single UDP packet. However, servers will respond to any query via TCP. Microsoft implementations use port 137 for queries as well as responses. Some older versions will return UDP responses to port 137 regardless of the port the query was made from. Given that most requests are UDP, and both ends are at port 137, it is basically impossible to allow service in a single direction. (Since server-initiated queries are part of conflict resolution, it wouldn't help much anyway.)
Clients that do not use WINS will send queries to the broadcast address; responses always are unicast, as are WINS queries. WINS servers will try to use multicast to contact replication partners and will therefore generate IGMP packets (see Chapter 22, "Administrative Services", for packet filtering details of IGMP). WINS server replication uses TCP port 42.
20.3.8. Proxying Characteristics of NetBT Name Service and WINSicrosoft provides something called a WINS proxy service, which turns broadcast NetBIOS name resolution requests into WINS requests, in order to allow non-WINS clients to use a WINS server. This is a form of proxying, although it also is changing the protocol in use.
It would be perfectly possible to do more traditional firewall proxying of WINS, but there do not appear to be any implementations available.
20.3.9. Network Address Translation Characteristics of NetBT Name Service and WINSBecause these protocols are attempting to maintain mappings between names and IP addresses, they frequently contain embedded IP addresses. Furthermore, these addresses are often deep in the content of the packet (not simply in the NetBT destination headers used by many other NetBT-based protocols). A network address translator would have to be aware of the details of the protocol in order to successfully translate all of the embedded addresses. In any case, you cannot save address space by using a network address translator if you run the name service through it, since all hosts will attempt to register their names and addresses.
20.3.10. Summary of Recommendations for NetBT Name Service and WINS
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