Security watch: DOMAIN_CREATE_ALIAS can choke registry at Win NT sites

Like this year's Oscar-blowout Titanic, the hack we're unveiling this week is an old Windows NT vulnerability resurrected and remastered by the InfoWorld Test Centre's secu-rity team. And now it's bigger and badder than before. The hack was originally brought to our attention by a reader who administers a large NT site.

The DOMAIN_CREATE_ALIAS vulnerability allows users with an account on an NT domain to freely create Local Groups on the domain. Although the reader who reported this hole received a different explanation from Microsoft support personnel than we did, Microsoft indicated to us that the purpose of this capability was to simplify security management. A user can put other users into a group and assign access to resources based on membership in that group. For example, the marketing manager can create a marketing group, put all the marketing staff in the group, and then give access to a sensitive marketing document only to this group. Access Control Lists need only be set for assigning resources to the group and not to each individual user. The command syntax is simple: net add localgroup [groupname]/domain.

Microsoft confirmed this has been a documented NT feature since Version 3.1 and the company wrote a utility called CREATALS.EXE to restrict this ability to administrator-defined accounts. But CREATALS.EXE has not been made available to the public: users must request it directly from Microsoft.

Microsoft also recommends considering obvious security steps, such as implementing a sound personnel policy for effective control of internal threats, keeping the Domain Controller (DC) physically secure, and turning on auditing for objects/events on the DC.

Administrators of high-security sites can consider limiting DC access from the network altogether by disabling "Access this computer from the network" for the Everyone group in User Manager. (But this drastic step should only be considered when the DC is used solely for authentication functions, as it will obviously restrict access to application and file and print services on the DC.)How can this seemingly insignificant capability lead to problems? We discovered that if you create enough Local Groups on a DC, the Security Accounts Manger (SAM) database simply runs out of space and the whole system grinds to a halt. Registry size can be increased in the System Control Panel, but that's little consolation when you find thousands of used and unused groups on your server to get rid of.

Needless to say, performance and management were severely hampered in our tests of this problem (thus we're classifying this hack as a Denial of Service attack). Our first warning sign was the Event Log error message 12288, meaning your registry and SAM were running out of resources.

What's even more alarming is the ease with which an inexperienced user could automate this process to silently create millions of Local Groups in the space of a few hours. For example, this simple Quick Basic program we wrote would do the trick:




DO WHILE var 10000000

var = var + 1

hack1 = hack1 + LTRIM$(STR$ (var))

hack2 = "net localgroup" +

hack1 + " /add /domain"

SHELL hack2


For further reading on NT security in general, we recommend a recently released step-by-step prescription for hardening security at NT sites compiled by SANS (System Administration, Networking, and Security), a cooperative research and education organisation. The DOMAIN_CREATE_ALIAS isn't covered in the guide, but it is an otherwise solid outline of the details to consider when securing NT installations.

Test Centre support manager Stuart McClure, and technology analyst Joel Scambray, have managed information security in academic, corporate and government environments for the past nine years. They currently test dozens of security products, from firewalls to security auditing solutions, in search of new ways to improve enterprise network security.



Summary: The default protection on the

Windows NT Domain allows Everyone the rightto create Local Groups (known as aliases) onthe Domain Controller. The access right onthe Domain object is known as the DOMAIN_CREATE_ALIAS.

Target: Windows NT 3.51/4.0 server (PrimaryDomain Controller)Type: Denial of ServiceDate: Documented since Windows NT 3.1Code: QBasic script was used but any languagewith looping structure will workSource: "net add localgroup [groupname]/domain"Attacker: Windows NT 3.1 to 4.0 Workstationor ServerFix: CREATALS.EXE available from Microsoft