An Introduction to Windows Security with Ansible

June 21, 2018 by The Getting Started Team

Ansible-Get-Started-Windows-1-2

Welcome to another installment of our Windows-centric Getting Started Series! In the prior posts we talked about connecting to Windows machines, gave a brief introduction on using Ansible with Active Directory, and discussed package management options on Windows with Ansible. In this post we’ll talk a little about applying security methodologies and practices in relation to our original topics.


The Triad

In order to discuss security issues in relation to Ansible and Windows, we’ll be applying concepts from the popular CIA Triad: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. 

Triad-Diagram

Confidentiality is pretty self-evident — protecting confidentiality helps restrict private data to only authorized users and helps to prevent non-authorized ones from seeing it. The way this is accomplished involves several techniques such as authentication, authorization, and encryption. When working with Windows, this means making sure the hosts know all of the necessary identities, that each user is appropriately verified, and that the data is protected (by, for example, encryption) so that it can only be accessed by authorized parties.

Integrity is about making sure that the data is not tampered with or damaged so that it is unusable. When you’re sending data across a network you want to make sure that it arrives in the same condition as it was sent out. This will apply to the tasks in an Ansible Playbook, any files that may be transferred, or packages that are installed (and more!).

Availability is mainly about making data available to those authorized users when they need to access it. Think about things like redundancy, resiliency, high-availability, or clustering as ways to help ensure availability of systems and data.


Confidentiality

As Bianca mentioned in the first installment of this series, Ansible uses WinRM and sends user/password with variables (or, in the case of Ansible Tower, by using credentials). In the example below, which shows an inventory file that includes variables as [win:vars], the certificate is ignored:

[win:vars]
ansible_user=vagrant
ansible_connection=winrm
ansible_winrm_server_cert_validation=ignore

In an Active Directory environment the domain-joined hosts won’t require ignoring certificates that validate if your control node has been set to trust the Active Directory CS.


Integrity

Active Directory, discussed by John in the second installment, adds more verification to credentials and authority for validating certificates on domains in its scope. The directory services provide added strength to confidentiality by being the authoritative credential store. Joining a host to the domain establishes its trust, so as long as a user requesting resources is valid, then a domain-joined host will have established integrity.

Ansible is able to add and manage users (win_domain_user), groups (win_domain_group), or hosts (win_domain_membership) securely and with valid domain credentials. See the example below for how these tasks can be done with the use of a playbook:

- name: Join to domain
  win_domain_membership:
    dns_domain_name: tycho.local
    hostname: mydomainclient
    domain_admin_user: "{{ win_domain_admin_user }}"
    domain_admin_password: "{{ win_domain_admin_password }}"
    domain_ou_path: "OU=Windows,OU=Servers,DC=tycho,DC=local"
    state: domain
  register: domain_state

- name: set group with delete protection enabled
  win_domain_group:
    name: Users
    scope: domainlocal
    category: security
    ignore_protection: no


Availability

In the a recent Windows-related post, which was about package management, Jake gave a few examples that used the Ansible Modules win_package and win_chocolatey. This is related to the third part of that security triad because the data model’s physical and transport layers get a lot of attention in terms of obtainability, but fast and efficient software/patch management is also a part of maintaining this availability. The less time eaten up through rolling out updates reduces downtime. Shaving minutes or even seconds in a rollout can pay off with more consistent service delivery.

An important availability-related security function which can be executed using an Ansible module is related to updates. As the name suggests, win_updates searches, downloads, and installs updates on all Windows hosts simultaneously by automating the Windows update client. Let’s explore this module further.

The example below is taken from the example that’s part of a collection of Ansible Roles related to security automation. Here you can see the win_updates module in action:

 tasks:
  - name: Install security updates
    win_updates:
      category_names:
        - SecurityUpdates
      Notify: reboot windows system
   

Another example shows how you can use this module within a playbook for patching Windows nodes, along with the win_reboot module which is used for you guessed it! automating the restarting of Windows machines:

 – name: Install missing updates
   win_updates:
     Category_names:
        – ServicePacks
        – UpdateRollups        
        – CriticalUpdates
     Reboot: yes


Conclusion

Security is a complex and ever-evolving field that’s dependent on each organization’s particular environment, vulnerabilities, and specific needs. It’s extremely important to read the above as a guideline and not a checklist; no amount of implementation is going to have any long-lasting effect if continual improvement isn’t implemented.

We hope you found this information helpful, and that this five-part series has provided you with the tools for automating your Windows hosts with confidence by using Ansible to do the work for you!

To find out more information about Windows and Ansible
join our upcoming webinar today at 4pm edt.
 

 

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The Getting Started Team

The Getting Started team is comprised of Ansible Product Field Engineers: Jake Jackson, John Lieske and Bianca Henderson.


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