For my Friends and Family: You have no excuse not to secure your Microsoft Accounts with Multi-Factor Authentication

November 27, 2015 Leave a comment

I am always begging my close friends and family, many who are not all that technical, to follow basic tenants for securing their digital worlds. From changing their passwords on a regular basis (even having them schedule it to coincide with Daylight Savings Time/Standard Time conversions a la “smoke detector battery changes) to keeping their operating systems and anti-virus software up to date, I warn them that risks are not just for enterprises and governments. In fact, in the past six months, the following has happened to me:

  • A good friend of my mother (a female) begins sending me Webcam spam from her Skype account.
  • An old high school friend (another female) begin sending out large organ pics (male) to everyone on their Facebook friends list.
  • My sister got hit with some serious ransomware. All of her pictures are encrypted with a $500 dollar ransom. She’s still running Windows XP.

Given that my primary accounts for personal use involve Microsoft services and accounts – and I work for Microsoft, I feel compelled to evangelize the fact that all of your Microsoft online accounts (Hotmail, Live,, Office365) can be protected via multi-factor authentication.


What is Multifactor Authentication? It is simply a method of authentication that involves at least two disparate factors for authentication. In most cases, single factor authentication involves a simple password for verification of identity. This is the oldest and one of the most archaic and insecure methods of verifying identity. When you enable multifactor authentication, even after submitting a correct password, additional steps are taken to verify you are who you say you are. You may have to do this when you sign on to a web site from an unknown or previous unknown location. In some cases, you may have to answer additional security questions (not the best additional factor but indeed and additional factor) or enter a text code sent to your mobile phone (much more secure secondary factor.)


In the case of Microsoft account, the following FAQ answers your questions about the options available

If you want to enable multifactor authentication, you can do so under your account profile here:

If you are accessing Hotmail, Live, from Outlook 2010, 2013, 2016, you will need to set up app passwords (app-specific passwords) after you enable two-step/multifactor authentication

An excellent post on Channel 9 along the same lines:

The Authenticator App for Windows Phone gives you codes to use:

This blog post walks you through the process:

If you are using an Android phone, the Microsoft Account app will also allow for verification through a one-touch app. 

FAQ on additional identity apps verification


Categories: Uncategorized

Farewell to Zune

November 14, 2015 2 comments

As I write this, within a few hours, the Zune Service is expected to end per earlier announcements. What exactly will happen with the functionality of the Zune 4.8 software, will be only that limited functionality will remain.

I am sad. I loved the Zune player – especially the ZuneHD. I still use the ZuneHD rather than the phone because of the storage space, and the fact that battery consumption is way better on the ZuneHD player than any phone I have used or seen.


It is likely that download subscription content will start to fail at some point once media usage rights need to be re-queried. All other DRM-free MP3/WMA media should still play as expected. I imagine that the device sync will still work as well. I had the pleasure of keeping the 10-song-a-month feature thanks to the grandfather policy. Since this will be ending, I made sure to use my song credits this last time. The songs I chose were:

  • Lou Reed – What’s Good
  • Roxy Music – Avalon
  • Wendy Bagwell – Here Come the Rattlesnakes
  • Warren Zevon – Boom-Boom Mancini
  • The Cramps – I was a Teenage Werewolf
  • Blondie – X-Offender
  • Tom Petty – Straight Into Darkness
  • Deep Purple – Hush
  • Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water
  • Deep Purple – Highway Star

(Yes, I have an eclectic variety of tastes)

So What Happens Next?

Per the following KB article:

Existing Zune Services will be converted to Groove Music (formerly XBOX Music) – not to be confused with that other software Microsoft acquired over a decade ago. I’ll be trying to use my ZuneHD with this service.


I used every Zune device that was released and still have them – including the original Zune30 from 2006. I am somewhat sad.

Categories: Uncategorized

On the Bloggers, Analysts, and the Shareholders.

Over the past 20 years, I have had many different roles in IT. I’ve been a helpdesk jockey, professor/instructor, sysadmin, developer, support engineer, escalation engineer, and now consultant. I’ve worked with a variety of industries as well. I’ve been both a customer and an employee of a Fortune 100 software company. As I have moved into various roles through my career, I’ve simultaneously watched the growth of the IT community in pontificating in various mediums ranging from community forums to full-blown tabloid tech journalism. I’ve learned what kind of statements garner respect and attention and what are often dismissed as hyperbole or sensationalism.

The Bloggers

The bloggers are supposed to represent the users and/or IT pros – the “pulse” of the community. In many cases the quality of the bloggers are positive as they derived excellent content and insights due to one or more of the following factors:

Experience: A blogger will likely be taken seriously if they have the experience to back up what they are talking about. This is why the best insights often come buried deep inside of community forums and not necessarily on the site of a full-time blogger or tech journal. Why? Because blogging is not their job. They ARE an IT Pro. Blogging is merely a hobby.

Depth of Analytical Thought: They demonstrate an outstanding aptitude for critical thinking. Even if the source is focused towards a specific vendor (or as many say – biased) the analysis is spot on.

Depth of Technical Thought: Simply – they know the technology inside and out. They yield a wealth of technical information and for that reason alone, they often command respect.

I am here to tell you the influence bloggers have on software vendors and products often depend on how they engage and embrace the community around the vendor and its products – regardless of how they may “bash” a product or feature or “praise” it. If the community respects the blogger, their stature increases with the software vendor. If the blogger is simply ranting or spilling out hyperbole for the sole purpose of “click-bait,” that can come back to haunt them. This is often a challenge for full-time bloggers who are often selling advertisements to generate revenue or perhaps are freelancing for a journal who pays them literally by the click.

The Analysts

When you build up that large amount of overhead you need to keep those clicks and ad views going, the blogger has no choice but to be a provocateur to remain relevant in the IT tabloid media that those same bloggers helped to create. When an IT analyst or an IT research firm publishes opinions or assessments, they are always taken more seriously as they represent a wealth of combined experiences and knowledge bases. They approach product, technology, and industry analysis in a much more scientific and data-driven process. The research firms publish both the analytical and the technical depth in every case.

The Shareholders

Since most major software vendors, at least in the US, are publicly traded, it is Wall Street that ultimately has the most influence on its direction. in IT, your shareholders are often your customers as well.

The Inspiration

I’d been wanting to write an article on this subject for a while, but this week, I was inspired to the write this article after reading three distinct articles relating to RDS/VDI –a technology I worked in extensively. I have the unique opportunity to cite examples of an attempt of influence by a blogger, a group of analysts, and a group of investors in a very busy week for the VDI industry.

The Blogger: – Basically, Brian Madden still hates how Microsoft does VDI. In other news, the Sun came out this morning.

The Analysts: – a brutally honest assessment by Gartner on why VDI is not ready for the cloud and what it will take to get VDI to a true cloud-based DaaS (Desktop as a Service.)

The Investors: The investment Group Elliott Management reveal their desires for change at Citrix (the leader in VDI) in an open letter to its CEO and Board of Directors.

Which of those three articles that I mentioned do I pay the most attention to? Well, I always trust analysis over hyperbole – but money trumps all.

Categories: Uncategorized

Application Troubleshooting: An Error Message, Without Context, is Worthless

Note: This blog contains free stock photos that were too hilarious to pass up.

I was inspired to write this article based off an internal discussion I was involved with where someone was requesting a comprehensive list of all possible event log messages delivered in Windows Server. I have always been interested in the reasoning behind an “ask” such as this because it could be misguided. Where to begin? First of all, it is quite a loaded “ask” as it is not specifying whether we are talking about all of the in-box default error messages relating to Windows – the operating system specifically, or are we also talking about all of the roles and features which also contain event providers? Where would all of these go? What would this be used for? Second of all, what is the purpose?


Answers always baffle me: “Oh, for the help desk.” “As a reference.” “For our in-house troubleshooting guide.” The last example leads me to what often results in a bi-directional obtuse conversation where I re-ask what are the use cases and contexts of these error messages. Will the person requesting the error messages also be attempting to follow-up on each error message to determine all of the possible situations in which these may occur? That would be quite an insurmountable task. In most cases, no, these will be either copied-and-pasted into a “guide” – sometimes even being printed out into a very thick, but mostly useless material reference.

HRESULTS vs. Event Logs

First of all, the event log message tells you everything you need to know about the ERROR itself. This has evolved significantly over the past decade with advancements in the Windows. Often, you will get errors/exceptions thrown from an application and the level of description will depend on the generosity of the programmer/developer of the application. One thing is for sure – at the very minimum in most cases, an integer-based or hex-based response will occur. The most common of these are HRESULTS. A few years ago, due to the nature of overlap between operating system components and external software, a tool called ERR.EXE was made available on the Microsoft Download Center ( This tool parsed all of the known header files for windows and applications to provide the corresponding strings and descriptions of known HRESULTS and error codes within the Microsoft software ecosystem. The use of the utility would yield all known matches such as the example below:


This utility was especially useful because it could also automatically translate the decimal-based equivalent of an HRESULT:


But . . . Here’s the Thing. Where do you go from Here?

Well, how did you get there? What was occurring when you encountered that error? For example: Let’s say you get an HRESULT 0x80000005. You use the ERR tool (or you know from memory) that it is “Access Denied.” What was occurring when this happened? Let’s say this occurred within an application. You could then leverage Process Monitor or another tool to trace the issue to see what it file/registry entry/etc. the program was trying to accessed. There is no way to give anything more than a generic recommendation without additional context related to the error.

In the case of an event log entry, there is much more information. The source component, Event ID, description, and more – along with additional XML detail. In the example below, what else would you gather from this simply looking up Event ID 36888 other than what you see in the dialog boxes?


That is where the scenario in which it happened plays an important role in determine what the root cause of this error is. In some cases, only one situation warrants a particular error and resolution. These are the ones we love – yet they are rare. In most cases there will be more than one scenario.

Why are Some Event Messages More Descriptive than Others?

Like with applications errors, event log entries vary regarding the degree of detail. In many cases during the development and evolution of a component, particular errors are hypothetically conceived during the development cycle and are laid out with the event tracing framework. These get further nailed down in the test and beta phases and the events are adjusted accordingly. At the release time as many clear-cut, known issues are mapped out through release notes and knowledge base articles. This process continues through the lifecycle of the component or software.


But again, these are only events. On all of my machines I have ever worked with, I would venture to say that I have only ever encountered a small fraction of all of the potentially available windows events which warrant errors or warnings. There are easily over 200,000 ETW and legacy windows events. Why reinvent the wheel and create a huge list for searching when you already have BING at your fingertips. And with Bing, you can search the event\error with additional contents.

What is probably the most beneficial troubleshooting assistant is the known resolution – in the form of a knowledge base article. The “Symptom(s)” section of most types of knowledge base articles is where the context is mapped out with as much detail as possible. It is usually in the form of “You are running [SOFTWARE\COMPONENT] and you are performing [ACTION]” or “you are attempting to [CONFIGURE\LAUNCH\RUN\CLICK ACTION] and you encounter the following [ERROR\MESSAGE]


The Symptom(s) section is usually followed by the “Cause” section. Often this section is prefaced with “This issue may be caused by . . .” indicating that this may not be the only cause of the issue. Yet this particular cause will be remediated\resolved by the “Resolution” section. That format is what makes the knowledge base article so great. It cuts right down to the break-fix scenario. Symptom-Error-Cause-Resolution.

Building knowledge bases “from the error up” is not an optimal way of building out a framework for a help desk. These are built and drive by the overall experience of the issue itself. Working in support for many years, one of many elements that separated the true escalation engineers from what could automated with a diagnostic utility or front-line support was the ability to resolve an issue for the first time. While the first question was usually “What’s the Error Message?” it was the second question that was most important – “What were you doing?”


Manageability Lingo, Standards, & Acronyms, Oh My!

January 10, 2015 Leave a comment


Since the dawn of the 21st century (and even before) you have been hearing many items related to acronyms interchangeably describing manageability features within Microsoft products (as well as others.) For example, WMI has been at the heart of most Microsoft Manageability products and solutions given the fact it is one of the primary interfaces within the Windows operating systems. While Microsoft’s WMI ties mostly to its products, it is based upon a series of open, universal standards. And this is the heart of deciphering how acronyms and standards can be interchangeably used to describe the same entity.

So let’s weave through the sometimes confusing relationship between these manageability acronyms – WBEM, WMI, CIM, DMI, DTMF, WSMAN, WinRM, and SNMP of protocols/interfaces/standards. In this little game, I will try to go through these acronyms within the average blog post attention span. WMI is Microsoft’s implementation of the open Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM), which comes from the Distributed Management Task Force (an industry organization.) WBEM relies on protocols – which can come from legacy standards such as RPC (Remote-Procedure Call) or DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model) or more modernized http-based SOAP standards such as WinRM (Windows Remote Management) based on the WS-MAN (Web-Services Management) standard. SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) itself, is is a command extension protocol designed to be used with HTTP (Hyper-Text Transport protocol – or the web) or SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol – or internet email.)

The WMI interface – based upon the WBEM standard – is built upon an infrastructure centered upon the Common Information Model (CIM) and its respective Object Manager (CIMOM), is what links management applications and providers. The infrastructure also serves as the object-class store and, in many cases, as the storage manager for persistent object properties. WMI implements the store, or repository, as an on-disk database named the CIMOM Object Repository. As part of its infrastructure, WMI supports several APIs through which management applications access object data and providers supply data and class definitions.

Beyond WMI, WBEM’s architecture extends to a variety of underlying technologies besides WMI and Win32 because not everything is or will always be on Microsoft technologies – including the Desktop Management Interface (DMI), and the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)  Some of these standards define data storage schemas as well as interfaces. Some define commands within communication protocols. Some or more modernized. SNMP has been deprecated in the most recent versions of Windows in favor of technologies such as WinRM.

I like to use the relationship of WinRM and WMI (alongside their open counterpart standards WS-MAN and WBEM) by stating that one is a management protocol and one is a management interface.


To Read more, check out the standards themselves:

WMI Explorer 2.0 is now on Codeplex!

November 11, 2014 2 comments

When I worked in support, I troubleshot WMI quite bit using many tools. One tool I still keep my eye on with regards to ongoing development was – and still is – the WMI Explorer utility. I am happy to report a new version of an excellent troubleshooting tool for WMI is now available:

WMI Explorer 2.0 is now available for download:


Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 Full or .NET Framework 4.5.1
Minimum display resolution: 1024×768
Administrator rights to view some WMI objects
(Optional) Internet access for automatic update check

This is a very intuitive tool for visually troubleshooting WMI issues. It gives you a direct view into the WMI namespace.

New Features include:

New: Asynchronous mode for enumeration of classes and instances in the background.
New: Method execution.
New: SMS (System Center Configuration Manager) Mode.
New: Property tab showing properties of selected class.
New: Input & Output parameter information in Methods tab with Help information.
New: List View output mode for Query Results.
New: Update Notifications when a new version of WMI Explorer is available.
New: Connect to multiple computers at the same time.
New: Quick Filter for Classes and Instances.
New: User Preferences.
New: View WMI Provider Process Information.
Improved: UI display on higher scaling levels and resolution.
Improved: Connect As option to provide alternate credentials.
Improved: Display of embedded object names in Property Grid.

NOTE: This is not an official Microsoft tool, and is available “AS IS” with NO support.

Categories: Management, WMI Tags: ,

App-V 4.6 Sequencing: What are the logs really for?

September 20, 2014 2 comments

For sequencing in App-V 5, the new ETW model simplifies the process and moves App-V to the Windows standards for event tracing. Even better, the sequencer not only has two logs to worry about (operational and administrative) but a simple process can occur to enable more verbose debug logging.

In App-V 4.6, the process was not that simple. While the logs did not write to the Event Viewer-able logs, all but one are text-based which makes for easy manipulation with your favorite log parser. I prefer Trace32 of course! These log files are stored in the logs subdirectory of the Sequencer installation directory which defaults to C:\Program Files\ Program Files\Microsoft Application Virtualization Sequencer\Logs. Certain logs pertain to specific functions so the relevancy will vary on whatever your troubleshooting scenario might be.

SFT-Seq-log.txt: The majority of sequencer logging occurs here (Uploads to virtual environment, downloads from the virtual environment, service starts and service stops, etc.)

SFTrbt.txt: This is the sequencer reboot log file. When the 4.6 sequencer simulates reboots, the elements that are processed will be tracked in this log file.

SFTCallBack.txt: This is a more simple logs that allows you to reconsile process starts and stops during sequencing. It works great in conjunction with a process monitor log.

Filter.log: Outside of working with Microsoft Support, this log is not very useful as it is obfuscated. It tracks file activity but must be decoded with an internal utility. You can enable further tracking into a file called files.txt which will contain a log of all files created in the VFS. This can be enabled (although it will increase sequencing time) by enabling the following value in the registry:

  • Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\SoftGrid\4.5\Sequencer\Configuration\
  • Value: FileManifest
  • Data Type: REG_DWORD
  • Data: 1

SFTrpc.txt: This is the log file created by the monitoring element SFTRPC.EXE and in addition to also capturing process startup and shutdowb, will also contain verbose diagnostic information about each monitored shortcut.

In addition to the sequencer logs, you can also leverage process monitor ( and verbose MSI logging ( if you encounter errors within the application during sequencing.

Categories: App-V Tags: , , ,

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