The Logon Process

Apr 29, 2009

Users must log on to a Windows NT machine in order to use that NT based machine or network. The logon process itself cannot be bypassed, it is mandatory. Once the user has logged on, an access token is created (this token will be discussed in more detail later).

This token contains user specific security information, such as: security identifier, group identifiers, user rights and permissions. The user, as well as all processes spawned by the user are identified to the system with this token.

The first step in the WinLogon process is something we are all familiar with,
CTRL+ALT+DEL. This is NT’s default Security Attention Sequence (SAS - The SAS key combo can be changed. We will also discuss that later.). This SAS is a signal to the operating system that someone is trying to logon. After the SAS is triggered, all user mode applications pause until the security operation completes or is cancelled. 
(Note: The SAS is not just a logon operation, this same key combination can be used for logging on, logging off, changing a password or locking the workstation.) The pausing, or closing, of all user mode applications during SAS is a security feature that most people take for granted and dont understand. Due to this pausing of applications, logon related trojan viruses are stopped, keyloggers (programs that run in memory, keeping track of keystrokes, therefor recording someones password) are stopped as well.

The user name is not case sensitive but the password is. After typing in your information and clicking OK (or pressing enter), the WinLogon process supplies the information to the security subsystem, which in turn compares the information to the Security Accounts Manager (SAM). If the information is compliant with the information in the SAM, an access token is created for the user. The WinLogon takes the access token and passes it onto the Win32 subsytem, which in turn starts the operating systems shell. The shell, as well as all other spawned processes will receive a token. This token is not only used for security, but also allows NTs auditing and logging features to track user usage and access of network resources.

Note: All of the logon components are located in a file known as the Graphical Indetification and Authentication (GINA) module, specifically MSGINA.DLL. Under certain conditions, this file can be replaced, which is how you would change the SAS key combination.
For fine tuning of the WinLogon process, you can refer to the registry. All of the options for the WinLogon process are contained in the


area. You can also fine tune the process by using the Policy Editor.
Logging on to a Domain If an NT machine is a participant on a Domain, you would not only need to login to the local machine, but the Domain as well. If a computer is a member of a Domain, the WinLogon process is replaced by the NetLogon process.

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