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Tricks and Treats with XE

Halloween is a great time of year. It is unfortunate that it is just one day of the year. That said, I do like to think of the phantasmripmonth of October as Halloween Month. I have several posts over the years that geek out over the cross-over between Halloween and SQL Server.

With the proximity to Halloween, it’s not hard (knowing me) to figure out why I originally decided to terminate this series on the Eve of Halloween day. Then again, as it turns out, I decided to bring the series back to life on the other side of Halloween. In short, it was to be killed on Halloween Eve and then implicitly converted to some living dead creature. You pick whether it is a zombie (which is far better suited to SQL Server) or a vampire.

If you are interested in the previous Halloween posts, here is a list of a few of them:

XE Related

Ghosts in your Database I

Ghosts in your Database II

Ghosts – an eXtrasensory Experience

DB and Fun Related

All Halloween posts

That list is my Halloween treat this year. Now for the trick with a very strong warning. Because of this warning, I am not posting any code showing how to perform the trick.

Warning

DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ON ANY PRODUCTION SERVER. I BEAR NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY PRODUCTION SERVER CHANGES DUE TO THE READING OF THIS ARTICLE (OR ANY OTHER ARTICLE I HAVE WRITTEN). SOLE RESPONSIBILITY OF CHANGES OR ACTIONS TAKEN BELONG TO THE PERSON PERFORMING THE ACT OR CHANGE. IN OTHER WORDS, YOU ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR BREAKING YOUR PRODUCTION ENVIRONMENT IF YOU IMPLEMENT THIS IN PRODUCTION!!!

I have debated seriously over even publishing this “trick” for Halloween because of how deliciously evil it is. I will try and paint the picture in broad strokes. I will leave it up to you to connect the dots.

Problem

A third party vendor has provided an application along with some database requirements. Among these requirements is that the application account must use the ‘sa’ login. You have a strict policy that ‘sa’ must never be used for any applications or by the end-users. This is an extremely protected account by policy. The dilemma you have been presented is that the CEO insists that this application must be used (never happens right?) and the vendor insists the application will not function properly without the use of ‘sa’ (I can hear you chortle at that).

Now you, as the DBA, are stuck between a rock and an even harder place. Being smart (and somewhat smart and sadistic), you insist that the use of the ‘sa’ login should not be performed because it will break SQL Server (in reality we know the login does not break SQL Server, but something inevitably will break due to a mis-step by the person using it a) when they shouldn’t, and b) because they lack proper training). Inside you are grinning from ear to ear because you have some devilish ideas, some of which you learned by attending a session by Rob Volk (twitter) where he shows some devilish methods to deter the use of ‘sa’.

For the sake of the scenario, let’s just say you have a policy preventing the implementation of logon triggers (as suggested by Rob) due to a couple of mishaps a few months back. Somebody implemented a logon trigger that wasn’t properly configured and it happened to prevent all users from accessing the server (including the dba’s). Ruh roh!

And then…

Later in the week, after reading about the power of Extended Events, you decide to play around and do a little discovery. You come across this blog post that shows you how to find all of the possible events within the XEvent Engine. So you run the script that you found and shown here:

SELECT xo.name AS EventName, xo.description
	FROM sys.dm_xe_objects xo
	WHERE xo.object_type = 'event'
		AND (xo.capabilities_desc <> 'private'
		OR xo.capabilities_desc IS NULL)
	ORDER BY xo.name;

And while looking through the events and descriptions you discover that there is an event to log all of the successful logins. Not thinking anything of the third party vendor (because it just makes your blood boil) you begin to dream of the potential for auditing all successful logins (established connections) for all users and documenting who may be doing what and when.

After taking a few notes about the potential for the login event and getting access and logins under better control, you continue along your journey through Extended Events by reading this article about Actions. Feeling comfortable enough from the article, you do what any good data professional, trying to learn a new topic, would do – you start exploring using the provided query:

SELECT xp.name AS PackageName
		, xo.name AS ActionName
		, xo.description AS ObjDescription
		, xo.capabilities_desc
	FROM sys.dm_xe_packages AS xp
		INNER JOIN sys.dm_xe_objects AS xo
			ON xp.guid = xo.package_guid
	WHERE ( xp.capabilities IS NULL
			OR xp.capabilities & 1 = 0
			)
		AND ( xo.capabilities IS NULL
				OR xo.capabilities & 1 = 0
			)
		AND xo.object_type = 'action'
	ORDER BY ActionName, PackageName;

While looking through the available actions, you see one in particular that causes you to mangledraise an eyebrow (not both, just one). There is an action called “debug_break”. You squirm and ponder for quite a bit at the name and definition of this particular object. You wonder out loud “why would anybody ever want that in there?”

Your co-worker interrupts with “Do what?”

To which you reply “Oh nothing important. It was just something I read.” After which you dismiss it, realize the time of day, pack up and head home for the evening. Hours later after the work day has long since been finished, you awaken in a cold sweat with an “Aha!” that startles your slumbering neighbors dog. Immediately you pull out your laptop, connect to your local sandbox instance and get to work with a wry smile and devious giggle.

Upon returning to work the next day, you call the vendor and work out a solution to build them a sandbox server to provide a proof of concept. You grant them the use of sa to use for their application login. Sitting down together and connected to the new sandbox, the vendor attempts to login and the following happens:

DEBUG_broke

Slack-jawed and speechless the vendor pales in complexion. Deep down inside you giggle like an elementary grade school girl – content with yourself. BATTLE WON!

After the vendor departs with a promise to rework the security requirements, you restart the service on the sandbox and go about the rest of your work week with a silly grin from ear to ear and nobody the wiser.

That concludes the trick. In the tradition of Halloween, you knocked on my virtual door of Extended Events and I, in accordance with the traditions of Halloween, gave you a trick and a treat.

I hope this helps you to understand the power of Extended Events. Thinking through a problem and reaching a solution is what XEvents can help to provide. I hope this Halloween XE article was enjoyable to you. Stay tuned as the XE 60 Day series goes full Zombie starting next week.

This has been another article in the 60 Days of XE series. If you have missed any of the articles, or just want a refresher, check out the TOC.

 

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