Admin DNS IT Operational Excellence

The IT Detective Agency: since when can a powered off PC do dynamic DNS updates?

The IT Detectives are back after a short lull during which no great mysteries needed expert resolution – you knew that situation couldn’t last too long. The following tale was relayed to me, I unfortunately cannot claim to have been any help whatsoever. The details have been somewhat obscured in this retelling.

The details
One of our DNS servers at drjohns was busy fielding lots and lots of DDNS updates. Good, right? No, not so. Because our employee PCs are all configured to not do this very thing. In Windows 7 drilling down into the advanced DNS settings you have a Checkbox for Register this connection’s addresses in DNS. And that is unchecked. So although we use DHCP, the PCs shouldn’t be sending their DDNS updates. Yet they were. In fact at one point a considerable amount of bandwidth was being eaten up with these unwanted updates, so we had to investigate and act. But where to begin?

Word finally got around to one of our PC experts who I guess probably had his suspicions. He suggested the following test:

turn the PC off and look for DDNS updates on the DNS server

Amazingly, that’s exactly what we found to be the case – DDNS updates coming from a powered off PC. The DDNS updates did not always go to the same DNS server. The chosen DNS server seemed randomly chosen, but they all were drjohns DNS servers.

A Wireshark examination of a trace (taken by a network engineer) showed lots of Dynamic Update SOA I looked at the trace and found that that was just a title given by Wireshark for what was happening, and not a very accurate one. If you expand the packet you saw inside of it that (mostly) it was a workstation trying to register its A record on the DNS server (a DDNS update). It wasn’t literally trying to change the SOA record for the zone though that might have been the logical result of updating its A record.

What the power-off test showed to our subject-area expert is that Intel vPro was responsible for these DDNS updates. Wait, you ask, what the heck is vPro? We didn’t know either. As I understand it, it’s an additional Intel chip that some business-class laptops (e.g., DELL Latitude) might include that permits more and better remote management, allowing perhaps even some hardware diagnostics to occur.

So let’s go back to that test. Note that I said PC powered off, I did not say disconnected from the network! Powered-off-but-network-connected produces the DDNS update, powered-off-and-disconnected – no update, of course (Hey, it’s not magic going on here!).

So the solution, obvisouly, is to turn off DDNS in vPro. We thought it was off, but maybe not. We expect and hope this to the solution, but a few more days will be needed before this all plays out and we know for sure.

I better hold off on any conclusion until our premise is confirmed! But one feeling I have is that sometimes you have to ingratiate yourself to the right people because no one person has all the answers!