ETW Security

Much that Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) works with is securable. Event providers and tracing sessions that a program may hope to use can each have a persistent security descriptor from which the kernel can decide what access the program is permitted, depending on who runs it. Perhaps in response, but also for unrelated causes, the kernel may create some object through the Object Manager and supply a handle for further reference to the object, again subject to access rights. One scheme fits all ETW purposes.

Access Rights

The specific access rights that are meaningful in one way or another to ETW are defined in WMISTR.H. The name retains that ETW grew from the Windows Management Infrastructure (WMI), which Microsoft introduced with Windows 2000. Ever since, WMISTR.H has been published in both the Software Development Kit (SDK) and the Device Driver Kit (DDK). Except for one recent addition, all the defined permissions have been documented by Microsoft in one or both of these kits:

Value Name Versions
0x00000001 WMIGUID_QUERY 5.0 and higher
0x00000002 WMIGUID_SET 5.0 and higher
0x00000004 WMIGUID_NOTIFICATION 5.0 and higher
0x00000008 WMIGUID_READ_DESCRIPTION 5.0 and higher
0x00000010 WMIGUID_EXECUTE 5.0 and higher
0x00000020 TRACELOG_CREATE_REALTIME 5.0 and higher
0x00000040 TRACELOG_CREATE_ONDISK 5.0 and higher
0x00000080 TRACELOG_GUID_ENABLE 5.0 and higher
0x00000100 TRACELOG_ACCESS_KERNEL_LOGGER 5.0 and higher
0x00000200 TRACELOG_CREATE_INPROC 5.0 and higher
TRACELOG_LOG_EVENT 6.0 and higher
0x00000400 TRACELOG_ACCESS_REALTIME 5.0 and higher
0x00000800 TRACELOG_REGISTER_GUIDS 5.1 and higher
0x00001000 TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP 1607 and higher
0x000207FF (5.0);
0x00120FFF (5.1 to 1511);
WMIGUID_ALL_ACCESS 5.0 and higher

Tacked on at the end is the convenient symbol WMIGUID_ALL_ACCESS for the combination of all the specific rights that are defined for the version, plus STANDARD_RIGHTS_READ and, in version 5.1 and higher, SYNCHRONIZE.

Registry Configuration

Any of these specific access rights can be specified in a security descriptor for a persistent resource such as an event provider or tracing session, and most are meaningful. The securable ETW resources—and WMI resources, while we’re at it—that software may seek to access each have a GUID. Multiple programs, DLLs and drivers may plan to write events as if from one event provider. Each registers as the event provider, each specifying the one GUID that defines the event provider. When a program starts a tracing session, it specifies the tracing session by its GUID which thus distinguishes this tracing session from all others. The started tracing session can enable some selection of event providers, again specifying each by its GUID. Security too is found from the GUID:

Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\WMI\Security
Value: guid

where guid is the securable resource’s GUID in string form without braces. The binary data is required to be a self-relative security descriptor.

For the sort of administrator who is more used to specifying permissions as strings in the Security Descriptor Definition Language (SDDL), it may help to stress that the data for these registry values are not strings. The data is valid only if it has the REG_BINARY type. The bytes are interpreted as a SECURITY_DESCRIPTOR_RELATIVE structure, with Security IDs (SIDs), Access Control Lists (ACLs) and Access Control Entries (ACEs), the last of which contain the access rights.

Perhaps in greater need of stress is that these registry values do not have braces in their names. From Windows 8.1 to at least the 1803 release of Windows 10, Microsoft itself mistakenly encloses the GUID in braces when defining security for the event provider named Microsoft-Windows-Kernel-Interrupt-Steering. The apparent intention is that this provider allows all access to SYSTEM and to Administrators but only TRACELOG_GUID_ENABLE to LOCAL SERVICE, and nothing to anyone else. The effect instead is that no security is explicitly defined for this provider, and so its security is defaulted.

Default Permissions

Every securable ETW resource can have its own security set for it explicitly, but the same security is acceptable for many resources, perhaps even most. These can all have their security set implicitly from a configurable default. The special GUID {0811C1AF-7A07-4A06-82ED-869455CDF713} stands for all ETW resources that do not have their own permissions. Microsoft defines this GUID symbolically as DefaultTraceSecurityGuid in EVNTRACE.H from the SDK but leaves it otherwise undocumented: even today, 25th May, 2020, more than a decade after this GUID’s introduction for Windows Vista, Google reports no match at for either the GUID or its symbolic name.

The closest that Microsoft comes to documenting the default security for ETW resources is when documenting the EventAccessControl function:

By default, only the administrator of the computer, users in the Performance Log Users group, and services running as LocalSystem, LocalService, NetworkService can control trace sessions and provide and consume event data. Only users with administrative privileges and services running as LocalSystem can start and control an NT Kernel Logger session.

The first sentence is unchanged from the SDK for Windows Vista and has all along conveyed what arguably is most important to know: the default permissions are set up so that most of the access rights require some sort of privileged execution but with latitude. Full access is allowed to SYSTEM and Administrators, of course, and also to two important but not fully privileged accounts for services. Nearly full access is allowed to some users without their needing the supreme power of administrators.

Though administrators can edit the default security, they might better not and instead keep to setting security explicitly for specific resources. For this, they surely can be better administrators if armed with more detail on what is set already for the default. The following table has the permissions that Microsoft sets for the DefaultTraceSecurityGuid in the registry as it exists in the WIM file from which Windows is installed:

User or Group Access Rights Versions
localhost\Everyone TRACELOG_REGISTER_GUIDS 6.0 and higher
TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP 1607 and higher
1607 and higher
BUILTIN\Performance Log Users WMIGUID_QUERY;
6.0 and higher
BUILTIN\Performance Monitor Users WMIGUID_NOTIFICATION 6.1 and higher
TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP 1607 and higher
known only by SID, see note below TRACELOG_REGISTER_GUIDS;
1703 and higher

The newly defined TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP for the 1607 release of Windows 10 is additional to TRACELOG_REGISTER_GUIDS for Everyone and for ALL APPLICATION PACKAGES, but is omitted for the several identities that otherwise have all access. It is not known whether the omission is deliberate or an oversight, as might happen easily if these registry settings are generated by a tool from input that uses the C-language macro definition of WMIGUID_ALL_ACCESS but was not told that the target Windows build is 1607 or higher. It is anyway not yet known what TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP governs.

The 1703 release grants TRACELOG_REGISTER_GUIDS and TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP to yet another user, but no name is yet known. The SID is S-1-15-3-1024-3153509613-960666767-3724611135-2725662640-12138253-543910227-1950414635-4190290187.

The WMI Default

It plausibly never has happened in real-world practice, but if the DefaultTraceSecurityGuid has no valid security descriptor in the registry when ETW initialises while Windows starts, then ETW falls back to a built-in default. The security descriptor for this is built while Windows initialises and it is not configurable.

User or Group Access Rights Versions
5.0 and higher
5.0 to 5.1
5.2 and higher
localhost\Everyone WMIGUID_ALL_ACCESS 5.0 to 5.1
5.2 and higher

ETW inherits this default’s default from the original WMI security. Before version 6.0, this WMI default is the only default. As noted in Microsoft’s documentation of EventAccessControl, the original implementation was that WMI resources that do not have security set explicitly are wide open. The times were evidently different. It is perhaps as well to be clear that this default of granting of all access to Everyone persisted through all of version 5.1 despite the general strengthening of security for Windows XP SP2.

Local Service

Administrators who set security explicitly for an ETW or WMI resource may do well to note that both the ETW and WMI defaults extend full control not just to SYSTEM and to Administrators but to the otherwise less powerful LOCAL SERVICE and NETWORK SERVICE accounts. Services that do not need to have all access to all things are encouraged to run on these accounts, if only for humility. One such service that is vital to the practical use of ETW is EventLog. In Windows Vista and higher, it runs on LOCAL SERVICE (and has its own Service SID).

The security descriptors installed for some providers do not permit any access to anyone other than SYSTEM and Administrators. This shuts out the EventLog service. Some shut out Administrators too, and not without cause, but our interest for now is the EventLog service. Suppose an event provider would ordinarily write to some log that shows in the Event Viewer. Suppose also that security is set for this provider so that only SYSTEM and Administrators have access. Then even a user with administrative privilege will encounter an error on trying to enable the log through the Event Viewer or the WEVTUTIL command-line tool or any tool that uses the Windows Event Log functions such as EvtSaveChannelConfig. If this is not the effect you want, then remember to provide for LOCAL SERVICE (or for the EventLog service, specifically).

It is perhaps as well to spell this out, since the Internet confirms that the resulting error has been no small trouble to real-world users in the decade since this article and an older one that it linked to were first published. The immediate symptom is that the Event Viewer may seem to have enabled the log but no events show in the log and there is instead an error in the System log. The event ID is 30, with EventLog as the Source. The supposedly friendly text for the event is:

The event logging service encountered an error (5) while enabling publisher {guid} to channel log. This does not affect channel operation, but does affect the ability of the publisher to raise events to the channel. One common reason for this error is that the Provider is using ETW Provider Security and has not granted enable permissions to the Event Log service identity.

The text, though arguably cryptic, is correct. Though the Event Viewer runs with administrative privilege, the API call that would enable the event provider for the tracing session is actually made by the EventLog service, executing as WEVTSVC.DLL in a SVCHOST.EXE process that runs from the LOCAL SERVICE account. To enable it to log without error, you must edit the binary data for the registry value guid in the WMI\Security key. The least access that’s required to enable a log and avoid the error in the System log is TRACELOG_GUID_ENABLE.

User-Interface Support

Of course, even the most advanced of users won’t much like that setting security for an ETW resource turns into preparing a security descriptor by hand to enter into the Registry Editor as binary data for a registry value. There is programmatic support through the documented functions EventAccessControl, EventAccessQuery and EventAccessRemove, but writing a program must almost always look like overkill. What anyone would like is that some tool for the job already exists, i.e., is included with Windows.

The only user interface that I have ever known from Microsoft for viewing and changing the security settings of providers and loggers is in a Microsoft Management Console snap-in named PERFMON.MSC. This presents nowadays as the Performance Monitor. Among its Data Collector Sets are two sets of trace sessions. The Event Trace Sessions are all the loggers that are already started (well, all that are reported by the QueryAllTraces function). The folder named Startup Event Trace Sessions lists the loggers that are configured as AutoLoggers. The Properties dialog for any of these loggers lists the relevant providers and lets you manage security for each provider (via a Security button on the Trace Providers tab) and for the logger itself (via the Security tab).

As a user interface, this has two significant defects. First, it is not general. It is certainly not a browser of security settings for ETW and WMI resources. It does not even let you browse the installed providers for their security settings before they are assigned to a logger. You can define a logger and assign providers to it, and set security for this logger and for its providers. This security that you set for a provider through this logger then becomes its security in all loggers and persists even after you remove the provider from your logger. There is perhaps an opportunity here for some third-party manufacturer of low-level Windows maintenance gadgets.

Second, and this really is a coding error that may even make the user interface unsafe to use, it misses some of the specific access rights: WMIGUID_QUERY, TRACELOG_REGISTER_GUIDS and the new TRACELOG_JOIN_GROUP. The user interface does not report which of these are set, except by inference if it happens that WMIGUID_ALL_ACCESS is set. It is not possible to have this user interface set just one of these access rights. The coding error is that where WDC.DLL tells the CreateSecurityPage function in ACLUI.DLL about the specific rights that are available for these securable resources, the table of SI_ACCESS structures that it provides through the GetAccessRights method of its ISecurityInformation interface is incomplete. Whether this remains unfixed after more than a decade—at least to the 1803 release of Windows 10—because it has not been noticed or not been thought important enough to attend to is not known. Plainly Microsoft doesn’t want administrators to manage ETW security through the Performance Monitor. Does Microsoft want anyone to manage ETW security at all?

Abstract ETW Resources

Noted above is that the GUID for default security is not documented. It is just one example of a GUID that does not represent any particular event provider or tracing session or anything else concrete. This DefaultTraceSecurityGuid stands for all ETW resources that don't have their own security set for them. It is not the only such abstraction. However many exist, it would be naive to expect documentation.

Private Logger Security

One reason to leave abstract ETW resources undocumented is that they are meaningful only very deep into the ETW mechanism. This is certainly true of {472496CF-0DAF-4F7C-AC2E-3F8457ECC6BB}. Public symbol files name this as PrivateLoggerSecurityGuid. A C-language definition is published without comment in the NTWMI.H from the Enterprise edition of the WDK for Windows 10 Version 1511, specifically, but disclosure of that whole file was surely an oversight.

What the PrivateLoggerSecurityGuid governs is who can send a particular type of notification to an event provider. When a user-mode event provider is enabled for a tracing session in EVENT_TRACE_PRIVATE_LOGGER_MODE, the events it writes go to tracing buffers that are managed entirely in user mode but notifications it receives about the session’s start, stop and other operations still go through the kernel unless the session also has the EVENT_TRACE_PRIVATE_IN_PROC mode. Before the 1703 release of Windows 10, the kernel rejects these notifications unless the caller has TRACELOG_GUID_ENABLE access not just to the provider but also to the abstract PrivateLoggerSecurityGuid. The security descriptor that is set for this abstraction is presumably what Microsoft has in mind where documentation of EVENT_TRACE_PRIVATE_LOGGER_MODE says:

Only LocalSystem, the administrator, and users in the administrator group that run in an elevated process can create a private session.

Permissions for the PrivateLoggerSecurityGuid, as set into the registry in the WIM file from which Windows is installed, are very tight:

User or Group Access Rights Versions
BUILTIN\Administrators TRACELOG_GUID_ENABLE 6.1 and higher
6.1 and higher

Before Windows 7, the tighter security required for these notifications was that caller also have TRACELOG_GUID_ENABLE access to the SystemTraceControlGuid.

NT Kernel Logger

The SystemTraceControlGuid has long been documented and is the GUID of something very concrete, namely the NT Kernel Logger. Yet even before access to the system tracing functionality of the NT Kernel Logger was opened to other tracing sessions, its GUID {9E814AAD-3204-11D2-9A82-006008A86939} had abstract use to stand for any ETW resource that nobody should have the use of unless they would be permitted access to the NT Kernel Logger. Since version 6.2 this applies, naturally enough, to any tracing session that’s in EVENT_TRACE_SYSTEM_LOGGER_MODE. It also guards interfaces that can change system-wide behaviour that is meaningful only to such sessions.

The registry in the WIM file from which Windows is installed in version 6.0 and higher has the following permissions for the SystemTraceControlGuid:

User or Group Access Rights Versions
6.0 to 6.1
1607 and higher
NT SERVICE\WdiServiceHost
6.2 to 1511
1607 and higher


As noted above, the scheme of specific access rights for ETW resources applies also to handles that are opened to various types of run-time object. The kernel has long restricted which few access rights matter for this, and in Windows 8.1 starts enforcing that only very few are valid. These objects that ETW creates through the Object Manager come in three types:

Object Name Structure Valid Access Rights Versions
WmiGuid unknown all 5.0 and higher
EtwRegistration ETW_REG_ENTRY all 6.0 to 6.2
6.3 and higher
EtwConsumer ETW_REALTIME_CONSUMER all 6.1 to 6.2

The WmiGuid object is inherited from before ETW was widely named ETW. This type of object might better be regarded as supporting the Windows Management Infrastructure (WMI), separately from ETW.

The EtwRegistration object dates from the substantial elaboration of ETW functionality for Windows Vista. The highest-profile reason for creating an EtwRegistration object is that user-mode software registers an event provider. A handle to the object is wrapped by NTDLL into a REGHANDLE that is then the higher-level representation of the registration. Much less visible is the creation of an EtwRegistration object as a vehicle for replying to event-provider notifications. Either way, handles to an EtwRegistration object only ever have the two permissions shown above, even in Windows Vista.

Windows 7 reworked the mechanism by which tracing sessions can consume events without needing that the tracing buffers be flushed to a log file. Handles to an EtwConsumer object only ever have the one permission shown above.

Generic Mappings

Access rights for all objects allow that the programmer (or user who sets them for persistence) need not know the specific rights but can instead refer to them generically according to which ones correspond to whatever abstracted notion the kernel supports of reading, writing or executing, or of having all access. Though the WMI and ETW objects use the same scheme of specific rights, they have different mappings of generic rights:

Generic Mask WmiGuid EtwConsumer