How do you get smarter in MDM & Group Policy?

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With Jeremy Moskowitz

To consult about an on-site (Private) Group Policy class or the Group Policy Health Check, please call Laura Rubinstein at 215-391-0096 or email laura[[att]]policypak.com

To purchase seats in a LIVE or ONLINE training class, contact Laura Rubinstein at 215-391-0096 or email laura[[att]]policypak.com

Get serious, and perform “Best Practices” around Group Policy management. Take back control and get your IT life back!

Dates Class Actions
11 / 20 / 2019 Chicago2019 Learn More

How do you get smarter in MDM & Group Policy?

Feb 2020
25

What are Azure Security Defaults and Who Should Use Them? (Part 2)

In Part 1, of our blog series outlining the details of Azure security defaults, we left off on the topic of MFA registration, which utilizes the Microsoft Authenticator app.  While all users MUST register for MFA, MFA is not required for all users every time.  Security defaults does enforce MFA for privileged accounts every time they log on as these accounts have increased access to your environment.  Security defaults requires added authentication for the following nine Azure administrator roles.

  • Global administrator
  • SharePoint administrator
  • Exchange administrator
  • Conditional Access administrator
  • Security administrator
  • Helpdesk administrator or password administrator
  • Billing administrator
  • User administrator
  • Authentication administrator

MFA should be standard policy for all Azure admin account as account takeover attacks are one of the leading types of threats today.  Cybercriminals specifically target privileged accounts so special attention is needed.

Protecting all users

Security defaults is about improving the protection for all users, not just admin accounts.  While MFA is not required of every logon attempt, non-admin users are prompted for additional authentication when connecting from a new device or app.  There may be other instances that trigger MFA for standard users as well.

Limitations of MFA using security defaults

As mentioned, security defaults gives you free access to Azure AD MFA.  Free however, has its limitations.  Some of these shortcomings are listed below.

  • Admins have no control over verification methods
  • SMS and phone calls are not available as second factors
  • You cannot configure trusted IPs for MFA exclusion
  • An exclusion account for emergency access
  • No MFA reports or fraud alerts

Again, keep in mind that Azure security defaults gives you the bare security minimum.  To obtain more features and control over MFA, you will need to ante up some additional money.  If you have a license for Conditional Access but have not yet enabled it, you can use security defaults as a temporary security band-aid until you are ready to enable Conditional Access policies.

Blocking legacy authentication

The majority of compromising sign-in attempts come from legacy authentication.  These credential stuffing or account takeover attacks tend to be automated and performed by bot nets.  Legacy authentication utilizes protocols that only use basic authentication.  These outdated protocols only require single factor authentication and cannot enforce a second factor as part of the natural authentication flow.  This is in contrast to modern authentication, which does support second factor authentication.  Using legacy authentication, an imposter can simply bypass your active MFA policy.

Client applications or services that use legacy authentication also have a blaring vulnerability in that credentials are collected and then stored until validated against an authority.   Apps or services that utilize modern authentication never store credentials.  Instead, they only present them.  In other words, modern authentication never trusts the app or service that is requesting your credentials. 

For these reasons, it is highly recommended that legacy authentication protocols such as IMAP, SMTP and POP3 be blocked.  This means that clients cannot use an older version of Office 2010 but can use a more current version such as Office 2016.  Some email/faxing software and other types of applications require the use of these older protocols.  Make sure that none of your applications are using legacy authentication protocols before enabling security defaults.   

Protecting privileged actions

We mentioned how security defaults uses MFA to protect privileged user accounts.  It also protects privileged actions as well.  This is important because non-admin users can be delegated to Azure Resources.  Azure services can be managed through the Azure Resource Manager API.  These services include:

  • Azure portal
  • Azure PowerShell
  • Azure CLI

These services give users tenant wide powers such as the ability to modify configurations, service settings and billing subscriptions.  This is why it is imperative to verify the identity of users that utilize them.  When enabled, security defaults will require added authentication before allowing delegated access. 

Conclusion

Azure AD security defaults certainly has its shortcomings and should not be considered a long-term solution for any sizable organization.  It also does not provide the rich security protections that many organizations need to satisfy security policies or compliances.  It does provide a “one-click” easy button that new tenants can use to protect themselves right out of the gate while they begin to learn their solution options.  While it may provide ample protection for small organizations, tenant owners should view it as a transitory measure only.  Security defaults is a great first step and one that hopefully, will better secure the entire O365 community as well. 

Feb 2020
25

What are Azure Security Defaults and Who Should Use Them? (Part 1)

The old adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink,” certainly applies to cybersecurity today.   You can provide users and organizations with all types of cybersecurity tools and policies, but as long as they are optional, you cannot make them utilize them.  A case in point is the enforcement of multifactor authentication (MFA) for Azure.  Despite the fact that Microsoft attests that MFA will prevent 99.9 percent of account compromises, only around 8 percent of administrative accounts in Azure AD use it.  In a world in which credential stuffing attacks initiate billions of malicious login attempts on a monthly basis, MFA should be an enforced policy for every organization.  The hard truth is that we live in a digital world in which security is no longer optional. 

Depreciation of Baseline Security Policies

Microsoft has already been providing a set of predefined policies to help organizations protect themselves against common attacks.  There were four baseline policies.

  • Require MFA for admins (preview)
  • End user protection (preview)
  • Block legacy authentication (preview)
  • Require MFA for service management (preview

Azure admins could enable or disable them for their Azure userbase.  Unfortunately, too many organizations have not taken advantage of these policies or the rich set of security capabilities such as Conditional Access.  This not only makes them more vulnerable, but adds to the collective threat environment for everyone else as well.  Every computer that is compromised serves as one more potential attack vehicle that perpetrators can use for malicious deeds towards others.  The IT industry is starting to recognize that organizations not only have a responsibility to protect their own users, but share in the universal collective effort to make the world a less vulnerable place.  By hardening up our own attack surfaces, we harden the world as well.  As a result, Microsoft is depreciating these predefined policies on February 29, 2020, replacing them with the new “Security Defaults.”

What are Azure Security Defaults?

The intention of Security Defaults is simple; provide an enforced default security state for all Azure organizations that do not implement security policy initiatives on their own.  Security Defaults are available to all tenants and like Baseline Security policies, are offered at no additional cost.  New tenants will automatically have security defaults enabled by default.  If your tenant was created on or after October 22, 2019, chances are that security defaults is already enabled.  In the coming phase, Microsoft will begin retroactively enabling it for existing domains who have failed to enact any security measures on their own.  These security defaults enforce the following:

  • Unified Multi-Factor Authentication registration
  • Multi-Factor Authentication enforcement
  • Blocking legacy authentication
  • Protecting privileged actions

If you are an existing tenant prior to the October date and currently and currently do not utilize security policies of any kind, you will need to enable Security Defaults for now.  You can do this by going to Azure Active Directory > Properties > “Manage Security defaults” and set the Enable security defaults toggle to Yes as is shown below.

If you currently utilize Conditional Access, Classic or Identity Protection policies that consist of settings that may conflict with any of the security default offerings, you will receive an error message when trying to enable default security policies as is shown below.

Note that you will have to disable Security defaults before creating conditional access or other security policies that involve conflicting settings.  Keep in mind too that Security defaults is a bare minimum.  While they may be appropriate for small organizations, medium or large enterprises should expand into policies that are more comprehensive. 

MFA Registration

Let’s start with multifactor authentication.  Security defaults require all users within the tenant to register for MFA.  MFA requires a user to use a second method of authentication to prove their identity in addition to their logon credentials.  The most popular method currently is SMS MFA in which the user must type in a unique one-time code sent to their cell phone after logging on with their assigned credentials.  While this and other methods are available in Azure Conditional Access policies, it is not an available option under Security defaults.  Azure Security defaults only utilizes the Microsoft Authenticator app

Once you enable Security defaults, users are required to register for MFA within 14 days.  The 14-day clock starts from the time the user logs on for the first time once the security defaults are enabled.  Should a user fail to register within this required time frame, the user will not be able to logon until the FMA registration is completed.  The screenshot below shows what users will see during the 14-day registration period.

In addition to completing the MFA registration process, users must also install the Microsoft Authenticator app on their cell phone.  We will cover Multi-Factor Authentication enforcement in Part 2 of this blog series. 

Jan 2020
08

MSIX … What it means for you… and managing those Applications

MSIX … What it means for you… and managing those Applications

Do not be alarmed if you see a file with an .msix extension to it.  MSIX is the latest application installer for Windows applications.  Now that you know what it is, the next question is probably, why does the world need another application installer?

Good question.  After all, we already have three installer formats.


The current set of Installer Choices

The former trilogy of application installers include EXE, MSI and AppX packages.  EXE installers are the most recognized and best suited for manual installs.  They incorporate GUI driven wizards that guide users through the installation process.  This allows for customized options such as multiple languages, add-ons and selected file paths.  EXE installers can also detect previous installations.  Because they are so accommodative to customization, they are also complex.   This makes unattended installs challenging.  EXE files also make admins very nervous in a malware world. 

MSI installers are simple, which is why they are best-suited silent unattended installations.  They too use graphical interfaces but do not offer extras or customized options, nor can MSI installers detect prior installations.  Finally, there are AppX installers.  These are used for Universal Windows apps and have similar characteristics to MSI installers in that they are simple and straightforward.  One thing that sets them apart from the other two is that they rely on container technology.  This isolates them from the rest of the operating system.  This makes them much more secure.  Unfortunately, AppX packages can only be used for Windows 10 so legacy machines cannot utilize them.


The new alternative called MSIX

MSIX is the new kid in town.  It is not very popular as of yet as it was just released in 2018.  It is the alternative to the current three and Microsoft intends that the MSIX packaging solution to be the centerpiece of its deployment toolset eventually.  Like many great ideas from Microsoft, new tools and ways of doing things take time for organizations to digest them.  The MSIX installer platform does not have a great market presence as of yet.   That does not take away from its many benefits however.  MSIX has definite improvements over its predecessors as it combines the best features of MSI and APX into a single format.  Basically, it installs like an MSI file, but behind the scenes, installs like an AppX.  You can create MSIX packages with either an interactive user interface or command line sequence.  Let’s look at the advantages associated with this new installer format.


Advantages of the MSIX Installer

One thing common to traditional applications is that tend to leave a footprint.  This footprint consist of AppData files and registry entries that never seem to get deleted after the application is uninstalled.  This clutter then lives on for the lifetime of the hosted machine.  MSIX has alleviated this.  Like AppX, MSIX is based on a containerized model.  This simplifies both the install and uninstall processes.  Uninstalling an MSIX package will remove any files and registry entries created by the app within the AppData folder, reducing machined clutter.

Unlike AppX installers, MSIX installers work on more than just Windows 10 machines and they support 32-bit applications.  Microsoft has released an SDK, which provides all API’s necessary to unpack an app package on multiple platforms.  Its cross-platform compatibility includes iOS, MacOS, Android, Linux and Windows 7.  In addition, the process of converting older applications to the MSIX format is far easier than to AppX.  You can also convert AppX applications to MSIX as well.  MSIX package bundling allows a single package to contain multiple language or device specific items, except unlike EXE installs, they options can be automatically selected by Windows. 

MSIX can also hand over the updating process to the operating system.  This streamlines the updating process by making it more secure and reliable.

Security is at the epicenter of MSIX.  MSIX applications are tamper proof because they must be digitally signed regardless of how the packages are installed.  For software vendors creating MSIX packages to publish in the Microsoft Store, Microsoft will sign the package once the approval process has been is complete.  Organizations intending to publish MSIX for direct download or internal network distribution must sign it with a valid code-signing certificate purchased from a certificate authority.

 

The MSIX Packaging Tool

You can download the MSIX packaging tool from the Microsoft Store.  The package tool requires Windows 1809 and later.  Microsoft recommends that you create a clean VM for the conversion host.  Keep in mind that the MSIX Packaging Tool will assume the processor architecture of the Windows 10 OS version in which the conversion process is taking place. You must convert your installers in the same environment where you expect to deploy them.  Once installed, simply open the tool to begin the packaging wizard.  You will be first be asked to choose the selected task.  In this example, we are creating a new application package.

 

 

You will then choose the desired packaging method.

 

The packaging tool will perform an assessment of the machine that will handle the conversion process.

 

You will then set out to create the package.  You need to select the installer you want to package.  Then you must select a signing preference.  Your choices are as follows:

 

In the example below, we have selected an MSI installer with no arguments.  We are signing using a certificate from a certificate authority with the assigned password.

 

Next, fill out required packaging information.

 

Click “Next” and the installation process will begin. During this process, the packager will capture the registry or any files needed to install or configure the app.

 

At this point, the conversion process will listen for any executables that are triggered at the initial launch of the application.  This is why it is essential use a quiet machine for the conversion process.  Captured executables will be displayed on the screen.  It is here that you will manage any first launch tasks.  You should launch the application at least one time in order to capture any first launch tasks. 

 

Upon clicking “Next” you will asked to confirm that you wish to culminate the listening process.

 

Now choose a destination folder for the final package and click Create.

 

That completes the MSIX packaging process.  Be prepared to see MSIX packages a lot more down the road.  

 

Jan 2020
02

Two Worlds Unite to Form Microsoft Endpoint Manager

It is a wonderful thing when new initiatives benefit both the company behind the implementation and the customers they serve.  Such is the case with the announcement at Ignite 2019 that ConfigMgr and Intune are melding together to become one.  Together, the idea is that they will form a single management conglomerate tool called Microsoft Endpoint Manager. 

The MEM console will show a single view of all devices managed by either product through a single interface.  Here's an example.

So the idea is that you can now manage ConfigMgr devices through the MEM interface.  Of course, you can still manage through one or the other if you wish and there are some features that cannot be replicated amongst the two.  Separately, the two tools will be known as:

  • Microsoft Endpoint Manager Microsoft Intune (MEMMI)
  • Microsoft Endpoint Manager Configuration Manager (MEMCM)

The merging of these two management systems now forms a new modern device management system that is exactly what internal IT needs to manage the modern workplace of today.  Modern management for the modern workspace.  That was a common theme at Ignite.

Branding and Licensing Simplification

Some may say that the merging is a recognition by Microsoft that vast majority of companies continue to stick to ConfigMgr and Group Policy to manage enterprise desktop devices.  While Intune is capable of managing your entire Windows 10 environment, many companies continue to limit its management scope to mobile devices. 

For Microsoft, bringing the two management systems together under one roof allows them to simplify their branding under one incorporated name.  By integrating ConfigMgr into the Intune Portal itself, Microsoft is undoubtedly hoping that enterprises can better amalgamate themselves with the capabilities and functionality of MEMMI. 

Users will enjoy the simplification of both licensing and experience.  Those enterprises that currently have ConfigMgr licenses will automatically have Intune licenses too, allowing them to co-manage their desktop devices with both tools.  From a product perspective, admins will be able to view their mobile devices and ConfigMgr controlled PC’s from a single interface.  No more having to bounce repeatedly back and forth between interfaces throughout the course of the day.  Says Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, “It’s all about simplifying — and we’re taking that simplifying deep and broad from a branding, licensing and product perspective,”

By implementing the new co-existing licensing model, Microsoft is encouraging those companies that need to need leave existing systems in place to provision new machines as cloud-managed devices.  Regardless of how the device managed however, MEM provides a single view of all devices managed by either product.

Examining the Licensing Structure

So when you think of the new licensing model, think of the management scope of ConfigMgr.  ConfigMgr specializes in PC desktop management, so your PC devices are now automatically licensed for Intune as well so you can go ahead and enable co-management if you want. Note: Phones and non-Microsoft devices are still the exclusive domain of Intune (MEMMI) so those devices are not applicable to receive dual licensing.   Note you will still need Azure Active Directory P1 licensing for your users.  Mobile devices, iOS and Linux machines will remain exclusively licensed under MEMMI.

Intelligence Driven

Modern management systems must be intelligence based in order to maximize the user experience.  There are currently 190 million devices managed by either ConfigMgr or Intune.  The convergence of ConfigMgr and Intune greatly scales the potential use of telemetry power that Internal IT can utilize in its PC deployments and problem solving.  MEM will be introducing an array of intelligent actions that will give admins granular analysis as well as new comparative insights to their environments versus others. 

One example of this is Productivity Score.  Productivity Score will allow organizations to evaluate their employee and technology experiences into measurable metrics that Internal IT can use to justify the value that it brings to the organization.  From the perspective of the user experience, it will quantify how people are collaborating on content, developing a meeting culture and communicating with one another.  Real measured results concerning these types of user experiences can offer insights into how to enhance the user experience and increase productivity.    The technology experience will provide insights into assessing policies, device settings, device boot times, application performance and adherence to security compliances

MEM is an Endpoint

Many of us predicted this would happen one day.  As companies strive towards digitally transforming their organizations from the ground up, it was only a matter of time until something was done to streamline the management of on-premise and mobile desktops in scale.   One point that Anderson emphasized his Intune presentation MEM is that the merging of these two management system giants is not a temporary arrangement.  Says Anderson,

"Let me be very clear -- this vision includes both ConfigMgr and Intune.  Co-management isn't a bridge; it's a destination."

MEM allows you to start utilizing cloud intelligence without making a single change to your ConfigMgr policies.  Working collaboratively together, yet visible and accessible through a single interface, MEM provides the modern management system that Windows enterprises need. End-to-end management and automation is now available in a converged license package.  Look for the MEM transformation to emerge within your Intune environment. 

     

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