How do you get smarter in MDM & Group Policy?

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How do you get smarter in MDM & Group Policy?

Jul 2021
20

What is Cloud Config?

Not everyone needs to be a power user.  Some employees just need a basic computer to get the job done.  Examples include front line workers, home based users or those who access everything over a web browser.  While these users may only need the very basics, internal IT doesn’t want to skimp on security for them either.  It is for these types of situations that Microsoft began offering Windows 10 in cloud configuration.  Windows 10 Cloud Config simplifies the desktop experience for end users as well as the management experience for admins.   You can use it to configure new devices or reuse existing hardware in order to extend the life of older machines.   Because Windows 10 in cloud config is a Microsoft-recommended device configuration, you also know that it is secure.  Windows 10 Cloud Config is suited for the following types of scenarios:

  • Devices that do not require complex setting configurations
  • Are not dependent on any type of on-premise infrastructure
  • Uses a basic set of apps that are curated by internal IT such as Microsoft Teams and Edge

To be clear, cloud config is not Windows “lite.”  It is the full Windows experience.  You deploy devices with it or assign it to existing devices using Microsoft Endpoint Manager.  From there you manage these machines just like any other MDM enrolled device.  These devices are configured with Windows 10 endpoint security settings and automatically updated through Windows Update for Business.  Admins don’t have to do a thing.  All user data is stored and redirected to OneDrive.  For this reason, Microsoft does not recommend cloud config be used for shared devices.

Cloud config can be deployed to any device running any one of the following operating systems.   

  • Windows 10 Professional
  • Windows 10 Enterprise
  • Windows 10 Education

Cloud config requires the following licenses:

  • Azure Active Directory Premium P1
  • Microsoft Intune
  • Microsoft Teams
  • OneDrive for Business
  • Windows 10 Pro (minimum)

Note that Microsoft recommends Enterprise Mobility + Security E3 and Office 365 E3.

There are two ways to deploy Windows 10 cloud config in Microsoft Endpoint Manager.  The easiest way uses the new guided scenarios feature.  Cloud config is one of the sets of customized steps that admins can use to quickly deploy devices for a given scenario.  You can also configure cloud config manually in order to deploy it using the following steps:

  1. Create an Azure AD group
  2. Configure device enrollment
  3. Deploy a script to configure Known Folder Move and remove built-in apps
  4. Deploy apps
  5. Deploy endpoint security settings
  6. Configure Windows Update settings
  7. Deploy a Windows 10 compliance policy
  8. Additional optional configurations

For this example, we are going to use guided scenario.  You will find it by going to Troubleshooting + support > Guided scenarios.  The first time you access this section you may have to click the “Got it” button as shown below.

Then choose Deploy Windows 10 in cloud configuration by clicking the Start button for that scenario.

The first step involves the naming of the devices during the Windows Autopilot enrollment process.  If you choose not to use the device name template, all devices will use the OEM name.  If you select “Yes” however, you can then create a unique pattern to name the devices.  You can use the %RAND:x% variable to include a string of random characters after Fabrikam.  The X represents the number of random characters allocated.  In the example below we are appending 4 random characters to Fabrikam.

The next step is to select the apps you want to deploy to these devices. Because Cloud Config is about keeping things simple, Microsoft recommends keeping the list of included apps to a minimum so that your cloud config devices are simple to use and manage.  By default, the guided scenario includes Edge and Teams.  As you cannot remove them when using the guided scenario, you must uninstall them at a later time if you don’t want them.  You can then select additional Microsoft 365 optional apps as is shown in the screenshot below.

Next is the Assignment phase in which you will assign the cloud config devices to a group.  Here you can either create a new group or choose an existing group as is shown below.

After you create your group and click “Next” you will be presented with a Summary showing all of your selections.  You can go back to the other tabs, and change any values you added.  Once you verify your settings then click Deploy. 

You can then watch as the resources are being created along with their status.  If there's an error, then the guided scenario isn't deployed, and all changes are reverted.  Once deployed successfully you can use the monitoring and reporting features in the Endpoint Manager.  If you want to remove any of your chosen settings, go to each policy created by the cloud config guided scenario and configure the settings to Not Configured.  Then redeploy the policies. 

In the end, cloud config is just a recommended set of configuration settings for Windows 10 for standardized deployments that are easy to manage.  While it isn’t for everyone, it is an ideal fit for specific user scenarios. 

Jul 2021
10

Managing News and Interests on the Windows Taskbar

Those who have updated to Windows 10 Build 19042.964 via Windows 10 KB 10 KB5001391 have noticed the addition of the News and Interest Feed on the Windows taskbar.  The feed is announced on the taskbar by a weather icon by default that represents nearby current sky conditions.  With a click of the mouse you can gain access to nearby weather and traffic conditions, updates on your personal stocks as well as stories on professional or personal interests.   You can customize the stories and publisher sources by clicking on “Manage Interests” at the top as shown in the screenshot below.  A web browser will then open allowing you to tune your fee.  You can also select “More options” on headlines and article in order to share or save them.

Users can also customize how the newsfeed appears on the taskbar.  By default, the weather conditions icon and temperature are shown.  By right clicking on the icon, users can modify this in the context menu as shown below.

Windows admins will understandably want to manage the appearance of this new feature.  This can be done through either Windows Group Policy or Microsoft Endpoint Manager.  In order to access the associated Group Policy you need to obtain the Feeds.admx file.  You can access it by navigating to C:\Windows\PolicyDefinitions on a machine that has the update installed.  Copy the Feeds.admx file and paste it into your group policy central store.  You will also need the Feeds.adml file as well.  Those in the U.S. will find this file in the en-US directory.  The two locations are shown below.

You must then create a computer side policy by going to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > News and interests > Enable news and interests on the taskbar.  You can then choose to enable or disable the feature.  Enabling the policy will allow News and interests on the taskbar and give users access to the applicable context menu.  This will give users the ability to turn it off if they wish.  The policy is enabled in the screenshot below.

You can also manage News and interests in Microsoft Endpoint Manager as well by creating a Configuration profile.  Select Windows 10 and later as the platform and choose Settings catalog (preview) as the profile type.  After naming the policy, select “Add settings” to access the Settings Picker as shown below.

Then do a search for “news” and select “News and interest” and enable the setting as shown below.

You can also manage News and interests via the registry.  Go to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\POLICIES\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windws Feeds. 

Then assign a value accordingly:

  • 0 – show icon and text
  • 1 – show only icon
  • 2 – disabled

Of course these registry values can be deployed using Group Policy Preferences as well.  The screenshot below shows the designated registry key.

 

 

 

Jun 2021
11

GP and MDM Safeguard Holds

While the phrase, “between a rock and a hard place” stems from ancient Greek Mythology, it could easily apply to the task of applying Windows feature updates.  A new feature update can integrate new innovation and added value to your users.  On the other hand, that same update may also cause an rebellion amongst your helpdesk team as a ticket monsoon is created from that update going bad.  It’s a pendulum that can swing both ways.

What are Safeguard Holds?

That’s one reason why Microsoft developed Safeguard holds.  Safeguard holds prevent devices with a known compatibility issue from receiving a new feature update.  By doing so, it protects users from a potentially poor desktop experience should the updated feature not be a harmonious match for their particular device.  Microsoft uses quality and compatibility diagnostic data to identify issues of possible incompatibility.  When such a device is identified, it is placed on hold, which serves as a safeguard.  Devices that are placed on hold are prevented from installing the designated Windows 10 feature in order to preserve the user experience for the time being.  Microsoft then uses the captured diagnostic data to release a fix that addresses the compatibility issue and at some point, the hold will be released.  At that point, the update can then be delivered.  Microsoft also uses holds when a customer or partner reports a disruptive issue directly related to an update for which an immediate workaround is not available.  Those enterprises that utilize Microsoft Endpoint Manager can use Update Compliance reporting retrieve data related to current safeguard holds. 

Keep in mind that safeguard holds only apply to Windows devices that use Windows Update for Business.  Safeguard holds do not pertain to feature updates that are deployed through other channels such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or installation media.  Most enterprises should be using Windows Update for Business as it offers administrators the ability to define Windows Update service rings in order to manage update delivery schedules for different user classifications. 

Opting out of Safeguard Holds

Safeguard holds are a good thing.  However, there are instances when you might not want them.  For instance, internal IT may want to validate the newest feature on a test device (for those who have it, it is best to validate feature updates using the Windows Insider Program for Business Release Preview Channel).  Allowing the update to go through will allow you to experience the compatibility issue firsthand as well as assess other implications concerning the update.  For those who want to bypass holds for special circumstances, Microsoft released a Disable safeguards for Feature Updates Group Policy late last year.  The policy is applicable to any Windows Update for Business device running Windows 10, version 1809 or later with the October 2020 security update installed.

 

Deploying the Policy

There are several ways to deliver the Disable Safeguards policy to your devices.  For domain-joined devices, Group Policy is easy.  Create a GPO and go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates >Windows Components > Windows Update > Windows Update for Business and enable “Disable safeguards for Feature Updates” as shown in the screenshot below.

 

 

Administrators can also use an MDM such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager to manage your devices, you can create a custom profile to deploy the policy.  While the involved settings do not appear in the management interface, you can create a custom device configuration profile using OMA-URI settings.  Using Microsoft Endpoint Manager go to Devices and create a custom profile for the Windows 10 platform.  Provide a name for the OMA-URI setting and optional description if desired.  Then add the following settings as shown in the screenshot below.

  • OMA-URI: ./Vendor/MSFT/Policy/Config/Update/DisableWUfBSafeguards
  • Data type: Select Integer
  • Value: 1

 

Another way is to modify the registry.  You can do this manually or deploy the modification using Group Policy Preferences.  Start by going to the following key:

Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate

Right click on WindowsUpdate and select New > Dword (32-bit) Value

Name it DisableWUfBSafeguards

Set its value to “1” and reboot.

The finished result is shown below.

For those enterprises that utilize both domain-joined and non-domain joined machines, there are third party solutions such as PolicyPak that you can use to deploy the Disable Safeguards policy to any internet connected Windows 10 device.  In this case, the PolicyPak editors are built inside the Group Policy Management Editor so creating the policy is simple and straightforward.  Once created, you can deploy it using standard Group Policy, your chosen MDM solution or PolicyPak Cloud.  The screenshot below shows the creation process that utilizes the ADMX templates. 

 

To be clear, you shouldn’t disable Safeguard Holds to rush out feature updates to standard users, but this policy does provide administrators with greater the flexibility they need at times. 

 

Sep 2020
11

Microsoft Endpoint Policy Types Explained (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of this article series in which we take a look at the primary policy types that you can create and utilize in Microsoft Endpoint Microsoft (Intune).  In Part 1 we looked at Configuration Profiles and how they are the rough equivalent of GPOs in a traditional AD on premise domain in which some things were hidden, others revealed.  Here we will examine some of the other major components of MEM, all pertaining to security.

Security Baselines

Also referred to Security Profiles, Security Baselines are sets of Windows settings that are preconfigured by Microsoft Security engineers.  There are currently 3 Security Baselines as is shown below.  They are

  • Windows 10 Security Baseline
  • Microsoft Defender ATP Baseline
  • Microsoft Edge Baseline

The baselines by themselves don’t really do anything until you use one of them to create a security policy.  To create a profile you simply click on the appropriate baseline and then create your desired policy.  Baselines should be looked at as minimum security standards, although for most enterprises, they would work admirably.  You can change any of the settings, but keep in mind that when you unconfigure a setting, you are making it less secure.  In most cases, you should simply accept the settings as is and deploy the policies to their targeted users and devices.  The screenshot below shows the preconfigured BitLocker settings within the Windows 10 Security Baseline.

Compliance Policies

Compliance Policies are used to determine whether a device is compliant with a pre-defined baseline.  Compliance Policies vary on the platform of the device.  Some examples of Windows 10 compliant baselines can include the following:

  • BitLocker enabled
  • Minimum OS version
  • Password qualities
  • Firewall enabled and configured
  • Location of the device

You can then select a noncompliance action such as an email notification sent to the user informing them of their device’s noncompliance state.  You can even lock or retire a device that has been noncompliant for a specified duration.  An example of a Compliance Policy requiring a minimum Windows 10 OS version is shown below:

Conditional Access Policies

Conditional Access Policies work hand-in-hand with Compliance Policies.  They prevent access to noncompliant devices.  For instance, you can prevent devices connecting from anywhere outside of the U.S. for instance.  You can also list other conditional access requirements such as the installation of approved applications or MFA as shown in the screenshot below.  You should always test your Conditional Access Policies first as you could deny everyone access including yourself. 

Enrollment Restrictions

Although not a “policy” per se, Enrollment Restrictions play an important role in MEM security.  By default, authorized users can enroll 2 devices into the MEM portal.  If don’t want the default, you can create enrollment restrictions that will allow users to enroll anywhere from 1 to 15 devices.  You can also assign Device Type Restrictions that will prevent users from enrolling either personal devices, or designated device version platforms as is shown in the screenshot below.


Creating a MEM Strategy

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts in MEM.  The key is to ensure that all of your policies and restrictive settings work in conjunction of one another in order to safeguard your organization as well as ensure that your users can perform their required digital workloads.  While MEM alone falls short of the granular setting coverability of Group Policy, it can play an important role for new startups and established companies that have significant numbers of mobile and remote devices.

 

 

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