MDM & GP Tips Blog

Aug 2022

A Closer Look at Safeguard Holds

There are no guarantees in life. That’s certainly the case with software updates. Sometimes an update that offers a new operating system version just doesn’t’ work out due to compatibility issues with a particular device. This can cause the update to either fail or rollback. Even worse, it could result in data loss or a loss of connectivity or key functionality.  That’s why Microsoft monitors quality and compatibility data to identify issues before they can affect too many machines. Issues may also be reported from Microsoft partners and customers as well. Once these issues are identified, Microsoft enacts a Safeguard Hold to prevent other devices with this known compatibility issue from being offered the designated feature update. The safeguard hold is enforced long enough to give Microsoft ample time to address the issue. Once a fix is derived and verified, the hold is lifted, and the Windows update will once again be readily offered to devices.

Disabling Safeguards

While its not necessarily recommended, you can disable safeguards so that devices will ignore them. Keep in mind that the update may likely fail. If you want to take the chance, however, create a GPO and go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Windows Update for Business and enable the “Disable safeguards for Feature Updates” setting as shown below.


You can also do this using an MDM such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager with the DisableWUfBSafeguards CSP. The required custom OMA-URI settings are as follows:

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

Safeguards for Two Types of Issues

New Windows feature updates that are deployed using either Windows Update service or Windows Update for Business are subject to Safeguard holds for a known issue.  A “known issue” is a confirmed problem that may occur after an upgrade for a specific set of devices. In addition to known issues, there are also “likely issues.” A likely issue means that the problem has not been confirmed by Microsoft but has been discovered through machine learning out in the ecosphere. Issues could involve rollbacks, connectivity issues, app or driver malfunction as well as problems with graphics and audio. Once identified, a temporary safeguard hold is enabled on the designated update until either the issue has been confirmed and upgraded to a known issue (in which the safeguard hold is continued) or it has been identified as a false positive, in which case the hold is removed.

The Windows Update for Business Deployment Service

The Windows Update for Business deployment service is a cloud service within the Windows Update for Business product family. It provides a next level of control concerning the approval, scheduling, and safeguarding of Windows updates. Here you can use safeguard holds against likely updates issues. You can also do things such as bypass preconfigured Windows Update for Business policies to manually deploy a security update on command across your organization should an emergency arise. To utilize this service, you must have one of the following subscriptions:

  • Windows 10/11 Enterprise E3 or E5 (included in Microsoft 365 F3, E3, or E5)
  • Windows 10/11 Education A3 or A5 (included in Microsoft 365 A3 or A5)
  • Windows Virtual Desktop Access E3 or E5
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium

You can then do a search for it in MEM and configure as you need to.

To see if you are affected by a Safeguard hold you can use Update Compliance in MEM to run a Safeguard Holds report that can provide insights into existing holds that are preventing devices from updating or upgrading. You can get more information about these reports here.



Aug 2022

12 New Policies and Security Baseline for Microsoft Edge v104

Microsoft just released a security baseline for Microsoft Edge version 104.  Be aware that when you go to download it you won’t see version 104 listed because it still utilizes version 98 as none of the security policies have changed yet. Microsoft v104 introduced 12 new settings that can be used within Computer and User policies. The new setting policies are as follows:

  • Allow import of data from other browsers on each Microsoft Edge launch
  • Configure browser process code integrity guard setting
  • Define domains allowed to access Google Workspace
  • Double Click feature in Microsoft Edge enabled (only available in China)
  • Enable Drop feature in Microsoft Edge
  • Get user confirmation before closing a browser window with multiple tabs
  • Text prediction enabled by default
  • XFA support in native PDF reader enabled
  • Enables Microsoft Edge mini menu *
  • Get user confirmation before closing a browser window with multiple tabs *
  • Restrict the length of passwords that can be saved in the Password Manager

* These policies are available as both mandatory and user override settings

You can download the three ADMX templates new for Edge version 104 here as shown below.

One of these settings, “Configure browser process code integrity guard setting” restricts the ability to load non-Microsoft signed binaries. When enabled, there are three mode options:

  • Disabled (0) = Do not enable code integrity guard in the browser process.
  • Audit (1) = Enable code integrity guard audit mode in the browser process.
  • Enabled (2) = Enable code integrity guard enforcement in the browser process.

Administrators are encouraged to run this setting in Audit mode (1) early on for compatibility purposes. Audit mode is currently the default but a future security baseline will change this to Enabled (2) once Microsoft has enough data to proceed.  The setting options are shown in the screenshot below:

If you haven’t yet imported the secruity baseline, you can do so by running the Baseline-ADImport.ps1 script as shown below.

You can refer to my blog on the Security Baseline for Edge v95 for more information about how to use security baselines for Microsoft Edge.



Jul 2022

Use Group Policy or Intune to Reclaim Disk Space with Storage Sense

Storage Sense is a disk cleanup feature found in Windows 10 and Windows 11 to free up drive space. When enabled, it serves as a silent assistant that automatically gets rid of items that you no longer need such as temporary files and items in your Recycle Bin. When enabled with its default settings it will run whenever the device is low on disk space. It can also delete neglected cloud backed content; a process referred to as Cloud Content Dehydration. This is especially valuable for users whose cloud storage far exceeds their local drives.

Using Group Policy to Manage Storage Sense

You can enable Storage Sense and configure settings using either Group Policy or Intune/MEM.  To enable it using Group Policy, create a GPO and go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Storage Sense and enable “Allow Storage Sense” as shown below.

Once enabled, Storage Sense will delete files from the Recycle Bin by default after 30 days. You can modify this period by enabling “Configure Storage Sense Recycle Bin cleanup threshold” and choose any digit between 0 and 365. A value of zero means that the files will never be deleted. You would do this if you wanted to enable Storage Sense but disable its Recycle Bin capabilities. The screenshot below shows the available policy settings.

Storage Sense also deletes Temporary files by default as well so there is no need to enable the “Allow Storage Sense Temporary Files cleanup” but you do need to specifically disable it if you don’t want it utilized.

One folder that Storage Sense doesn’t clean up by default is the Downloads folder. All those downloads become forgotten over time and can quickly add up, especially if it includes large ISO files. You can turn on this feature by enabling the “Configure Storage Storage Downloads Cleanup Threshold” and once again choosing 0 to 365 days. (BTW that isn’t a typo, the setting does repeat the world storage).

Next, lets enable the “Configure Storage Sense Cloud Content Dehydration Threshold” setting. Here you will input the minimum number of days you want a cloud-backed file to be unopened before being deleted. I chose 90 days in the screenshot below.

Finally, there is the “Configure Storage Sense Cadence” setting. By default, Storage Sense will run whenever it detects low disk space, but you can force it to run on a scheduled cadence using this setting as shown in the screenshot below.

Intune/Endpoint Manager and Storage Sense

You can also manage Storage Sense using Intune/MEM as well.  Create a Configuration Profile and select Windows 10 and later as the platform and Settings as the Profile type. After naming the configuration profile, do a search for Storage Sense and select Storage as the category once found. Then choose the desired settings you want to configure. The process is illustrated in the screenshot below.

Once the settings are configured, complete the wizard, and assign to the group your designated group(s). Now you won’t have to worry about forgotten files taking up footprints across your PC fleet.



Jul 2022

4 Group Policy Settings That Can Help Prevent Ransomware

We all know how serious the ransomware threat is today and that unfortunately, there is no one magical solution to stop it. Protecting against ransomware requires a multilayer cybersecurity strategy, also referred to as defense in depth. This includes steps such as ensuring that all systems are up to date in their patching, enforcing MFA for email access, and not allowing local admin rights for standard users. There are also some group policy settings that you can use to incorporate into your strategy as well. Below are four that can help in different ways.

1. Enabling Network Protection

Network protection is a Windows features that helps prevent users from using an application inadvertently to access dangerous domains that may host phishing scams, exploits, ransomware payloads and other malicious content.  It’s a component of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint and requires Windows 10 or 11 Pro (Pro and Enterprise) and Windows Server 2019+. The list of domains is supplied by Microsoft. Network protection blocks all HTTP and HTTPS traffic that attempts to connect to these contains. Think of it as web protection for non-browser applications.

To enable this feature, create a GPO and go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Microsoft Defender Antivirus > Microsoft Defender Exploit Guard > Network Protection. There there are two policies for you to configure. The first step is to enable “This setting controls whether Network Protection is allowed to be configured into blog or audit mode” as shown below.

You then need to choose between Block and Audit. Block is self-explanatory in that users will not be able to access the domains in question. Audit mode allows users to still connect to the flagged domains but records the event into a log file. This allows you to get a read on what sites your users are utilizing before blocking them entirely. The screen shot below shows how to select between the two options.

2. Enable Controlled Folder Access

Controlled folder access was made available in Windows 10 and is supported in Window 11 as well as Server 2019 and 2022. It’s a component of Windows Defender Exploit Guard that prevents the data hosted in designated folders from being altered. In other words, if malware attempts to modify (encrypt) the files in these protected folders without authorization, the attempt is blocked, and an alert is generated. By default, certain system folders are protected such as a user’s Documents folder, Pictures, Desktop, etc. but you can also add folders as well. Note that the controlled folder access feature does not function if a third-party antivirus application is installed on the targeted system.

To configure Controlled folder access simply create a GPO and go to Computer configuration > Administrative templates > Windows components > Windows Defender Antivirus > Windows Defender Exploit Guard > Controlled folder access. Start by enabling “Configure controlled folder access” as shown below. You can choose to disable it, block it or choose Audit mode, both of which in the same fashion as Network Protection. You can also choose to only block or audit disk modifications which involve the writing to disk sectors by untrusted apps.

You can add additional folders to the list by clicking “Configure Protected Folders” and add the folders you want protected.

The end result will look like the example below. Note that you can also choose “Configure allowed application” to specify applications that are allowed to alter the data contained in the protected folders.

3. Disable Remote Desktop

Once a ransomware variant takes hold in your network, it then works to spread laterally across your IT estate. One of the ways is through remote desktop connection. That’s one of the reasons why Windows 11 has an account lockout policy enabled that only allows for 10 failed sign-in attempts over a 10-minute period. This blocks RDP brute-force attacks. Because some ransomware variants utilize RDP connection to spread, it’s a good idea just to disable it unless required.

Create a GPO and go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Remote Desktop Services > Remote Desktop Session Host and disable “Allow users to connect remotely by using Remote Desktop Services” as shown in the screenshot below.

4. Show Hidden File Extensions

Cybercriminals use multiple nefarious tactics to get users to click on a malicious file. One of these methods includes the use of double file extensions. An example may be “letter.doc.exe” in which a user mistakes the file for a Word document if the executable extension is hidden. To ensure that file extensions are visible you can create a GPO and go to User Configuration > Group Policy Preferences > Control Panel Settings > Folder Options and make sure that “Hide extensions for known file types” is unchecked as shown in the screenshot below.

We’ve only touched the surface here. There are many other group policy settings available that can aid in preventing ransomware from bringing down your systems and we will cover more in the future.



Jun 2022

Managing Removable Disks and Devices Using Group Policy and MEM

Your organization can invest in an entire portfolio of cybersecurity tools including email and web filtering, next generation firewall appliances and endpoint security solutions to protect your Windows computing devices. But deploying all those tools can still leave your machines vulnerable to zero-day attacks and malware infestations. That’s because all the filtering and firewall policies in the world won’t stop malicious code from being transferred from an insertable USB stick. The USB port remains a viable attack avenue for hackers and their malicious code creations to infiltrate computers thanks to users sharing USB drives. Fortunately, there are easy ways to manage removable storage access for your fleet of enterprise Windows devices.

Using Group Policy

Let’s start with Group Policy. You can manage removable storage settings on the Computer or User side. A Computer policy would prevent IT personnel with admin privileges from using USB sticks, thus preventing them from performing some of their everyday tasks. The purpose of this policy is to prevent standard users from transferring malicious code, so a User Configuration policy makes the most sense. Create a GPO and go to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Removable Storage Access as shown below.

Let’s clear up any confusion concerning the various removable storage options listed. If you are younger than age 30 you probably don’t know what a floppy disk is and that’s a good thing. For most modern computers today, you need only worry about Removable Disks (USB sticks and external drives) and Windows Portable Devices which include things such as smart phones, cameras, etc. An example would be transferring pictures from a smart phone to a laptop. In the screenshot above I have enabled settings to deny read and write access to removable disks and denied write access to WPD devices.

Another option is to prevent users from installing removable devices onto their machines. You can only do this on the Computer side but there is a setting called “Prevent installation of devices not described by other policy settings” that is perfect for this situation. You can find it by going to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Device Installation Restrictions. The enabled policy is shown below.

Using MEM

You can also configure removable storage policies using Microsoft Endpoint Manager. There are a couple of ways to do it. The first is to go to Devices > Configuration profiles and create a profile. Select “Windows 10 and later” as the platform and Templates as the Profile > then choose Administrative Templates from the list of available templates.  Name the policy and then drill down to System. Here you will find both groups of desired settings as shown below.

Drilling down into Device Installation we can enable the “Prevent installation of devices not described by other policy settings” policy for MDM enrolled devices.

You can then go up one level and scroll over to the Removable Storage Access settings. Below I have enabled the “Removable Disks: Deny execute access” setting.

You can also configure these settings using the Settings picker.  Rather than choosing Templates as the profile type, select Settings. Then use the Settings picker to search for “Removable Storage” and select the correct category. Then choose the desired settings in the section below and configure them as shown in the screenshot below. You can do the same then for Device Installation settings.

Jun 2022

Microsoft Endpoint Manager Offers Built-in Settings for Google Chrome

Microsoft Endpoint Manager (Intune) has given admins the ability to manage and deliver Google Chrome settings for some time now.  Until recently however, one had to create a custom OMA-URI device configuration policy to do so, which no one considers a very fun thing to do.  For instance, if you wanted to enforce the home page in Chrome you would need to know the OMA-URI path which most people have to look up.


You would then configure the string value for the policy:

Data type: String


Well good news, MEM now supports built in settings for Google Chrome and there are two ways to do this.  In MEM go to Devices > Configuration profiles > Create profile.  Choose “Windows 10 and later” as the platform and under profile type select either Settings catalog or Templates. 

Let’s first use the Settings catalog to set the home page.  Hit the Create button, name the profile, and click Next.  Here you need to click Add settings as shown in the screenshot below.

This takes you to the Settings picker. While built in settings are preferable to configuring OMA-URI configuration profiles, it isn’t always easy to find the setting you want.  Rather than browsing through all the included settings, you should do a search to locate the settings as efficiently as possible. This is much like doing a Google search so the more specific you are the better.  For instance, you could do a search for “Chrome” and choose the Chrome Administrative Templates that users cannot override, but this would still narrow it down to only 516 setting results as shown below.

Therefore, it’s good to know the name of the setting to find it quickly.  In the example below I searched “configure home page”.  Then I clicked on the “Home page and New Tab page” category and chose “Configure the home page URL” on the user side.

After finding the correct setting, I then configured it as shown in the screenshot below by enabling it and typing in the designated home page.  Click next and assign the profile to one or more groups and finish out the wizard to save it.

We can accomplish the same thing using Administrative Templates option. Once again you will name the profile using the Wizard and click Next.  This time let’s make it a computer side policy setting so expand Computer Configuration > Google > Google Chrome > Startup, Home page and New Tab page > Configure the home page URL.  Then enable and input the desired URL as last time.  The process is shown in the example below.

There are many setting options available in the Administrative Templates.  For instance, the screenshot below shows how to enforce Google SafeSearch for users.

In another example, I have specified the minimum SSL version for Google Chrome under User Configuration as well.

While you still must know where to go to find the desired settings you want, managing Google Chrome settings is a lot easier now under MEM.

May 2022

Use Intune or GPOs to Move the Windows 11 Taskbar to the Traditional Left

Users are creatures of habit. They expect things a certain way and when they aren’t, they often call the help desk. For years, users have been accustomed to the Windows taskbar and Start button tucked in the left-hand corner of the screen. Thus, the default position of the Windows 11 start menu in the center may throw some for a loop. There is an easy way to fix this as an individual user using the Personalization tab in the Settings menu. To do this for all your users requires a policy and here are two ways to do it.  Each involves making a change to the registry.

Group Policy Preferences

We need to add a value called "TaskbarAl" that will reside in the following registry key path:


It will be assigned a value “0”.

Using the Group Policy Management Editor go to User Configuration > Preferences > Registry.  Right click and choose New > Registry Item.  Then fill out the property fields as shown in the screenshot below.

If you want to deploy the setting using Microsoft Endpoint Manager you will have to do it using a PowerShell script.  There are multiple ways to write the necessary script but below is one approach. This script format makes it easy to add other Start Menu and Taskbar values to the same registry location.

# Move the Windows 11 Taskbar to left


$registryPath = "HKCU:\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced"

$Al = "TaskbarAl" # Shift Start Menu Left

$value = "0"

New-ItemProperty -Path $registryPath -Name $Al -Value $value -PropertyType DWORD -Force -ErrorAction Ignore


Paste the script into PowerShell ISE and save it. Using Microsoft Endpoint Manager go to Devices > Scripts.  Click Add and select Windows 10 and later.  Name the policy and upload the script in the next screen as shown in the screenshot below.

Now assign the script to the designated group(s) and complete the wizard.  Be patient because it can take a little while for the script to force the bar to move over. It may seem like a trivial matter but it may save you some support calls.

May 2022

How to Filter Windows 11 Machines with Intune

Unless you are an SMB, you are probably going to phase in your Windows 11 upgrade over time.  That means that you will have to manage both versions until the upgrade is complete, which might require you to manage their settings or application deployments differently.  If you are using Intune to manage your Windows machines, you can use filtering to reduce the complexity of doing so. 

You can use Intune filters to target configurations, policies, and applications to specific device attributes such as Manufacturer, Model and OS version.  In this case we will create two filters that each target a different OS version.  Using Microsoft Endpoint Manager go to Intune > Tenant administration > Filters and create a new filter and name it as shown below.

Create a rule and select osVersion as the property, StartsWith as the operator and 10.0.2 as the value which I did myself in the screenshot below.  Then finish out the wizard to complete the filter.

Now create a second filter.  There are a couple of options when creating these filters.  You could use the same approach as the previous filter and match it with the Windows 10 value.  In this example, we chose a different approach and instead used the NotEquals operator, typing in 10.0.2 as the value.  This means that any Windows version other than Windows 11 will be included in this filter.

Now that you have the filters created, you can start applying them when needed.  In the example below, I have created a configuration profile that I have assigned to a computer group.  The group is made up of both Windows 10 and Windows 11 machines.  Because I want this profile to only apply to Windows 11 machines, I will click the filter link and choose “include filtered devices in assignment” and select the Windows 11 filter I created earlier.

Finish out the wizard and the configuration profile will now only target Windows 11 devices.  Those familiar with Group Policy will note the similarity to WMI filtering.  Once you upgrade all your Windows 10 devices, simply delete its designated filter.   


May 2022

How to Prevent Users from Resetting Windows 10 Devices with Applocker and MEM

Anyone who has been a Windows device admin for a school system that implements a student laptop program is aware of the constant battle to keep students in check when it comes to their devices.  A common ploy by the students is to reset their devices to factory default to bypass enforced security policies.  Even if students can’t get to system settings, they can always hold down the shift key while they use the mouse to select the Restart option from the Windows Start button.  This gets them to the Advanced Startup screen where they can then reset the device.  This of course starts the computer with a clean slate, giving students time to make local accounts on their device.  It also gives them access to the command prompt screen and other things.  For computers that are managed byGroup Policy, students that reset their devices off premise will enjoy a newfound freedom until the computer returns to campus and receives its assigned policies once again.  What’s more, a PC tech may have to manually deploy a package file to install the required applications, consuming precious time from both the student and the technician.  For those computers managed by an MDM provider, policies and applications will be deployed once the computer connects to the Internet, making any acquired freedom brief, but perhaps meaningful enough to be worth the effort to the student.

Even if you don’t work for a school system, you still might want to stop your users from resetting their devices.  Fortunately, there is an easy way to do it using AppLocker to create a policy that can be deployed using Group Policy or your preferred MDM solution that will prevent standard users from implementing a factory reset. 

Create an AppLocker Executable Rule

Using Windows Group Policy Management Editor, create a GPO and go to Computer Configuration > Security Settings > Application Control Policies > AppLocker > Executable Rules.  Right-click and select Create New Rule as shown in the screenshot below.

Using the wizard, choose Deny as the action.  You can target a specific group or just go with the default Everyone group as shown below.

In the next screen choose “Path” as the primary condition.  There are two path executables we need to block.  Each will require their own rule.  For this rule let’s choose:


as shown in the following screenshot.

Continue with the Wizard.  Name the rule and click Create.  Now create another executable rule using the same process.  This time we will use environmental variables for the file path which is %SYSTEM32\ReAgentc.exe.  Now you will have two rules as shown below.

Now assign the GPO to the targeted computers.  But what about Windows 10 devices that are managed by Microsoft Endpoint Manager or similar MDM provider?  In that instance, you can export the AppLocker rules by right-clicking on AppLocker and exporting the policy as shown below.

Name the policy and save it as an XML file.

Now import that XML file into MEM by going to Devices > Configuration profiles > Create policy > Windows 10 and later > Templates and choose Custom and click the Create button.

Now open the saved XML file with a text editor and highlight and copy all the content within the AppLocker tags as shown in the screenshot below.

Using the wizard, name the policy and go to configuration settings.  Here you will need to add the OMA-URI settings.  In the OMA-URI textbox you will input the following path:


Choose String as the Data type and then paste the XML code you copied into the Value box as shown below.  Then click next until you finish out the wizard and create the policy.

You will then assign the policy to your targeted users.  The next time a student or user attempts a factory reset, they will receive a message informing them that the action is not allowed for their organization. 


Apr 2022

Managing Compliance Deadlines for Windows

Keeping your Windows devices updated is critical today, not only from a security point of view, but a productivity one as Microsoft continues to deliver new features that spawn greater user innovation.  Deploying these updates is only part of the equation when it.  A computer can download a feature update for instance, but unless the computer is rebooted, it won’t be fully installed.  Often, users will delay the rebooting process, thus prolonging the pending start status and preventing it from attaining compliance.  That’s why you must enforce compliance.  Both Group Policy and Microsoft Endpoint Manager (MEM) give admins the ability to create an enforceable compliance window to ensure that Windows update processes are fully completed.

Deadlines and Grace Periods

These compliance policies allow you to configure a deadline that defines the number of days until a device is forced to restart to ensure compliance.  You can also configure an additional grace period to give users a little extra window if needed.  Note that you are restricted to defined ranges when assigning these time windows.  For Group Policy the ranges are as follows:

  • For quality updates the deadline can be between 0 and 7 days.
  • For feature updates the deadline can be between 0 and 14 days
  • Grace periods are limited to 0 to 3 days regardless of the type of update

MEM provides longer durations to accommodate mobile devices.

  • For quality updates the deadline can be between 2 and 30 days.
  • For feature updates the deadline can be between 2 and 30 days
  • Grace periods are limited to 0 to 7 days regardless of the type of update

For quality updates, the deadline and grace period start once the update is offered to the computer.  In the case of feature updates, both start once the update has been installed and the computer reaches a pending restart state.

Configuring Compliance Policies

To enforce a compliance policy using the Group Policy Administrative Console, go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Manage end user experience and choose “Specify deadlines for automatic updates and restarts.”  You can then configure the deadline and grace periods for both quality and feature updates as shown below.

Note that you have other settings available concerning the restarting process that you can assign as well.

To configure deadline and grace period durations using the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center and go to Devices > Create Update ring for Windows 10 and later.  Turn on the Allow button to enable deadlines and then assign the deadline and grace period for each update category.    Note that the deadlines and grace periods are appended to any configured deferral period.  The process is shown in the screenshot below.

By enforcing update compliance for your Windows machines through GP or MDM, you can ensure that required update processes are completed, keeping your computers secure and maximizing user productivity.