System Center Configuration Manager 2012 Compliance Settings

One great feature of System Center Configuration Manager 2012 (ConfigMgr) is the new compliance settings and configuration baselines. In ConfigMgr 2007 this was known as Desired Configuration Management.

In ConfigMgr 2012 Microsoft really raised their game and now allow for automated remediation, which I primarily use for registry settings. How annoying is it when you configure an application to not self update when you install an update (probably via ConfigMgr with System Center Updates Publisher) and it resets the settings and merrily checks for updates – usually leading to calls to the Service Desk along the lines of “My computer is telling me there is an update to application X but it won’t let me install it”?

This is where the awesome compliance setting remediation comes in – it can detect a change, and if instructed to do so in the compliance setting, change the value to what YOU have told it to be, not what the application developer wants it to be.

Group Policy Objects

Group Policy Objects (GPOs) give you ultimate control over a domain joined client (be that server or desktop). If you’ve got the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) then you’ve got access to Microsoft’s Advanced Group Policy Management (AGPM) tools – which are fantastic. MDOP is well worth and it’s cheap (yes that is cheap and Microsoft in the same sentence). It allows you to log change to GPOs, do offline testing and loads more. But what if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing?

If someone authors a change to a GPO that could potentially change something fundamental, for example changes the Remote Desktop firewall settings, how can you monitor that in ConfigMgr?

Enter Microsoft’s Security Compliance Manager (SCM). You’re probably thinking “What the <insert expletive here>!” Bear with me…

Microsoft’s Security Compliance Manager

SCM is a free Solution Accelerator (of which there are many) from Microsoft that can guide you in deploying GPOs that can help secure your Windows servers and desktops with best practise guidance, documentation galore, and best of all the ability to export CAB files for use in ConfigMgr.

In SCM you can import your existing GPOs and from there you can compare them to Microsoft’s guidance. In addition you can export them to a CAB file for use in ConfigMgr. Big deal? In my opinion – YES! You don’t have to use the comparison aspect, you can just use it as a conduit for the next stage.

In the ConfigMgr console you can import the CAB file in to the compliance settings workspace – this in turn generates an array of compliance settings for you. When you dig a little deeper into these settings you find it uses scripts to check compliance, no auto remediation available here but does a good job of checking settings.

What about just opening the raw ADMX files to find the registry settings?

Rather you than me!

If your GPOs that only contain a few settings you can open the parent ADMX file, find the registry strings and use those for remediation if you want… I don’t know about your environment but that would be a boat load of work for me!

So where’s the benefit?

If you’ve got these settings imported in ConfigMgr you can see when the deployed baselines move away from their GPO settings, this can immediately alert you to one of two things:

  1. An update, whether that be from Microsoft or another company (remember you can control quite a lot of applications via GPOs, not just Microsoft’s – Google Chrome anyone?), may have changed a value you configured in a GPO
  2. Or more likely, someone has changed something and not let you know. Now if you’re using AGPM you’ll be able to find the individual and have a little chat…

Le caveat

This is not a catch all. If someone deploys a new setting via a GPO (one that isn’t covered by a compliance setting imported via SCM) you won’t know about it. Communication is key here, make sure left hand knows what the right is doing.

I’d advise you to take a look at the free Solution Accelerators from Microsoft, of which Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) is one – which I’ve used for years and is amazing for highly configurable desktop deployments. SCM is great tool to see what Microsoft recommend you do with your infrastructure, Windows is now quite secure out of the box but if you want to you can harden it much more. Best of all it tells you what you need to do, where you need to do it and most importantly why!

Just remember that most registry changes require a reboot to take effect. Just because you remediate a setting it doesn’t necessarily mean the setting is in effect – look at TechNet and do your research.

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Posted on 13 June, 2013, in Microsoft, System Center 2012 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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