Security Week – Locking down your deployment

Got a little bit over zealous this week on security issues, so I’ve decided to make amends by documenting some security issues you should all be aware of when designing your Windows OS Deployment Solution.


First of all the good news, when MDT runs, it logs a lot of information, including variables and values. I can see when the OSDComputerName variable was set, and what the value was. But what about Passwords? Well, it turns out that MDT ZTIUtility.vbs will read each line when we write to the log and if the string contains the word “Password” MDT Will skip over that line and continue as a protection to prevent passwords from appearing in the log.

But, sometimes we actually need to write a notice to the log that does not include any actual secrets. So we use a hack to get around the “Password” string search, we change “Password” to “P@ssword” so it will write that line to the log.

oLogging.CreateEntry "Success P@ssword Key file written", LogTypeInfo

Additionally, If we were to run any MDT VBScripts with the Debug=TRUE defined, it will write out passwords to the log file, Which is helpful in debugging scenarios, but be aware that this is dangerous in production.

Local Variables

When MDT LiteTouch and ZeroTouch are running, we will need to read and store variables for use throughout the process, we also need to store variables in such a way that can persist across reboots. If we just store the variables in memory they will disappear at reboot. Additionally, if we store variables in the registry, they may disappear if we boot into the new OS like WinPE.

If we are running within the Task Sequencer these variables are stored by SCCM, and are stored in an encrypted fashion. Which is great, however, any script running within the Task Sequencer can call the SCCM engine and Dump out the variables as plain text.

When MDT Litetouch is running outside of the SCCM/SMS Stand Alone Task Sequencer, it will store variables in the c:\minint\smsosd\osdlogs\varaibles.dat (xml) file as plaintext.

A lot of work has gone into protecting this information, without sacrificing the necessary script access. What we figured out is that Client Only security is hard.


MDT ZeroTouch and LiteTouch pay attention to some very special variables that are handled with care:









For these variables MDT LiteTouch when writing to the varaibles.dat file will store the data “Encoded” as a Base64 string. Note that I didn’t say “Encrypted” since the scripts need to be able to extract out the data as plaintext.


Wait a minute, does that mean that my Domain Password, and Local Administrator Password are stored locally *UnEncrypted* during the installation process? Unfortunately Yes.

Why is that? Well it’s a hard problem that is not limited to MDT LiteTouch. The Local Administrator Password, and Domain Password (used for domain join) are inserted into the unattend.xml file and passed to Windows Setup. Windows Setup can only store these passwords as Plain Text or as a Base64 Encoded string.

Good news is that Windows and MDT do a good job of cleaning up passwords and other security vulnerabilities at the end of installation. Just watch to ensure that MDT completes correctly. When you see the MDT Litetouch Summary screen, your secrets have been deleted.

Security Mitigation

There are things we can do to limit these security vulnerabilities during a MDT LiteTouch deployment.

1. If you are worried about putting your administrator password into the system, don’t use a strong password, instead use a simple password string like “P@ssw0rd” in order to log in and perform the installation during the State Restore phase.

When MDT is done, we can then do several things to make the local administrator account more secure:

  • If your machine has other users that are local Administrators, then we should disable the local administrator account using the command: “Net user administrator /active:No” command.
  • If you require the local administrator account then force the user to change the local password. There are also several good tools out there for changing passwords on the server.

2. Additionally, if you are worried about storing the credentials used to join the domain I would recommend postponing the Domain Join until later.

Some other ideas:

  • Use a “restricted” account to join machines to the domain. Something that doesn’t have permissions elsewhere.
  • Use offline domain joins.
  • Put any new machine into a restricted OU until you can verify the machine.

Image Creation

In my lab, I’m less worried about my passwords getting out, because the system is mostly isolated. However I do have some steps to keep my systems secure and not publish secure passwords unnecessarily.

  • On the host machine with the deployment share I create a local account called “MDTUser” with a random password.
  • The “MDTUser” account is not a member of any localgroup, and I remove it from the Users Group. The only share that’s its given permission to is the \\server\DepoymentShare$ share.
  • Then I write the password into the bootstrap.ini file for UserPassword, update the Deployment share to create a new LitetouchPE_x??.iso image file.
  • I use the LitetouchPE_x??.iso image file to boot up my virtual machines and perform the Deploy and Capture Task sequence.

Note that the LitetouchPE_x??.iso image is not shared out, and I wouldn’t put it up on a PXE server. Only the local Virtual Machines will have access to it.


Additionally, it’s a good idea to set the SLSHARE variable in your CustomSettings.ini file to point to a logging share. When MDT LiteTouch is done with the task sequence, it will copy any relevant logs to the path for analysis later.

However, We may want to limit access to this share, to prevent others from reading the logs. This could be important when performing upgrades with USMT, we may not want even the names of the files migrated to be publicly available.

One trick I do is to set up the logging folder with the following permissions:

  • Allow “NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM” Full Control, This folder, subfolders, and files.
  • Allow “BUILTIN\Administrators” Full Control, This folder, subfolders, and files.
  • Allow “CREATOR OWNER” Full Control, Subfolders, and files only.
  • Allow “NT AUTHORITY\Authenticated Users” Create folders / append data, This folder only.

Note that only Administrators are given full control.
Any user can create a folder, but those same users can’t *READ* folders created by other users, only those folders created by the owner.

You can assign the permissions using the command:

cacls c:\logs /S:"D:PAI(A;OICI;FA;;;SY)(A;OICI;FA;;;BA)(A;OICIIO;FA;;;CO)(A;;0x100004;;;AU) "    

It’s a handy trick.



3 thoughts on “Security Week – Locking down your deployment

  1. Thanks Keith! Good to know! I just removed the service account from the users group on my MDT server. I’m assuming this prevents a possible hijack of the server by preventing logins to the server with this account?

  2. Pingback: Mandatory Reading : Locking down your deployment |

  3. Pingback: MDT UberBug – More bugs from Johan | Keith's Consulting Blog

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