Skip to content


AutoPilot hanging at “checking connection to Microsoft”

I ran into some trouble recently with a machine that had previously been registered for Intune/Microsoft Endpoint Manager AutoPilot deployment hanging on a Windows reinstall (the SSD had been replaced).

The machine would sit at “checking connection to Microsoft. This might take a while”.

Take a while it did — a spell overnight on this very screen would not help. I used Shift+F10 to get some diagnostics tooling on the system. I could see references to a /join HTTPS endpoint being accessed that seemed to be Intune-related, but it was neither obviously succeeding nor failing.

Some perusal of logfiles suggested to me that UEFI variables are involved in the AutoPilot process.

Fortunately, the machines in question are desktop PCs. A very simple way to (destructively!) clear out UEFI variables was to remove the CMOS battery for a period of time. Upon trying again, we jump right past “checking connection to Microsoft” and can move forward with the install.

On systems where a battery pull is not effective, it may be worth getting yourself into a UEFI shell and using dmpstore to identify UEFI variables in NVRAM that may be related to AutoPilot and deleting them. Sorry I can’t be more specific!

Block Mounting of ISO Images with Microsoft Intune (Endpoint Manager)

Today’s malware-loader-du-jour, Bumblebee, has been seen achieving initial access through phishing sites that convince a user to mount a downloaded ISO image. This may be a reaction to Microsoft’s recent improvements to macro-enabled document security.

Adversaries push ISO files through compromised email (reply) chains, known as thread hijacked emails, to deploy the Bumblebee loader. ISO files contain a byte-to-byte copy of low-level data stored on a disk. The malicious ISO files are delivered through Google Cloud links or password protected zip folders. The ISO files contain a hidden DLL with random names and an LNK file. DLL (Dynamic Link Library) is a library that contains codes and data which can be used by more than one program at a time. LNK is a filename extension in Microsoft Windows for shortcuts to local files.

One of the things that we can do to help our users avoid this new initial execution foothold is by blocking the mounting of ISO images, as long as you can be confident this will not break anything they actually need to do! I am fortunate enough to be able to do this.

(Djordje Atlialp shows us how to achieve this with classic GPOs, and also a more comprehensive neutering of ISO files.)

Here is what I have rolled out as an Intune PowerShell Script to block the mounting of ISOs. No reboot is required. Users will see the Mount option disappear from the context menu of an ISO file within File Explorer and will be unable to double-click to mount a malicious ISO. Or, indeed, any ISO. 😉

We will head to Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center, go to Devices > Scripts and create a new Windows 10 and later PowerShell script.

Restrict mounting of ISOs in File Explorer

The Intune Script

UPDATE: I have made some improvements — namely, the previous one liner will cause failures to be reported in Intune on subsequent runs. We will now only add the value where it does not exist, and we will add support for Windows.VhdFile as well. It’s no longer a one-liner!

$items = @(
        path = "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Classes\Windows.IsoFile\shell\mount"
        valueName = "ProgrammaticAccessOnly"   
        path = "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Classes\Windows.VhdFile\shell\mount"
        valueName = "ProgrammaticAccessOnly"

foreach($item in $items) {
    if ($null -eq (Get-Item -Path $item.path).GetValue($item.valueName)) {
        New-ItemProperty -Path $item.path -Name $item.valueName -Value ""

The body of the script can be as follows:

New-ItemProperty -Path "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Classes\Windows.IsoFile\shell\mount" -Name ProgrammaticAccessOnly -Value ""

(This REG_SZ value need only exist, with a blank string as its Data, for this to work.)

Assign it to the device group and you are all set.


To undo this change, we can reverse what we’re doing and Remove-ItemProperty on the items we added:

$items = @(
        path = "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Classes\Windows.IsoFile\shell\mount"
        valueName = "ProgrammaticAccessOnly"   
        path = "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Classes\Windows.VhdFile\shell\mount"
        valueName = "ProgrammaticAccessOnly"

foreach($item in $items) {
    if ($null -ne (Get-Item -Path $item.path).GetValue($item.valueName)) {
        Remove-ItemProperty -Path $item.path -Name $item.valueName


This doesn’t make you bulletproof, but will, if tolerated by your users, provide a substantial degree of protection, at the time of writing, from any number of current malware loaders that are using the ISO image technique to achieve initial code execution. The nature of the separate filesystem within the ISO presently prevents it from being marked as being from the Wild Wild West World Wide Web.

ShutdownBuddy — save resources while saving resources

In a continuation of my desire to write really lightweight software that doesn’t add to the undesirable background bloat running on computers, I set about in June-ish to write something to improve upon a VBScript-Scheduled-Task-and-shutdown.exe gaffer tape of a solution to forcing a full shutdown when a computer is idle that I had previously cobbled together.

Power management in Windows is mature and capable, for sure, but what is less obvious is how to, on shared fixed desktop computers, actually trigger a proper shutdown and not just put idle machines to sleep. Hibernation is an option, of course, but the relentless increase in complexity of Windows brings to mind the other, stability-related, benefits of regular proper restarts.

So, then, we want something that:

  • identifies when no-one is interactively signed in
  • waits a configurable amount of time
  • if still no-one has signed in in that time, shut down properly

Additionally, because this unavoidably must run with high permissions and regularly assess signed in users in the background, it should be a Windows service that is as lightweight and simple as possible. Reduced resource usage (RAM, CPU time in background) so we can shut down and have reduced resource usage (of electrical power). I can see the beauty of it already!

So I wrote ShutdownBuddy.

It is configurable through the registry:


EvaluationIntervalSeconds — DWORD. How frequently, in seconds, to evaluate for interactive sessions.

ShutdownAfterIdleForSeconds — DWORD. How many seconds of idle computer (i.e. no interactive sessions) before issuing a shutdown. This is periodically evaluated as above.

Like all my lightweight, C(++) Win32 projects, it is officially experimental as I am using these projects to learn how to write this kind of code properly. Any suggestions and improvements are gratefully received.

Microsoft Azure Backup Server “Invalid vault credentials provided” on brand new vault

Despite the inexorable march towards running all workloads in the cloud, I see some specific advantages in maintaining some on-premises servers where this makes sense. Especially in a small scale environment like the one I am responsible for, this lets me do Interesting Things with my skill set and at small scale, only because I have full control over on-prem kit.

One of the options for backing up Hyper-V workloads I am looking at is Microsoft Azure Backup Server (MABS) v3. On a brand new deployment (Windows Server 2019), following Microsoft’s guide, I ran into issues with the MABS installer.

Vault Identification -- selecting vault credentials dialogue box
From, (C) Microsoft. Believed to be licensed under CC-BY 4.0.

At the point of connecting to the Vault above, it would take a long time to “validate credentials” and then:

Invalid vault credentials provided. The file is either corrupt or does not have the latest credentials associated with recovery service. ID 34513

I found a way to work around this — we need to slipstream an updated version of the Microsoft Azure Recovery Service (MARS) Agent into the MABS installer before we run it.

Tidy Up First

If you have a messy server after some failed install attempts, roll back the VM if possible, or uninstall all MABS and MARS components with Add/Remove Programs.

Also, use the MMC certificates snap-in in Local Computer mode to remove any stale vault credential certificates.

To do, this launch mmc.

MMC with blank console

We will Add/Remove Snap-ins, and choose Certificates, Local Computer.

Remove any CB_ certificates from previous runs to avoid any possibility of confusion when the registration process runs again.

Removing stale MABS certificates from the Certificates snap-in

Take care to ensure you understand what you are doing before deleting certificates and keys. Do not delete anything you are not certain is unused and related to MABS. I cannot take responsibility for your loss if you follow this guide and have issues.

In the Azure Portal, go to your backup vault and check Backup Management Servers and Protected Servers, removing any registrations from previous failed installs, so we are installing into the vault with a clean state. Alternatively, create a new vault. I unfortunately ended up with my MABS server in Protected Servers and had to delete it. Ultimately it will be registered as a Backup Management Server, not a Protected Server.

Azure Portal -- Backup Infrastructure, Backup Management Servers interface

The Workaround — Slipstream Updated MARS into MABS Installer

We are following Microsoft’s documentation on installing MABS, diverging only to slipstream in an updated MARS installer.

Download MABS from

We will have the .exe and 7 .bin files. Run the .exe to extract the bin files. The install “media” in this case has now been extracted to C:\System_Center_Microsoft_Azure_Backup_Server_v3\System Center Microsoft Azure Backup Server v3.

Before we run the MABS setup wizard, we need to slipstream in the updated MARSAgentInstaller. Do not run the MARSAgentInstaller separately – we must have it invoked by the MABS wizard at the right time and in the correct context. If MARS is already installed when we try to install MABS, it will be unhappy and refuse.

Download the updated version of the MARSAgentInstaller

Copying MARSAgentInstaller to replace the copy in MARSAgent in the MABS installer.

Copy and replace the version in C:\System_Center_Microsoft_Azure_Backup_Server_v3\System Center Microsoft Azure Backup Server v3\MARSAgent\MARSAgentInstaller.exe before running either setup program.

Now run C:\System_Center_Microsoft_Azure_Backup_Server_v3\System Center Microsoft Azure Backup Server v3\Setup.exe (the MABS installer, not the MARSAgent installer) and proceed as normal.

Provide the vault credentials we downloaded from the Azure portal to register the server as normal.


This references issue raised on TechNet forums. I cannot reply as the thread is locked.

The future of password management, for me

In a number of ways, I have become a dinosaur. One of those ways is an insistence that my password management solution has one of its layers of security being the fact that the data is not in the cloud. There is nothing on someone else’s commodity service, and, thus, no data to potentially be compromised in bulk as a result of an attack on a common service. Those services are probably pretty secure, but they are also huge, concentrated targets.

I have a really high standard to meet for the security of password management for my personal computing. That is how I feel comfortable.

So the march of password managers into the cloud presented me a problem. To move forward and to maintain my investment became incompatible with this principle.

Additionally, I became more and more disillusioned with macOS as a desktop platform. Increasingly, maintaining control over what the system is actually doing became impossible. (Why is the News app refreshing in the background when I have never opened it on this brand new install??) So the new solution needs to be native to the Linux desktop.

So my requirements discounted me from my long-time password management app 1Password (clearly moving towards cloud only) — a migration of some kind was in order.

The Options

BitwardenInteresting. Open source.
Yes, you can self host, but for syncing purposes you are still exposing a host to the whole web, presumably, which centralises all that data and you would likely need to have this in the cloud.
PassCommand line based, and built around GnuPG. I got somewhere with this, but ultimately found myself wanting a bit more of a GUI for managing and sorting the password data.
KeePassXCProvides a desktop GUI app with the categorisation and management I am used to, with import capabilities from 1Password. Locally syncable (albeit not bidirectionally with great ease) with Strongbox on iOS.

I have found myself with a combination of KeePassXC and Strongbox on iOS.

I do sacrifice some convenience on the desktop with browser integration, as I have not yet installed the browser extension for KeePassXC. I would love it to be in Mozilla’s “Recommended” category, where they review the extension on an ongoing basis. I trust the KeePassXC developers are not malicious, but there are lots of risks with browser integration that I don’t fully understand the implications of — the boundary from the external app into the browser context affects the principle of data isolation in ways I haven’t studied.

So, KeePassXC + Strongbox + local network syncing of data is where I have landed.

And because supporting the projects that we depend upon is important, I have paid for the premium version of Strongbox and made an annual donation to the KeePassXC project. I am one of a decreasing number of people who will want to maintain this level of control, so, given that I am fortunate enough to be able to, providing the resources to keep this alive is something I wanted to do.