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In this article by David Overton, author of Microsoft Windows Intune 2.0: Quickstart Administration, we will examine the real-time nature of PC management as we explore the alerts that Windows Intune raises which require action on our part, exploring how we both monitor and respond to them.
We can have configure computers to minimize situations where alerts will be raised through good practices of updates, firewall, and anti-malware management. However, problems will still arise with users' computers, whether this is a request for assistance, a computer that will not boot, or some other warning picked up by Windows Intune. These need to be categorized and responded to in a timely manner. Some can be closed and filed depending on circumstances, while others require a visit to the computer itself with other tools to further diagnose and resolve.
In this article, we will discuss this in the following sections:
- General Windows Intune alerts
- Malware alerts
- Remote Assistance alerts
General Windows Intune alerts
Windows Intune will raise an alert in a number of situations where we, as the administrators, need to either be aware of an event or respond directly to it. The alerts will appear in a number of the screens and reports in Windows Intune. Windows Intune has seven alert categories:
- Endpoint Protection
- Remote Assistance
Some of these alerts require special attention and have their own section, while others can be generically dealt with. The two areas that need some special attention are the Endpoint Protection alerts relating to malware and remote assistance, as the actions taken here always need to be decisive. We have also already tackled the update alerts in the previous chapter.
Before we examine alerts in more detail, I thought I should share a quick, but obvious, note. The reporting of alerts from the client computer to Windows Intune requires an Internet connection from the client computer, so we are unlikely to see an alert saying that the user's PC is having network trouble. However, if a computer has not checked in with Windows Intune for a while, we will see an alert for this from Windows Intune, pointing to a machine that has not been turned on for a while, or with problems! It is more likely that a user will contact us via other means if they are having a networking problem, but we should remember to tell users to do that in that situation rather than them requesting remote assistance and wondering why we don't respond!
There are two ways to monitor alerts once they have been enabled and the notification has been completed. The two choices are to either look at the console and refresh, or wait for notifications to arrive via e-mail. The e-mail notifications look similar to the one in the following screenshot. Clicking the link takes us to the Windows Intune console
To view the alerts in the Windows Intune console, go to the Alerts workspace and go to All Alerts. We can choose which alerts are displayed by changing the Filters selection at the top of the screen. All the filters shown open alerts, except for the filter choice of Closed. The filter choice of None shows all open Critical, Warning, and Informational alerts
We can also view alerts specific to the category by selecting one of the items below All Alerts selection tree. For example, in the Monitoring category, we can see one alert at the moment:
Finally, we can view alerts that relate to a specific computer by looking at the Alerts tab in the Computers workspace
Responding and closing alerts
Once we have an alert to deal with, we need to respond in some way. By clicking on the alert, the details pane is displayed. Under the Recommended Actions, there will either be a link to Click here to take action or one to View Troubleshooting Information.
If we click the information link, a window will open that, depending on the problem and potential solution, will show either a link to the Windows Intune help file or a link to carry out the action if appropriate. In the following example, the alert is for malware and a link to information on the specific malware that was seen. We can see that the following information does not show us a specific action for malware. We will discuss how to respond to malware a little later in this article
Once we have resolved the alert, it needs to be closed to remove it from the console and to enable us to demonstrate that we have resolved an issue with computers that we manage. Windows Intune will not close the alert for us unless one of these criteria is met:
- Windows Intune can detect that the issues have been resolved
- 45 days have passed since the alert was opened
To manually close an alert, follow these steps, but be careful to close the right one. While we can re-activate a closed alert in Windows Intune, if the alert is closed by mistake then we may miss taking important action:
- Open up the Windows Intune console and find the alert to close. We can select more than one alert if desired here.
- Click Close Alert in the toolbar, or right-click on the alert and select Close Alert from the menu. We can also close an alert when we have opened it fully and are looking at the Alert Properties by clicking the Close This Alert link under Tasks.
The automated closing of alerts, when an issue has been resolved, can be a little confusing as we see alert e-mails, but then they don't exist in the console. This is most common when malware and policy issues occur as Windows Intune can detect the resolution of these. It is always worth checking the closed alert log to ensure these do not require further action or highlight an underlying issue, such as network or security, that needs resolving. A good example of where we might see this is with the Unable to Update Policies alert which are generated when a user's computer is not in contact with Windows Intune. The alert e-mail looks similar to the following screenshot:
This is the type of alert that will be automatically closed once connectivity is resolved and the policies updated.
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Malware alerts fall into two broad categories; those that indicate a problem with the anti-malware software that installs as part of Windows Intune and those that indicate the anti-malware software has detected and responded to a malware threat. The alerts I have seen are:
- Anti-malware software issue
- Some computers have protection warnings
- Malware detection
- Malware seen for first time
- Some computers have recently resolved malware
The first alert requires investigation to ensure the machine in question is properly protected, but something as simple as a user cancelling a full scan will generate this error. A quick call to the user or visit from a technician to look at the Windows Intune software will resolve this. This alert can automatically close if the situation is resolved. For the malware detection alerts, these need closer management. When a user first encounters malware they are prompted by Windows Intune to remove it
At this point, the first alert will be sent. The user is prompted with a choice as to the action to take. If the malware Alert Status is considered to be Medium or Low, then the user may Allow the files to remain as the Recommended action. Once the user has made the choice, the second alert is sent stating that a recent malware issue has been resolved, whether the file was allowed to stay on the hard disk or not. The only time when a file should be allowed is when it is misevaluated as a virus. The best way to resolve this is to create an exception policy in Windows Intune specific to the computers and the program of filename. Once we are satisfied that the situation is correctly resolved, we can close the alert in Windows Intune if it does not do this itself.
Testing malware checks are working
To test that various aspects of an anti-malware system are working, it is vital that we do not use a live virus. Just as in the medical world, the IT world has a universally accepted virus file that does not cause harm and can be used for testing. This is simply a file that has the signature of a dummy virus, not a virus itself. This can be downloaded from EICAR at http://davidoverton.com/r.ashx?2O. Downloading any of these files should trigger Windows Intune Endpoint Protection or any other anti-malware solution.
Distributing this file is a little tricky as the download will be blocked by default by Windows Intune, as will copying the file, which means that disabling the malware protection is required to obtain the file.
Actions following malware instance
Once we know that a computer has had a malware incident, we need to gain confidence that the issue has been resolved. Through policy we are able to decide if a user can Allow a file, however, we may wish to take additional precautions. First, we need to identify the computers by opening the alert up by going to the Windows Intune console and selecting the Endpoint Protection in the Alert workspace.
If we click on the link shown as the Source, we will see the computers impacted.
We can now remotely run a number of operations on the computer in question. For malware issues, select the computer or computers that we want to inspect and then select Remote Tasks from the toolbar, or right-click on the computers. Then select either Run a Full Malware Scan or Run a Quick Malware Scan.
We will see a confirmation dialog box for the request to run a scan for a short period of time before it disappears. We can check the progress by clicking on the Remote Tasks link in the bottom-right corner of the console which will show us the status, similar to those in the following screenshot:
Remote Assistance alerts
A Remote Assistance alert is generated when a user requests help from the Windows Intune Center by clicking the link under Microsoft Easy Assist.
When the user clicks the link on their computer, the Microsoft Easy Assist changes to look as follows:
While there are many remote administration tools available for Windows the Microsoft Easy Assist tool has the following benefits:
- Secure connection through corporate firewalls providing users access to the internet and websites
- Desktop sharing – the user requesting assistance can either show the support person the problem or hand control over completely
- Application Sharing – rather than share a whole desktop, just an application can be shared
- File transfers – we can upload and download files so scripts or exported data can be shared between the support person and the computer being supported
- Chat application – if we can't talk to the person being supported, we can still type in an instant messaging chat window
- Multiple person assistance – if the particular problem needs another person to assist or offer guidance, this is possible using the Easy Assist tool
Preparing to deliver support
However, before we can deliver support, it is important to ensure that the Microsoft Easy Assist application is loaded onto the support person's computer and that the user's computer is configured for optimal performance when support is being delivered.
Preparing the client computer for support
Windows Intune configures Microsoft Easy Assist to provide support, however, the configuration of User Account Control (UAC) can mean that every administrative task requires interaction from the user to approve the administrative application being started. To overcome this, search for uac in the start menu. We will see the option to Change User Account Control settings appear as the top result.
Click Change User Account Control settings to start the tool.
Before we make any adjustments, note where this setting is on the client computer – it is normally at the second notch down. Now, lower this to the third notch down and press OK. This means the user's screen will not dim when the UAC dialogs appear, but it also means that we can accept these, which may be desirable. If the user does change this setting for us, we must change it back once we have completed the support session.
Preparing the support agent's computer to offer support
If the computer we are connecting from has Windows Intune installed, then we already have the client loaded. However, if it does not, we will need to install the Microsoft Easy Assist tool. To do this, go to http://davidoverton.com/r.ashx?28 and run the setup program. If Easy Assist is not installed correctly and we try to open a remote assistance session, then we will see the following dialog box from Windows:
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There is a simple progression that describes the actual process of delivering assistance using Windows Intune. It will consist of the following steps:
- Windows Intune receives the request and creates an alert and sends e-mails
- Support agent starts communicating with the user and a remote session is initiated
- Support is provided and the remote session is terminated
- The alert is closed
Receiving alerts and responding
We are first aware of a remote assistance request through the e-mail notification. Follow the steps given to start the remote assistance:
- Open the e-mail and click the link in it to open the Windows Intune console.
- In the Windows Intune console, we will see an alert similar to the one in the following screenshot. Click the link Approve request and launch Remote Assistance to start the remote assistance process.
- When the windows opens up, click on the link Accept the remote assistance request.
- This will open a web page that will create a launch.eas file. Open this file to start the session.
- Once the Microsoft Easy Assist tool has started and connected through the server, we will be asked to provide our display name. Enter a Display Name that will be meaningful to the user we are connecting too. It should also distinguish us from other support agents as we may need further colleagues to join us in the shared session. Then press the Join button.
- We will start the Easy Assist Session tool on the support agent's console as shown in the following screenshot:
- After a few seconds Easy Assist will continue on the user's desktop with a question as to whether they wish to share their desktop. We should advise them to click OK so that we can see what is on their desktop
- The user will see their desktop reformat itself for sharing, which will include turning off the Aero graphics that are part of Windows Vista and Windows 7
- The two way joining into the Microsoft Easy Assist support session is acknowledged with a dialog similar to the following screenshot:
- Finally, both users are shown in the Easy Assist Session window under participants.
Providing remote support
Now that we have access to the remote user's computer, we can manage it as if we were in front of it. We have the following tools available to us:
- Shared Desktop - View the user's desktop while they are in control
- Shared Desktop - Take control of the user's desktop and they can watch
- File transfer between the two computers
- Reboot the remote computer and continue session once logged in by the user
There is nothing stopping us talking on the phone to the user who requested assistance, but if this is not available then we have a chat window that can be utilized. Type the text to send and press Send.
The desktop is shared when we can both enter the session and see the end user's desktop while they are using the computer. Initially, this is in a view-only mode, meaning that the support agent can watch, but not do anything. Frequently, it will be desirable for the support agent to take control and this can be delivered by either the support agent requesting it or the user offering it. To take control, follow the steps given:
- In the Microsoft Easy Assist shared desktop tool, press the Request Control button.
- The user will have to acknowledge that we are taking control. If they are happy for us to take control, they should press Yes. They can press Esc at any time to stop the control of their computer.
- The user will see the small toolbox on their screen that enables them to stop control at any time by pressing the Stop sharing button or pressing Esc.
The file transfer facility is a temporary holding area that we can upload to and download files from during the session. The files are automatically removed once the session ends and the total file size that can be stored is 100MB. To transfer files to the holding area, follow these steps:
- Press the button on the toolbar labeled Upload and download files.
- Now press the Upload button. Pick the file to upload and press OK.
- We will now see the file in the File Transfer window.
- Repeat this as required.
Once the files have been uploaded, they can be downloaded on another machine in the session. To do this, follow these steps:
- Select the files to be downloaded by putting a check mark in the box to the left of the filename.
- Now press the Download button to download the files.
- We will be asked to choose a folder for the files to be copied to. Find the right folder and press OK.
- The files will now transfer.
Rebooting the remote computer
The functionality to reboot the computer is really useful as not only does the computer reboot, but once the user logs back in, it will reconnect back to the same remote assistance session to enable further administrative activity. This is vital if a change requires a reboot mid-way through the process. To start the process, follow the steps given:
- Right-click on the users name in the Participants list and select Request Reboot and Reconnect.
- We will be asked to confirm that we want to reboot the computer. Press OK to continue
- The user whose computer we are providing assistance to will now also be asked to confirm the restarting of their computer. If they agree, they also need to press OK on their computer.
- We will now see confirmation that remote user has accepted the request to restart. Press OK to remove the dialog.
- When the computer reboots, the user logs in and they will then see a message telling them that the computer is Attempting to reconnect to the Microsoft Easy Assist server. No additional credentials are required.
- Once the reconnection is complete, the support agent will receive confirmation that the user has joined the session. Press OK to close the notification.
- The user will again have to confirm they are going to Share Desktop with us
Closing the alert
Once we have finished providing the assistance to the user, we need to uninstall any utilities that were added to their computer and if appropriate, re-configure UAC to the pre-support level. This then leaves us with one final activity, which is to close the alert in Windows Intune.
To do this, find the Remote Assistance Session Request in the Alerts workspace and select Close Alert in the toolbar.
In this article, we have examined the process of monitoring the alerts and responding with appropriate actions. These actions have included anti-malware checks as well as interacting with the users directly to understand their issues and helping them through using the Remote Assistance functionality.
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About the Author :
David Overton has been in the IT industry for over 25 years and has worked at Microsoft in the UK for more than eleven years. David fell in love with Small and Medium Business when he was given responsibility for engaging with journalists at the time of the launch of Small Business Server 2003 in the UK. For the next four years David was responsible for improving SBS deliveries by Microsoft partners.
As well as his day job, David is also a writer: he has written for consumer publications Windows XP and Windows Vista magazines, and he blogs at http://davidoverton.com, where he helps readers find solutions to questions and problems. In 2009, David published his first book on SBS 2008 which was well received.
When not working or writing, David likes to spend time with his family and also tries to fit in sailing any time of the year in any weather.