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Ransomware Prevention Kit updated
Posted by Amy Babinchak on 12 October 2018 03:29 PM

The ransomware prevention Kit has been updated and reorganized to better reflect our current thinking on ransomware prevention.

We continue to believe that it is only IT best practices that can prevent ransomware. This was reinforced by the most recent major outbreak that resulted from IT admins failing to apply security updates in the timely manner. We also continue to believe in the onion layer approach to security.

There is a new wrinkle though and it’s the cloud. Our edge has moved from the Firewall down to the User Credentials. Backups have become decentralized because they need to cover the cloud as well as the local files. Whole networks have become decentralized and so the Kit is evolving to reflect this new reality. Together this means that there are more moving parts than ever and therefore more places for something to go wrong.

Toward this end we’ve branched out into security policy and now Intune policy too. From FSRM to Defender configuration. From network to local OS.

This weeks update includes Intune policy with samples, export and import tools that will allow you to use them across many tenants. The creation of these policies reflects the inclusion of Intune in the new Microsoft 365 licensing groups. As businesses move from the Office 365 plans into the more secure laden Microsoft 365 plans these policies will form the foundation of new best practices.

ransomware prevention kit

Continued Support

There are two way to support our efforts at preventing ransomware infection.

If you would like to donate to our scholarship fund and continue to support our efforts in fighting ransomware please go to to make a donation.

If you would like to support the authors of this kit please go to and make a purchase.


About Third Tier

Open a ticket with us! Established in 2008, Third Tier only works for IT Professionals by providing them with access to advanced support services. No one can know it all these days, so we give IT pros a place to go to get the hands on support they need in areas they normally don’t work in or problems they’ve never encountered. We also work on projects, fix their accounting practices and do many, many migrations and other installations. Our staff covers a wide range of technologies.




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Ransomware Prevention Kit Update: Configuring Windows 10 Security Using Intune
Posted by Amy Babinchak on 09 October 2018 12:44 PM

Recently I've written about how to configure Windows 10's security features for non-domain joined machines using local security and local group policy tools and I added those policies and paper into the Ransomware Prevention Kit. Now I'm adding an article and pre-built policies for Intune too. You can use these with joined or non-joined machines so long as you are managing them in Intune. With the availability of Microsoft 365 which now includes Intune for the same price as Office 365 Intune makes more sense that ever. I've also found it much easier to use and more full featured than last time I looked at it. On top of that Microsoft isn't investing in Group Policy anymore so we all have to move along to other tools eventually anyway. 

Here's the article. To use my pre-built policies see the Ransomware Prevention Kit. I'll be adding an article there shortly on how to use the tools I've included along with the sample policies. 


About Third Tier

Open a ticket with us! Established in 2008, Third Tier only works for IT Professionals by providing them with access to advanced support services. No one can know it all these days, so we give IT pros a place to go to get the hands on support they need in areas they normally don’t work in or problems they’ve never encountered. We also work on projects, fix their accounting practices and do many, many migrations and other installations. Our staff covers a wide range of technologies.





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Use Intune to remove a forgotten iPhone passcode
Posted by Amy Babinchak on 06 September 2018 11:16 AM

Recently I applied a new compliance policy to our corporate iPhones. This included the requirement that the passcode be changed occasionally. The time came to change my passcode. It was late at night. I typed in something twice and successfully changed it. However, in the morning the passcode I thought I had typed was not working. Obviously in my sleepy state I had successfully entered something else twice. Oh Joy.

My phone gave me a few tries with wait times between each one then a warning that if I reached 10 failures that I would have to reset the phone. For me setting up a new phone is like getting a new computer. I have a lot of apps, data and photos. Far more than the iCloud backup will hold so I knew I would be losing stuff. Probably not critical things but enough to be annoying.

Then I remembered seeing something in Intune that might do the trick.

Joining your phone to Intune


Your phones, whether personal or corporate need to have registered with Intune first or you won’t be able to do this. Fortunately mine was so I could immediately use the Remove Passcode feature of Intune. (see the next section)

To register your phone with Intune each phone will need to download and install the app Company Portal from the iTunes store. Once installed they will need to login with their Office 365/AzureAD account and then accept a bunch of prompts which will download the management profile.

This does not mean that the corporation now has access to everything on your phone. That will depend on the policy that the corporation has set for personally owned devices. Most often the corporation is only concerned about helping you configure your email profile, keeping the device up to date and being able to help you can back into it should you get locked out. Your situation may vary so before you join your phone make sure you know what the policy is.

The Company Portal app will walk you through the process. Basically you have to login, install the management profile and then adjust any settings that are required by your organization. There are a bunch of screens that are required to make this happen, perhaps 20+ but it’s really not complicated. Below I’ve highlighted the most significant steps.

Log in using your Office 365/Azure AD credentials and accept the terms of service.

Company portal app accept the terms

Next you’ll get a couple of screens that describe what is going to happen. You’ll continue along and install the management profile.

Company portal what's going to happen nowcompany portal app install the management profile

A certificate from Apple will be installed. Be sure to install it and then Trust it as prompted. Finally you will need to bring your phone up to the current OS version and perhaps tweak a few settings. The app will let you know which ones and take you there.

Company portal app allow remote managementcompany portal app update settings

You can click Check settings and the How to resolve this link to get instructions for what change is needed on your phone. Most often it will be that you need to set a more complex passcode to gain access to your phone than you are currently using. Eventually, you are Done!

Don’t worry it is far more complex to show all of the screenshots and explain the process than it is to do. When everything is showing pretty green checks hit that Done button.

   company portal update the phonecompany portal all green checks

How to remove the passcode using Intune

Log into with an admin account. Launch Intune. Navigate to Device/All Devices and then select the phone that you want to remove the passcode on.

Press the Remove passcode button at the top of the page. It took my phone less than a minute before the passcode was gone. Then within another minute the Intune policy for my phone kicked in and I was asked to create a passcode. Voila, new passcode. This time created with a clear and awake brain.


About Third Tier

Open a ticket with us! Established in 2008, Third Tier only works for IT Professionals by providing them with access to advanced support services. No one can know it all these days, so we give IT pros a place to go to get the hands on support they need in areas they normally don’t work in or problems they’ve never encountered. We also work on projects, fix their accounting practices and do many, many migrations and other installations. Our staff covers a wide range of technologies.




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Has your MSP matured from billing to business model?
Posted by Amy Babinchak on 04 September 2018 01:37 PM

MSPs have a problem. Is being a managed services provider a business model or a billing model? For years the term MSP was difficult to define because everyone was doing it differently. Now it’s easy to define because everyone is doing it the same, offering the same thing and the only differentiation is the price that each is charging. I’m sure your hackles just went up, but what I just said is exactly what your potential customers think when they hear the term “MSP.” They see your services as a billing model, not a business model. They have good reason for this too. They’ve been interviewing one MSP after another and they can’t tell the difference.

I was fortunate to have made the right decision when I started my IT business. I began with contracts because I wanted the income stability. I was about to quit my day job and needed a warm-fuzzy for my clients that I’d built up to that point — one where they were going to be paying me regularly. They all willingly signed on my billing model. Upon reaching a certain level of income stability, I then had to go forth and create my business model. Those that went through the pain of establishing a break-fix business, where someone calls you when something is broken and you get paid after you fix it and then migrated into an MSP model where you get paid regardless, often found that they only shifted their billing model. They’ve never fully embraced the concepts that make MSP a business model.

Reaping the benefits but missing the rewards

Billing models and business models are two very different concepts. Many people confuse them. The definition of pricing model is “a system for calculating a price, based on costs, anticipated margins, etc.” according to the Oxford dictionary. An MSP takes this a step further and says we’re then going to bill you once a month, making it a billing model. The definition of a business model is “a design for the successful operation of a business, identifying revenue sources, customer base, products, and details of financing.” It’s the designing your services part that makes an MSP stand out from just another break-fix company billing clients monthly.

Looking at these definitions and looking at how MSPs are talking to clients about what they have to offer, it is very easy to see that many established break-fix companies changed their name to MSP as they changed their billing model. But they have yet to change their business model. For most, the goal of stabilizing income and raising profits was achieved but the relationship that the words “managed” and “service” implies was never realized for the customer. These firms never made the leap from break-fix to managed service as a practice. To a prospective client, the words managed services conjure something completely different than the method by which you are going to bill them.

Managed service implications

The promise of managed services was the promise of a business where they would have something better than an IT person of their own. They would have an outsourced department not only taking care of things but also advising them, budgeting, training, and leading them to a more fruitful future by way of technology. They would no longer be tied to the knowledge contained in their “IT guy” or their own imperfect understandings. They would have experts proactively working with them to propel their business forward. Wikipedia defines it this way: “Managed services is the practice of outsourcing on a proactive basis management responsibilities and functions and a strategic method intended to improve operations and cut expenses.”

Strategic method and improved operations are the key principles of managed services. It implies much more than “fast response time,” “less downtime,” “a suite of high-margin products,” and “automated patching” that make up most MSP offerings. Even if you throw in hardware leasing, software, security, and vendor management, still only half the picture is being delivered. Add a quarterly meeting to tell them how the above things are doing and you still have made minimal progress toward providing management responsibilities and a strategic method to improve operations.

Many MSPs simply aren’t delivering on the promise that the title implies. Instead what they are really doing is billing break-fix services on a monthly basis.

Change your viewpoint


When we’re talking about a strategic method and improved operations it is from the client’s point of view, not the MSPs. The client expectations are that the MSP is providing them a strategic method for using technology in their business and improving the operation of their business. That’s a lot more than making sure that they don’t have downtime. It’s about understanding how the business operates and taking a management role to help them achieve their goals.

 To do those things, you need some intimate knowledge of the business, its operations, and the goals of the owner and management team. You also need to have an understanding of the business processes. To rope technology into this you need to know how to use the software that your client uses. Knowing how to install it isn’t enough. To be an MSP you need to know how to use that software and how to convey to the staff at the business how to integrate it into the business process. More importantly, you need to be able to tell them why and what benefit they are going to get from doing so.

You’ll also need to work proactively, and by this I mean more than just checking to see if the backup completed successfully. What about proactively configuring security settings in their online applications or scheduling a lunch-and-learn? Proactive managed services means doing things that will help the business owner reach their goals through better use of technology.

Internalizing the managed service philosophy

You’ve heard the term “virtual CIO” tossed around a lot. It’s a convenient term to use because it already exists and it might have some meaning to your clients. And while you might want to include the term in your marketing materials, it could be a mistake to give someone the title in your company.

As an MSP, those services should be second nature to your staff. Perhaps every person a client encounters isn’t capable of delivering this type of service but they should have some training in it, be able to add relevant information into your documentation, and generally know that a big part of the role of an MSP is just this. It’s a mindset that your staff needs to internalize. They are the leaders of technology for the client. Their advice is valued. They should have the best interest of the client at heart. They should understand what the goals of the client are. Just as often as you send your people to meetings with the client, you should also have meetings with your own staff to update everyone on what’s happening with your clients. How much are they looking to grow this year? What is currently challenging them? What is the long-term goal of the owner?

When your staff knows more about the client, they will internalize a feeling of responsibility for that business. When they know what the challenges and goals are then now they know how to personalize their service to that customer. That personal service aspect is critical to retaining clients for the long term. Relationships are what drive business loyalty.

Making your MSP a true business model

It’s a process to grow from MSP as a billing model to MSP as a business model. It’s a sign of maturity in your MSP too. The billing model is just the starting point. Once you’ve got that figured out then you can move into delivering on the promise of the title MSP. Internalizing and building the culture of understanding your clients business challenges and goals is how you get that move to the next level started.


About Third Tier

Open a ticket with us! Established in 2008, Third Tier only works for IT Professionals by providing them with access to advanced support services. No one can know it all these days, so we give IT pros a place to go to get the hands on support they need in areas they normally don’t work in or problems they’ve never encountered. We also work on projects, fix their accounting practices and do many, many migrations and other installations. Our staff covers a wide range of technologies.




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Microsoft turns data storage upside down
Posted by Amy Babinchak on 07 August 2018 05:01 PM

Understanding how SharePoint and OneDrive for Business are related

SharePoint and OneDrive for Business are linked. SharePoint is the data storage location and OneDrive for Business is the client that manages the sync process. That part is pretty easy to understand. But to confuse the matter, Microsoft gave OneDrive for Business the user’s own private storage space, which although it is stored in SharePoint does not draw from your SharePoint storage quota.

You can think of the OneDrive for Business personal storage location as the user folder from the on-premises world. SharePoint is the storage location where these “user folders” reside and can be thought of as the equivalent of the server from the on-premises world. “User folders” do not take up any of your SharePoint organizational quota.

In addition to syncing and storing your own private files, the OneDrive for Business client can also sync corporate data stored elsewhere in SharePoint. So this client provides access to files in both locations. Best of all you can choose what you “see” in your OneDrive for Business client and what you are going to sync locally to your computer.

To muddy the waters just a bit more, Microsoft recently announced that One Drive for Business will soon start to offer the option to automatically sync your local profile default data locations such as the documents and pictures folders. And it will also have one-button ransomware protection for your files.

So now we’re storing personal data, bits of the user profile, and we’re syncing locally some or all of the data in SharePoint. But we’re still upside down from how business has historically stored data because our corporate space is smaller than the personal space. Basically, if you want to store all of your data in Office 365, then you’ve got some reorganizing to do and some educating of your staff to do so they know where to store things now.

Thinking it through

Knowing that we have more space for private files than we have for general corporate data means that we have to think about how data is going to be stored in the cloud. Or you could purchase more SharePoint data storage space and not think about it. But let’s see how we might rethink data storage and convert it into the cloud model from the on-premises model of data storage.

To do this we’re going to first fix up our data to make sure that we have naming conventions that will be accepted in the cloud. Then we’ll look at archiving. Finally, we’re going to take a look at who really needs access to files and think about how modern applications and the cloud might mean we can organize them differently.

Ready to migrate files into OneDrive for Business?

You‘ll need to be aware of a few limitations when deciding to migrate your files into OneDrive for Business. The biggest gotchas for my clients have been file-naming conventions and total character length. But there’s also a file size cap and a few file types that aren’t allowed too. So you might need to do some data massaging before you migrate.

Here’s what you need to know:

These are the characters that aren’t allowed in your file names: <, >, :, ", |, ?, *, /, \

These are the file names that aren’t allowed: Icon .lock CON PRN AUX NUL COM1 COM2 COM3 COM4 COM5 COM6 COM7 COM8 COM9 LPT1 LPT2 LPT3 LPT4 LPT5 LPT6 LPT7 LPT8 LPT9.

Any filename starting with ~$ or desktop.ini and anything with this string of characters _vti_.

These are the folder names that are not allowed: _t _w _vti_ and forms when it is at the root level.

Each file must be less than 15GB in size, which, honestly, should never be a problem. This is data file storage after all, not database storage.

The total file path must be under 400 characters. This one is likely to catch many people.

Fixing file names

I can’t do a better job at providing a smooth easy solution for fixing the file-naming conventions than Nik D’Agostino, product marketing manager at Lowry Solutions, has in his fabulous article on LinkedIn. So I’ve pulled this information from his article for you.

1) Download the Bulk Rename Utility Tool and extract it.

2) Uncheck all of the group except for 3 and 12.
data storage
3) Make sure folders, files and subfolders are selected under group 12.
data storage
4) Fill out group 3 with the characters you want to find and replace. I recommend replacing each of the following characters \ / : * ? " < > | # % with a dash or space.

5) Navigate to the folder whose contents you want to rename (in this case the folder we copied to our desktop) in the left window pane then make sure you select all of the files, folders, and subfolders you want to rename by selecting them in the right window pane and click the Rename button.

6) Repeat this rename process individually for each of the following invalid characters: \ / : * ? " < > | # %.
data storage

Archive your data

Many businesses are carrying around a lot of data that they really probably don’t need but can’t bear to part with. In my experience, this actually makes up the bulk of data currently sitting on servers. When hard drives got cheap, data volumes went up. Because we’re moving to the cloud it might not make sense to take all of the legacies forward with us. This might be a hard sell but consider leaving some of it behind.

You have a couple of options for this:

  1. Archive the oldest files permanently onto external disks and file them away.
  2. Archive the files you probably won’t need but can’t part with just yet into an Azure file store location or purchase additional SharePoint space and put them into an archive document library.

Azure offers SMB shares to file storage locations. Since these are archived files you are thinking that you probably won’t need you can just map a few people to the SMB share. The cost of SMB file storage in Azure is pretty reasonable. It will cost you around $.10 per GB plus some small transaction costs but it will be quickly accessible and you can map a drive to it which is incredibly convenient.

Microsoft also offers Block Blob archive storage for $.002 per GB, but if you need to read it, be aware that you have to pull the entire blob out of the archive for around $26 for the operation and it will take a number of hours before it begins (as many as 15 hours). If you truly just want to store the data for the long term, $.002 is the least expensive way to do it.

The other option is to purchase additional space for SharePoint. This simply expands your data storage space in SharePoint and you can distribute it among sites and libraries however you like. But this is the most expensive option at $.20 per GB.

Start the discussion

Now that you know what the costs are going to be, it’s time to determine how much of your data is actually archive data. Azure says that archive data must not have been accessed for at least 180 days. But I’ll guess that most businesses have data that hasn’t been accessed for 180 days, one year, two years, or even five years. You’ve probably not looked at your data in this way before, but now it is the time.

Back in 2014, the Scripting Guy wrote up a simple script called Get-Neglected files that uses PowerShell to gather a list of files that haven’t been written to since period of time that you define. I recommend using this method. He uses the file property LastWriteTime to determine when the last time the file changed which is exactly what you’ll be after when determining which of your files are truly archive material.

Use the | to export the data into a CSV file where you can then calculate the amount of drive space that you’re going to need for your archive and for your working data.

Reevaluating folder depth for cloud compatibility

Now for the hard part. Deep complex folder/file structures don’t work very well in the cloud. The website rule of thumb that people won’t click more than twice to get to something very nearly applies to cloud-stored files too. Yes, it’s a whole new world. Yes, this means changing the way that businesses think of their data. The benefit of this exercise is that it is also going to expose teams that you didn’t realize existed in your organization, even though they don’t think of themselves in that way. As you go through and look at the folders, see who has access to them and who is actually using them to discuss whether the structure needs to be as deep and complex as it is. You’re going to find that most folders are accessed by just a few people and those people are entering the folder structure at different points to avoid the click, click, click, click drill-down process. We want to expose those points as they are logical places to break the chain. Further, you’re also going to expose areas of your folder structure that are only used by one person. Those should be moved into their OneDrive for Business personal storage location.

More motivation for simple folder structures

The limitation that my clients have the toughest problem staying under is the 400-character file path limit. Remember that your file path isn’t just the folder depth but that it also includes the SharePoint online URL too. For many businesses, this will mean a reevaluation of their folder structure to make it suitable for cloud storage and will give you some leverage when talking to staff about reevaluating how they are storing and naming files.

This can be a painful process, but is it a bad thing? I don’t think so. Often the current folder structure was grown on-premises over a long period of time and as Microsoft Office began to support longer and longer character limits file and folder names got longer too. The information explosion has also caused workers to give files descriptive names which are also longer. So we have some sacred cows to deal with during this migration. You are going to get a lot of pushback and unwillingness to sit down and hash through this process. But the end result will be worth it. A shorter pathed flatter file/folder structure is much easier to navigate on mobile devices. Since your cloud files will end up being viewed not only in OneDrive but also Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and other Office 365 applications, people will find that a flatter structure benefits everyone.

Migrating the data

Microsoft has produced a great migration tool for getting your data from on-premises and into SharePoint. You can read about it here. It allows you to pick a folder from your server and populate it into the SharePoint library of your choice.
It is very interesting to note that Microsoft recommends standing up several virtual machines to support the data transfer process. This will let you get multiple upload streams going at once. Take note, too, of the upload speeds. This is probably not something that you’re going to accomplish over a single weekend.

Type of metadata Examples Average customer experience
Light ISO files, video files 2 TB/day
Medium List items, Office files (~1.5MB) 1 TB/day
Heavy List items with custom columns, small files (~50kb) 250 GB /day

Data storage bottom line: Think it through before you go

The actual data move is going to be the least of your problems. In this case, the real work is all in the data preparation and getting the business truly ready for a move into the cloud. It’s your skill at consulting and working through internal politics that is going to make or break this project. Microsoft has turned data storage thinking on its head by providing huge personal storage and small corporate storage with their plans. If you want to make that work and utilize the included storage, then you’ll have some work to do.


About Third Tier

Open a ticket with us! Established in 2008, Third Tier only works for IT Professionals by providing them with access to advanced support services. No one can know it all these days, so we give IT pros a place to go to get the hands on support they need in areas they normally don’t work in or problems they’ve never encountered. We also work on projects, fix their accounting practices and do many, many migrations and other installations. Our staff covers a wide range of technologies.




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