It is time for part 4A of the ultimate Microsoft Defender for Endpoint (MDE) series. Part 4 explains the AV/ next-generation protection component. Now it is time for some more detailed policy explanation, what do we need to enable, which setting is recommended and where is impact expected?

NOTE: The blog series focuses on features in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint P2 all Microsoft Defender for Endpoint P1 features are available in P2.

Specific question or content idea part of Defender for Endpoint? Use the contact submission form and share the post ideas.

Introduction

Microsoft Defender Antivirus is Microsoft Defender for Endpoint’s next-generation protection component‘ that combines machine learning, big data analysis, threat research, and Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure to protect devices more in-depth with additional layers based on behavior, heuristics, and real-time protection. 

For more AV/ NGAV information see; Microsoft Defender for Endpoint series – Configure AV/ next-generation protection – Part4

What are the additional configurations?

Next to the configuration in Defender for Endpoint (security.microsoft.com), there are more additional configurations available related to Defender for Endpoint:

Next-generation protection/ Defender AV

  • Cloud protection
  • Real-time protection
  • Block at first sight
  • Signature update settings
  • Scan settings
  • Additional AV configuration

Attack surface reduction

  • Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) Rules
  • Controlled folder access
  • Device control
  • Exploit protection
  • Network protection
  • Web protection
  • Ransomware protection
  • Application control
  • HW-based isolation

Additional Defender protections

  • Windows Defender Credential Guard
  • Microsoft Defender SmartScreen
  • Windows Defender Firewall

Cloud protection

As already explained in the previous part; cloud protection is critical and needs to be enabled correctly.

Cloud protection is available based on 4 pre-configured levels;

  • Not configured
  • High
  • High Plus
  • Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance is blocking all unknown executables and is useful for the real restricted endpoints. Based on my experience High is average good protection; where High plus uses extra protection measures.

Recommendation: High plus when possible; or at least High. Never disable/ not configure Cloud protection; without Cloud protection enabled there is a lack of protection and MDE functionalities.

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure:

SettingConfiguration
Allow Behavior MonitoringAllowed
Allow Cloud ProtectionAllowed
Allow Realtime MonitoringAllowed
Cloud Block LevelHigh/ High Plus

Sample submission

Sample submission is a key component of Cloud protection and sends file metadata to the cloud protection service when Defender Antivirus cannot make a clear determination based on the client-based machine learning models or local behavioral analysis. When the Defender Antivirus cloud protection cannot reach a verdict for the specific file; it can request a sample for further inspection.

How works sample submission/ Cloud-delivered protection feature: Source Microsoft

There are 4 levels of sample submission;

Sample submissionDescriptionUser notification for submission?
Send safe samples automatically Send safe samples considered to not contains PII dataYes
Always PromptThe users will always be prompted for consent before any file submissionYes
Send all samples automaticallyAll samples will be sent automatically, without any additional prompt for the usersNo
Do not sendPrevents the complete ‘block at first sight’ feature
Recommendation: Send safe samples automatically or send all samples automatically. Send safe gives a prompt when the user needs to submit data with PIII files. Sens all samples automatically is sending all files without any prompt. Choose one of the options. NEVER use the option “Do not send” which is disabling the complete feature. When Sample submission is disabled; BAFS is also disabled and file analysis is only limited to metadata only.

More information: Cloud protection and sample submission at Microsoft Defender Antivirus

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting Submit Samples Consent

Cloud block timeout period

Cloud Extended Timeout is a configuration where Defender Antivirus can prevent the file from running while it queries the verdict against the Defender Antivirus cloud service. By default; Microsoft blocks the file for 10 seconds. Extending the cloud block helps to receive a good result from the cloud service.

Cloud Extended Timeout can be configured in seconds from 1 second to 50 seconds. Each configured time is added to the default 10 seconds. 50 makes the timeout 50+10= 60 seconds.

Recommendation: Configure 50 seconds additional timeout.

Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting Cloud Extended Timeout

Block at first sight

The combination of the above three settings enables block at first sight (BAFS). Block at first sight detects new malware and blocks it within some seconds. For getting BAFS enables it is needed to configure the above items; Cloud protection; submission timeout, and file blocking level of high or more strict (high+/ Zero-tolerance). When all items are configured Block at first sight is correctly enabled.

Recommendation: Enable BAFS with the combination of the above features.

Scan options

Daily quick scan

Some years ago there was a ‘best practice’ for scanning weekly the full scan drive. The full scan gives overlap and takes time and resources from the system. With the use of all cloud protection features and Automated Investigation, there is no need for scheduling the full scan. Real-time/ cloud protection reviews all files that are opened and closed, and any files that are in folders that are accessed by a user.

Recommendation: Configure daily quick scan. Running a full scan once after you’ve just enabled or installed Microsoft Defender Antivirus can be useful to scan systems for the initial time and detect existing threats.

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting Schedule Quick scan Time.

Schedule Scan Day is not needed. Schedule Quick Scan Time runs each day.

Other scan options

Defender Antivirus contains more scan features part of Defender AV.

Table based on MDE Endpoint Security profile

ConfigurationRecommendation
Allow Archive ScanningAllowed
Allow Email ScanningAllowed
Allow Full Scan on Mapped NetworkNot Allowed
Allow Full Scan Removable Drive ScanningAllowed
Allow scanning of all downloaded files and attachmentsAllowed
Allow Scanning Network FilesAllowed
Allow Script ScanningAllowed
Check for signatures before running scanAllowed
Enable Low CPU priorityEnabled
AVG CPU Load Factor20%

Signatures

Defender Antivirus relies on the daily available signature updates. KB2267602 deploys security intelligence updates multiple times a day. With the use of cloud-delivered protection, Microsoft can deploy signature updates or critical updates. You can check which are the current versions on this website or check the release notes for the frequency.

Defender Antivirus supports different sources for getting AV updates;

Common mistake; Sometimes customers slow downs the frequency of the updates for “skipping” bad updates. Microsoft pushed immediate corrections when there are huge issues. With rapid frequency; the update is asap fixed with the newly released update. When configuring 48 hours; it takes hours before the fix is applied.

IMPORTANT: Do not use WSUS/SCCM for the primary configuration of Defender AV updates. When using WSUS/ SCCM you need to first sync the updates from the catalog (mostly daily or even weekly), after the sync it deploys to the system; now Microsoft releases a new patch with a critical fix; the customer needs to wait again for the update sync. WSUS/SCCM makes it complex, causing overhead and giving always issues.

Signature source

Avoid WSUS/ SCCM as configured update source. Ideally use the MicrosoftUpdate source as the primary source to get updates directly from Microsoft.

Recommendation: Use MicrosoftUpdate as the primary source. Avoid WSUS/ SCCM as the primary source for security updates.

Configuration using Intune

For Intune, no additional configuration is needed for the AV signature source. The default configures the following update order; MicrosoftUpdateServer|MMPC

Signature update interval

How quicker the interval is configured; how smaller the package is in size. Waiting some hours/ days makes the delta larger; with the interval of 1-4 hours, the package is small and gives no network impact.

Recommendation: Use the 1-hour interval for Defender signature updates.

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting Signature Update Interval


Additional protection

Local Admin Merge

One of the most underrated policies, this policy needs personally enabled in each baseline. Without Local Admin Merge; administrators can manage the local AV exclusion list. Disabling Local Admin Merge applies only exclusions configured in the management tool (Intune, MECM…)

For both MDAV and Windows Firewall the “disable local admin merge” needs to be enabled. Otherwise, a local admin can bypass most of your protections part of Defender AV via the UI or PowerShell module. And yes; there are still some bypass options for the exclusions.

Recommendation: there is no doubt about enabling this setting; when using the local admin merge watch out for apps that create rules during the installation; this needs to be managed centralized. (seen in practice with firewall rules)

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting Disable Local Admin Merge with the value Disabled.

Disabled is disabling the Local Admin Merge feature and option for configuring local exclusions via the UI or PowerShell.

PUA protection

Potentially unwanted applications (PUA) is typically software that can cause slowness on the system, display ads, or installed other unwanted software, PUA is not considered a virus, malware, or other types of threats, but is mostly focused on endpoint performant or evasion software. Example of typical PUA detections:

  • CCleaner
  • Utorrent bundle
  • Toolbar software
  • Software with hidden ( toolbar) installations.
Recommendation: Enable PUA and start with testing in audit mode and review logs/ Advanced Hunting for calculating possible impact.

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting PUA Protection


Network protection

Network protection is critical in combination with Defender for Endpoint network indicators and web content filtering. For blocking indicators the Network protection feature must be enabled in block mode. Network protection is an attack surface reduction capability, and prevents access to dangerous domains or custom-blocked indicators.

The network protection component of Defender for Endpoint identifies and blocks connections to C2 infrastructures used in ransomware attacks. Blocking C2 attacks makes Network Protection more important.

For Microsoft Edge browsers SmartScreen must be enabled for working in cases with specific features. SmartScreen will be explained in the next blog part.

FeatureMicrosoft Edge3rd-party browsersNon-browser processes
(e.g. PowerShell)
Web Threat ProtectionSmartScreen must be enabledNP has to be in block modeNP has to be in block mode
Custom IndicatorsSmartScreen must be enabledNP has to be in block modeNP has to be in block mode
Web Content FilteringSmartScreen must be enabledNP has to be in block modeNot supported

For Network protection, the features real-time protection and cloud-delivered protection must be enabled and activated. Network protection optimization is enabled by default and can help with app compatibility problems and reduce bandwidth. -AllowSwitchToAsyncInspection is enabled by default.

For Windows Servers and Windows Multi-session additional configuration is required for network protection. Test always the setting; AllowDatagramProcessingOnWinServer which is scoping on inspection of UDP connections on Windows Servers on high load servers (Exchange, SQL..)

Set-MpPreference -EnableNetworkProtection Enabled
Set-MpPreference -AllowNetworkProtectionOnWinServer 1
Set-MpPreference -AllowNetworkProtectionDownLevel 1
Set-MpPreference -AllowDatagramProcessingOnWinServer 1     
Recommendation: Enable Network protection in block mode. Audit mode can be used for evaluating first. Important: Audit mode is not blocking any website or network traffic.

Configuration using Intune

Use Endpoint Security -> Antivirus -> Profile: Microsoft Defender Antivirus and configure the setting Enable Network Protection


Tamper Protection

Tamper Protection must be enabled. Ideally, enable Tamper Protection in MDE. See the earlier part of this series for the Tamper Protection enablement via security.microsoft.com. Don’t disable or not use Tamper Protection. Troubleshooting mode can be used for troubleshooting situations.

Blog: Microsoft Defender for Endpoint Troubleshooting mode – how to use it?

Bad actors like to disable your security features to get easier access to data, install malware, or exploit your data, identity, and devices.

Tamper Protection prevents against the following actions:

  • Disabling virus and threat protection
  • Disabling real-time protection
  • Turning off behavior monitoring
  • Disabling antivirus protection, such as IOfficeAntivirus (IOAV)
  • Disabling cloud-delivered protection
  • Removing security intelligence updates
  • Disabling automatic actions on detected threats
  • Suppressing notifications in the Windows Security app
  • Disabling scanning of archives and network files

More information: Protect security settings with tamper protection


Validation

PowerShell can be used for validating the state of Defender for Endpoint. Use the following commands:

Get-MpPreference
Get-MpComputerStatus

Get-MpPreference shows the configuration of Defender AV. Check always of the key components are enabled:

The Get-MpComputerStatus cmdlet gets the status of the Defender AV product.


PowerShell commands

Example PowerShell script for configuring Defender AV. Important: only use PowerShell when no other management toolings are available. See part 4 for the available management options.

#Cloud protection
"Cloud DeliveredProtection level"
Set-MpPreference -MAPSReporting Advanced

"Set cloud block level to 'High"
 Set-MpPreference -CloudBlockLevel High

"Set cloud block timeout to 1 minute"
Set-MpPreference -CloudExtendedTimeout 50

"Cloud Delivered sample submission consent (Send All Samples)"
Set-MpPreference -SubmitSamplesConsent 3

"Block at first seen"
Set-MpPreference -DisableBlockAtFirstSeen $False

"Behaviormonitoring enable"
Set-MpPreference -DisableBehaviorMonitoring $False

"Realtime protection enabling"
Set-MpPreference -DisableRealtimeMonitoring $False

"Enable IOAV protection"
Set-MpPreference -DisableIOAVProtection $False

#SCANNING AV settings
"Configure Defender AV scan settings"
Set-MpPreference -scanAvgCPULoadFactor 20
Set-MpPreference -DisableScriptScanning $false
Set-MpPreference -DisableEmailScanning $false
Set-MpPreference -Disableremovabledrivescanning $false
Set-MpPreference -DisableCatchupFullScan $False
Set-MpPreference -DisableCatchupQuickScan $False
Set-MpPreference -DisableScanningMappedNetworkDrivesForFullScan $True
Set-MpPreference -RandomizeScheduleTaskTimes $True
Set-MpPreference -CheckForSignaturesBeforeRunningScan $True
Set-MpPreference -RealTimeScanDirection 0

#SCANNING AV SCHEDULE
"Configure scan schedule settings"
Set-MpPreference -SignatureUpdateInterval 1
Set-MpPreference -SignatureUpdateCatchupInterval 1

#SIGNATURE SCHEDULE
"Configure scan settings"
Set-MpPreference -ScanScheduleQuickScanTime 02:00:00

#QUARANTINE
"Configure Quarantine removal"
Set-MpPreference -QuarantinePurgeItemsAfterDelay 60

#Applicationcontrol
"Configure potentially unwanted apps in audit mode"
Set-MpPreference -PUAProtection AuditMode

"Enable network protection mode in block mode"
Set-MpPreference -EnableNetworkProtection Enabled

"Configure additional network protection for servers"
Set-MpPreference -AllowNetworkProtectionOnWinServer 1
Set-MpPreference -AllowNetworkProtectionDownLevel 1
Set-MpPreference -AllowDatagramProcessingOnWinServer 1

#Defender for Endpoint
"Defender Latency" 
Set-ItemProperty -Path "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Advanced Threat Protection" -Name "latency" -Value expedite -Force

More information: Set-MpPreference PowerShell Cmdlet

Firewall configuration and additional configuration (SmartScreen, Attack Surface Reduction, Windows Firewall) will be explained in the next part. Performance troubleshooting and testing will be included in one of the latest parts.


Conclusion

Part4A of the Microsoft Defender for Endpoint series is completed – focussed on the explanation of the Defender AV policies. In the next part; 4B, more information will be shared about the additional policies scoped on SmartScreen, Attack Surface Reduction, Windows Firewall, and additional settings.

Searching for specific Defender for Endpoint information? Use the contact submission form and share the post ideas or contact using Linkedin or Twitter. I will take all suggestions into the Defender for Endpoint series and help the community as far as possible.

View previous part – Microsoft Defender for Endpoint series – Configure AV/ next-generation protection – Part4