I don’t usually write about MDT, and I do not plan on making this a habit either. However, I ran into an issue doing some automation for a customer that I felt needed documentation. This is just as much for my own benefit as it is the for the 3 people who may find this useful, but there wasn’t much written about this online. Whenever I find myself in this situation, I usually turn it into a blog if the solution is not something that’s naturally intuitive.
First, to back up a bit. Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) is a free method of creating light and zero touch deployments for Operating System images across physical and/or virtual platforms. It’s generally installed as a sub-component to SCCM (which is not free). SCCM can provide more automation for those types of tasks and gets you around the problem that I’m describing here, but MDT can exist in a standalone environment especially if System Center is too expensive to purchase. Even at MSFT we do have use for MDT in certain types of engagements as it can be used to automate some of our own solutions that we bring into a customer environment without needing to setup a System Center infrastructure.
In this particular case, we needed to make use of some of the variables in the MDT scripting environment. It’s worth noting that there are a ton of variables available to use. A full list of what is available for you to use can be found in the variables.dat file that exists locally on the machine being built. This file is generated during deployment and is then removed once deployment is complete. I’m sure there’s a place on the MDT server which houses this, but I never got that far as this file was not removed when my task sequence was failing. The long and short is that you can edit this file with notepad and see all of the variables available for you to use in a scripting environment.
From a scripting standpoint, these variables can be referenced within the script being executed in your task sequence, allowing you some very powerful automation options. The problem, as we discovered is that some variables are not represented in clear text. As you can guess, this is typically username and password data. Both of these are in the variables.dat file, but not in readable form as they are store in base64 format. To be abundantly clear, nothing about this is secure. It’s meant only to prevent prying eyes from seeing usernames and passwords in clear text. Converting from base64 to ASCII is a single line of PowerShell, so whatever credentials you choose to put in MDT need to have only the permissions needed to do what task you need it to do. As well, physical access to your build environment is also paramount. Keep that in mind as well.
To start, we need to load the TS environment. This is easy to do and not hard to find online:
$tsenv = New-Object -ComObject Microsoft.SMS.TSEnvironment
At this point, we need to reference the variable. In my case, I’m going to use the domain join account that someone specifies during the installation wizard. You do this as such:
$Username = $Global:TSEnv.Value(“OSDJOINACCOUNT”)
$Password = $Global:TSEnv.Value(“OSDJOINPASSWORD”)
$Domain = $Global:TSEnv.Value(“DOMAINNAME”)
Again, that’s pretty easy. The $Domain value is in clear text, so there’s not much too this, but if you were to pull the OSDJOINACCOUNT and OSDJOINPASSWORD variables out of the variables.dat file, you’ll see something non-readable. The hard work in my case was figuring out what this format was. My assumption was that it was probably hashed like we do a typical password. That wasn’t the case and it took a lot of digging around to find an offhand comment on reddit that these were actually base64. For a PowerShell professional, this is pretty easy, but for those of us who don’t breathe ISE, this is a bit more difficult. From there, you need this step:
$Password2 = [System.text.encoding]::ASCII.GetString([system.convert]::fromBase64String($Password))
$Username2 = [System.text.encoding]::ASCII.GetString([system.convert]::fromBase64String($Username))
Now we have the Username and Password in a format that a Task Sequence can use. The rest is pretty standard. I’m converting the password to a secure string and creating a credential object in PowerShell that can use it.
$CredPass = ConvertTo-SecureString $Password2 -AsPlainText -Force
$Credential = New-Object System.Management.Automation.PSCredential($Username2,$CredPass)
At this point, you have a credential that works, and whatever PowerShell command you’re trying to script that uses said credential can be given the $Credential variable.
Don’t ask me how to do it in VBS. I have no plans on learning that.