Configuring 802.1x Authentication for Windows Deployment

The Links first so you don’t have to scroll so far. These are also on the menu at top for easy access. Since I ended up with so much content for this topic, I felt that it warranted a landing page. Hopefully you will be able to easily navigate through these topics and find some useful nuggets to save yourself some headaches down the road.

Part 1 – Building an 802.1x Computer Authentication Script
Part 2 – Building an 802.1x Enabled WinPE Boot Image
Part 3 – Integrating 802.1x Authentication into a Bare Metal Task Sequence
Part 4 – Integrating 802.1x Authentication into an In-Place Upgrade Task Sequence
Bonus – Tips and Tricks

If find yourself on this page, you have either 1) made a wrong turn and ended up here by mistake or 2) are tasked with getting IEEE 802.1x Authentication to play nice with your Windows Operating System Deployment. If its option 1, save yourself! Go look for some cat videos or something. You don’t want to be here, trust me! If its option 2, welcome to the club. Come on in and make yourself comfortable, it’s gonna be a long ride. For my team, this has been one of the most frustrating things to work with/around in our environment. My goal with this series (Yes, this is going to take a few sheets of paper) is to share what I’ve learned over the past few years and the discoveries I’ve made. I’m using ConfigMgr/SCCM with Cisco ISE providing our 802.1x protection, so all of the following is geared toward SCCM Task Sequences and the integration between the Windows ADK, WinPE, Wired AutoConfig, Windows 10 and 802.1x. Oh, and Cisco ISE.

There are multiple ways to configure your network interface for 802.1x authentication and the options you choose will depend on how your 802.1x protection service is configured. For my environment, Cisco ISE will accept either valid domain user credentials or a valid machine certificate. For several years, we used a script to import an 802.1x user authentication profile along with a service account and password to configure authentication on the LAN interface. We soon realized that we would have to update our WinPE Boot Image every 3 months since we are required to reset passwords every 3 months. This is a hassle that we wanted to do away with. So, I developed the solutions that follow to help us switch from user authentication to computer authentication.

Now, you may be asking why we would do this and not just build machines in a secure build room. I’m so glad you asked. Because we hate ourselves and wanted to make things difficult!! Honestly, we’ve done that for quite some time and it has worked pretty well. As we are moving from Windows 7 to Windows 10 with an eye on Modern Management and Windows AutoPilot, we wanted to move to a user-driven imaging/upgrade model. A user can initiate an upgrade from their desk and minimize the manpower required to support the effort.

If you want more info about what 802.1x Authentication is or how to implement it, you won’t find that here. I just won’t come close to explaining it properly, so if you want to know more, I’m sure someone smarter than me has already geeked-out writing a nice article about the wonders of 802.1x authentication and why it’s the most amazing security protocol and such. I just want to know how to get around it so I can get machines imaged and out the door!

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