Upgrading the BIOS Part 2

In Upgrading the BIOS Part 1, I gave some very important reasons why you should be proactive about upgrading the BIOS on supported systems in your environment. In this blog, I want to discuss the approach to flashing the BIOS along with some lessor understood caveats as it relates to BitLocker, BIOS passwords and UEFI 64-bit systems.

Any solution that I create and implement, I like it to be as modular as possible so that I can get maximum use out of it (it is the engineer in me and probably the reason that I still enjoy playing with Legos at my age). When flashing the BIOS, we need to be able to do it under two different operating systems – a full operating system like Windows 7/8.1/10 and a lightweight operating system called WinPE. This will allow us to handle existing clients that are already deployed and also bare metal/break fix scenarios. After all, it would not make much sense to have to boot into a full operating system just to flash the BIOS. Other solutions that I found relied on Configuration Manager Applications and Package/Programs. While these may work for specific scenarios, they cannot cover all scenarios. The Install Application and Install Package task sequence steps only run under a full operating system and not WinPE, so those methods eliminate the bare metal scenarios. Sure, we could create another task sequence or a duplicate package that just does bare metal, but now we have twice as much to manage, update and maintain – no thanks!

Now, there is a slight disclaimer that I need to put out there for the time being. Because of certain limitations with some vendor systems, plus the fact that Configuration Manager can only have one boot image assigned to a task sequence and that you need to use the correct boot image architecture to boot a UEFI system, then you will need to have a separate task sequence to handle the bare metal/break fix scenarios (or better yet, pressure the vendor into supporting 64-bit WinPE). The problem is some vendor models currently only support a 32-bit flash utility. If a system is configured for UEFI (or we are doing BIOS to UEFI in a single task – yes, this is possible now), then you need to use the corresponding boot image architecture. This is going to be 64-bit for modern PC systems (within the last four years or so). Long story short, be sure to check with the vendor of the models that you currently support in order to handle those exceptions (or get rid of them and buy something you can support).

Another important point, both the HP and Lenovo flash BIOS utilities require the WinPE-HTA component to be included in the WinPE boot image. Do not ask me why, I just know that it does not work without it. Just make sure that component is included and things should work just fine. Now Dell, HP and Lenovo do supply 32-bit and 64-bit flash BIOS utilities (with certain models being the exception), so you only need one task sequence if you have these vendors (and supported models). These are the only three vendors that I will be covering, but I will gladly take donated test systems of other vendors you would like me to test.

BIOS Passwords can be tricky. Usually you password protect something in the first place in order to make it secure. However, the flash BIOS utilities will take the password as a command line parameter or in some cases (HP) a bin file. Neither one of these methods are ideal for automation with Configuration Manager. A bin file is downloaded to the cache (or TS working directory) at some point in the process and you do not need the password in order to make changes (including clearing the password) as long as you have the bin file. Command lines get logged and there is nothing like having a password in clear text sitting in a log file. If you would like to see better handling/log file suppression, then head on over to UserVoice and vote up Secret task sequence variable value Exposed. I am not advocating to not use BIOS passwords, you should absolutely be using them in order to lock down settings that should not be changed (like Boot Order). You may have to get clever and write a compiled exe that masks the password(s) in your environment (yes – I know that even this can be cracked depending on how it is done, but at least it is more secure than clear text log files or bin files). Lastly, if dealing with multiple passwords, most of the vendors allow three tries before requiring a reboot and attempting again. If you have multiple passwords in the environment, have a group in the Task Sequence that removes the password before flashing the BIOS. You typically only get one shot specifying a password when flashing the BIOS, so this is a way to overcome this limitation.

When it comes to BitLocker, it will need to be suspended before flashing the BIOS (which is one of the reasons I like using a Task Sequence). If it is not suspended prior, BitLocker will detect a change to the system, and then be prepared to enter the BitLocker recovery key upon restart. It is easy to suspend BitLocker but keep in mind the native Configuration Manager step only suspends BitLocker for one restart. Newer Windows operating systems will allow BitLocker to be suspended for x number of reboots or indefinitely. See my previous blog, called How to detect, suspend, and re-enable BitLocker during a Task Sequence, for more information and examples. For 3rd party disk encryption you are on your own. Your best bet is to contact the vendor on how they support flashing the BIOS. If they do not understand what you are asking, then start seeking alternative disk encryption products (like BitLocker).

So, here are my tips and tricks in a nutshell when flashing the BIOS:

  • Use a task sequence for total control.
  • Incorporate flashing the BIOS into your OSD process for Refresh/In-place Upgrade/New Computer/Break-Fix.
  • Suspend BitLocker!!! (or be prepared to enter the BitLocker recovery key)
  • Disable/re-enable BIOS passwords or use it in the command line of the flash utility (just be careful not to have passwords in clear text in log files or command lines).
  • Dell requires a utility called Flash64w in order to flash in WinPE x64 (see First look – Dell 64-bit Flash BIOS Utility).
  • HP and Lenovo system work on WinPE x64, but requires WinPE-HTA to work.
  • Test, test, test!
  • Baseline and document supported configurations (including how each setting is configured), current BIOS version and release date (this part is key).

In an upcoming blog series, I will be covering off some of my tips and tricks on how to deploy BIOS updates in a modular, dynamic fashion during a Task Sequence (bonus – the same method can be used for drivers as well).

Originally posted on https://miketerrill.net/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s