Windows 8 Security Overview – what to expect when you’re expecting

In terms of security it’s not the one who has more talented programmers who creates the best protection. Instead, it’s often the one who’s been attacked the most who’s forced to develop the most effective tools.

The last 15 years have been very productive for Microsoft – when you have about 90% of the market, you have to deal with 90% of attacks. While those attacks and problems were painful at the time, the process turned out to have some long-term benefits for consumers. Windows 8, the new OS coming to market in October, is not just different from its ancestors in terms of look and feel with its Metro interface, but it also has a lot if security innovations. To give you an idea of “what to expect when you’re expecting”, here’s an overview of the Windows 8 security arsenal.

1. Preinstalled Antivirus software

Yes, after a lot of consideration, Microsoft decided to provide malware protection to all users, who today are using free antivirus software. Known as Microsoft Defender, the program will run until the system detects another security application installed, such as KIS 2013.  In terms of quality, Defender is better than most free software, and of course is very tightly integrated with Windows in terms of resource consumption. But external security is always be a better and more effective option. To use an analogy from a different industry, every automaker sells cars with tires. But to get truly great performance out of your car, you have to use quality tires – such as Michelin, Pirelli or Yokohama. And the guys at Microsoft know that security is not something they are ready to take over for users’ sake. That’s why all Windows OEM manufactures, such as Toshiba, Acer, Sony are now allowed to bundle their products with any security software. That means that when you buy a new laptop with Windows 8 there’s a great chance of having professional and top-notch security software such as KIS or PURE pre-installed. In all, in terms of its approach to security partnerships, Windows 8 has a more equitable approach than Windows 7.

2. Picture login-password and PIN

It seems that guys from Microsoft were really impressed with Google’s approach to a pre-installed graphic password tool. Who isn’t? The new OS supports the multi-touch interface – performed with fingertips on tablets and smartphones and mouse rolls on desktop PCs. The idea is that now you can either choose a picture from Microsoft’s database or use one of your own (anything – family, nature, your favorite dog) or create a password consisting of gestures. For example, you can draw a smile on your dog’s face and make it a password. Easy? Yep! Effective? Yes, and we all know why: most users’ passwords are simple even when they know that “12345me” is not secure. The addition of graphical password brings much more sophistication to password-generating algorithms, making this feature very easy to use. The new authentication mechanism isn’t mandatory, so you can stick with a (hopefully not too simple) text password, too.

3. Integrated Windows PDF Reader

Attacks via malicious PDF documents are now a significant threat. PDFs, unlike other file formats, are not just text documents. Basically a PDF file is a running script, one of the reasons why there are now a lot of malware that use PDF as a delivery mechanism. With Windows 8, Microsoft decided to integrate its own PDF reader into the operating system for the first time. It will be light and easy to use, but, most importantly, Microsoft will patch and update it the minute they (or their partners, such as Kaspersky), discover new malware for PDF.

4. Secure Boot Support (UEFI)

One of the most dangerous classes of malware is the rootkit. Not as well-known as simple viruses, rootkits infiltrate the core system files, and during the boot process, is loaded before any security software is enabled. Windows 8 has a solution for this in its new UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface), which will hopefully replace traditional BIOS firmware eventually. (Roughly speaking, BIOS is the low-level instructions that operate your computer before the OS is loaded.) The way the new system works is that UEFI “knows” the proper signatures of all core system applications and processes and when the system starts it compares those data with the loading modules of the system. If any application seems suspicious, Windows Recovery environment will attempt to restore it or fix it.  And once the system is running, your professional security software will take care of all the rest. Windows 8 is designed to work on all older PCs with traditional BIOS, but Microsoft is now pushing all new PC manufacturers to switch to full UEFI support and enable it by default.

5. Encrypting File System (EFS) + BitLocker/BitLocker To Go

Windows is no stranger to encryption – EFS hit the market about 20 years ago with first versions of Windows NT. The beauty of it now is that those mechanisms are greatly improved and empowered by the BitLocker/BitLocker ToGo tools. With those tools you can store your encryption keys not only on your hard drive, but also on USB drives or–starting with Windows 8–in the cloud, using Microsoft SkyDrive system.

6. Smart Screen Monitoring (Web browsing phishing protection)

Social engineering rules! Even those folks who pay attention to their online security sometimes cannot resist the temptation of helping to save a life with an online donation, winning a million dollars by providing credit card information, inheriting a fortune or meeting a naked princess (especially this oneJ). The solution that Windows 8 has is a database of trustworthy links. Analogous to the concept of file and application whitelisting, which implicitly trusts certain known-good elements, Web site reputation databases use constantly updated information on a site’s activities to determine whether it’s trustworthy. When a URL is entered in the browser, the system compares it with the database and if the link is known to be malicious, the user would get an alert, which can be bypassed at one’s own risk. This is quite effective against phishing sites and applications (oh yes, apps too!)

7. Apps Locker/Domain membership

This features would be quite handy within enterprise environment, enabling Windows 8 administrators to manage users by groups. For example, they can restrict the launch of applications (such as World of Warcraft) or force Picture Login to be switched to PIN-login.

8. Windows To Go

With this feature, Windows administrators now can create on any USB drive or Flash dongle a copy of Windows 8 that can be used to boot ANY 64-bit PC. This gives administrators the ability to manage corporate environments in a safe mode. You can do it, too. Just create a backup of your system, and in case something is wrong, just boot up from your USB drive and launch KIS 2013.

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