Archive for February, 2014:

Microsoft sets Oct. 31 as stop date for Windows 7 consumer PC sales

But extends end-of-sales date for business PCs running Windows 7 ProfessionalMicrosoft has set Oct. 31 as the end of sales of new consumer-grade Windows 7 PCs, but for now has left open the do-not-sell-after-this-date for business machines.

On the site where it posts such policies, Microsoft now notes that Oct. 31, 2014, is the end-of-sales date for new PCs equipped with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate. All three are consumer-oriented versions of Windows 7; Home Premium has been the overwhelming choice of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for consumer systems.

Microsoft’s practice, first defined in 2010, is to stop selling an older operating system in retail one year after the launch of its successor, and halt delivery of the previous Windows edition to OEMs two years after a new version launches. The company shipped Windows 8, Windows 7’s replacement, in October 2012.

The setting of a deadline for consumer Windows 7 PCs followed a glitch last year when Microsoft named the same Oct. 31 date for all Windows 7 PCs, but then quickly retracted the posting, claiming that the notification had been posted “in error.”

Some OEMs, notably Hewlett-Packard, have made headlines for marketing consumer-grade Windows 7 PCs, a sign of the fragmentation of the once-dominant Windows oligarchy, which always pushed the newest at the expense of older editions.

But while it has established an end-of-sales date for consumer PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed, Microsoft has yet to do the same for business PCs.

Microsoft will give a one-year warning before it demands that OEMs stop selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional, the commercial-quality version. Under that rule, Microsoft will allow computer makers such as Lenovo, HP and Dell to continue selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional until at least February 2015.

It’s likely that the extension will be much longer.

Windows 7 has become the standard version for businesses, which have spurned Windows 8, largely because of its two-user interface (UI) model, which they consider disruptive to productivity and a needless cost that would require employee retraining.

Most analysts believe that Windows 7 will remain the most popular Microsoft operating system deployed by companies for years to come.

“There’s a good chance that enterprises will stay on Windows 7 as long as possible,” said Gartner analyst Michael Silver in an October 2013 interview. If his prediction turns out to be accurate, Windows 7 may reprise the stubborn persistence of Windows XP, the nearly-13-year-old OS that Microsoft will retire in April.

Even after Windows 8’s launch, Windows 7’s user share, a rough measurement of the prevalence of the OS on operational machines, has continued to grow. From October 2012 to January 2014, Windows 7’s user share increased nearly 3 percentage points, representing a 6% gain during that period, according to data from analytics company Net Applications.

Some of Windows 7’s gains certainly came at the expense of Windows XP, which has fallen more than 11 percentage points, a 28% decline, since October 2012 as users abandoned the old OS.

By making Windows 7 available, Microsoft and its OEMs not only continue to serve customers who want the OS, but make sure that new PC sales do not slump even more dramatically than they have already.

Consumer PC sales have plummeted — last month Microsoft said sales of consumer-grade Windows licenses fell 20% in the December quarter compared to the same period the year before — while the Redmond, Wash. company’s business line of operating systems grew 12% year-over-year. In effect, enterprise spending kept PC shipments from tanking even more than the 10% contraction the industry experienced in 2013.

Extending Windows 7 Professional’s availability on new hardware will also give Microsoft breathing room to continue its retreat from Windows 8’s radical shift to a touch-first, tile-based UI, and to roll out a successor that caters even more to customers who rely on keyboard and mouse.

Microsoft is expected to unveil an update to Windows 8.1 this spring, perhaps in April, that will restore several desktop-oriented features and tools. Some reports based on leaked builds of this Windows 8.1 Update 1 have noted that on non-touch devices, the boot-to-desktop option will be enabled by default; if accurate, most users of traditional PCs will skip the colorful, tile-style Start screen. Windows 9 may appear as early as April 2015.

Retail sales of Windows 7 by Microsoft to distributors and customers were officially halted as of Oct. 31, 2013, but that deadline has been meaningless, as online retailers have continued to sell packaged copies, sometimes for years, by restocking through distributors who squirreled away older editions.

As of Saturday, for example, Amazon.com had a plentiful supply of various versions of Windows 7 available, as did technology specialist Newegg.com. The former also listed copies of Windows Vista and even Windows XP for sale through partners.

Even after Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows 7, there will be ways to circumvent the shut-down. Windows 8.1 Pro, the more expensive of the two public editions, includes “downgrade” rights that allow PC owners to legally install an older OS. OEMs and system builders can also use downgrade rights to sell a Windows 8.1 Pro-licensed system, but factory-downgrade it to Windows 7 Professional before it ships.

And enterprises with volume license agreements will never be at risk of losing access to Windows 7, as they are granted downgrade rights as part of those agreements, and so will be able to purchase, say, Windows 8.1 or Windows 9 PCs in 2015 or 2016, then re-image the machines with Windows 7.

The end-of-sales dates for Windows 7 are not linked in any way to the support schedule for the 2009 operating system. Microsoft will provide free non-security bug fixes and vulnerability patches for Windows 7 until Jan. 13, 2015 — called “mainstream support” — and follow that with a five-year stretch of “extended support” during which it will ship free security updates until Jan. 14, 2020.


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6 tips for smartphone privacy and security

Computer forensic expert Ronald Kaplan thinks you should stop using your smartphone if you want privacy in today’s digital world.

In the digital world, things are getting worse rather than improving with regard to the populist quest for personal privacy and security. Our smartphones track wherever we go, what we say, who we say it to, our likes and dislikes, and when we are playing games instead of working. Our computers track and record the same types of information day in and day out.

[iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?]
These are the types of information marketers, insurance companies and employers would love to know before engaging with us, which means the information has great value. This should be troubling to all who read it. You may not be capable locating this often buried information on your own device, but rest assured trained specialists certainly can.

This is the type of information lawyers used to only dream about. They use it to devour the credibility of their foe under testimony. The racist or sexist jokes, the email between you and someone you testified you don’t know, the evidence that you could not be in two places at one time, transfer of assets you testified you did not have, bank transactions you denied having, and the list goes on and on.

Just get sued or arrested and you will find out how easy it is to get to this information. We are not talking about NSA snooping which we all recently learned is more prevalent, pervasive and comprehensive than anyone imagined. What we are talking about here falls under decades old standards for discovery in civil and criminal litigation which are very difficult, or impossible, to stifle. These electronic discovery standards are already well established in civil procedure and what is referred to as case law.

If this concerns you then all you can do to protect yourself from this invasion is to stop using that smartphone and that computer you currently use almost round the clock. Sure you will have to live without all the conveniences in banking, travel, photography, and entertainment but you will know your private information and personal habits and activities will much more likely remain private. It is a very personal choice of whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, however most people never contemplate the tradeoffs, they just slide into embracing their electronic devices and pursue every app or application that meets their fancy or needs.

[7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device]
Many technology users have already been bitten by the likes of malware, computer virus, snooping software, and keyboard captures. Some have had to absorb the loss of a hard drive as a result of these invasions. Recovery is frequently achieved only by replacing the afflicted media or the entire device and restoring from any backup they may have maintained.

Afflicted users usually move on to find themselves vulnerable to the same attacks, making only small insignificant behavioral changes to protect themselves against the losses and aggravations that they swore they would never let happen again just a few months earlier.

If you have the discipline to avoid all the behaviors that put you and your devices at risk and you install all the software/hardware designed to protect your devices, you are still vulnerable to loss of security and personal privacy. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will continue to clean up after yourself when you use your devices and securely delete the trail others leave. This is not only very difficult to achieve, but requires knowledge of the trail you leave behind. Such a trail can be created by the operating system and applications not only running on your devices, but also on servers and other devices outside your control.

Just ask yourself “how do I acquire and maintain the knowledge about these operating system and applications behaviors?” Recognize that technical knowledge and specialized tools are required just to begin to understand what is happening under the surface of your actions on your devices. Very few people are capable of completely containing the trail of their activities, but those that are usually do so by dedicating specific devices for specific activities and are diligent about not cross-contaminating their devices. That is to say, they don’t actually maintain a procedure for eliminating all superfluous data, but instead they isolate the information from non-related information.

Clearly, this solves some of the privacy and security problems, but not all. It also requires purchase of hardware and software that would not likely be necessary for any other purpose other than to maintain the integrity of the data. Further, it still requires time and discipline to maintain.

[Location tracking turns your smartphone into your stalker]
We continually see new techniques designed to protect your information like fingerprint readers and other biometric devices, but they bring their own risks along with them. Are they really more secure than passwords? How do you feel about these protections now that Apple’s fingerprint reader took less than a week to defeat? Now that it has been defeated, if you use it to protect your iPhone is it now more or less secure than a password? Even if were not defeated, would a security key that can’t be changed be a good choice?

As computer forensic experts, we have had many cases where it was our charter to secure and examine e-data in search of “the smoking gun.” While we rarely find “the smoking gun,” we often find significant amounts of periphery information to support our client’s case. This information has been invaluable to erode or destroy the credibility of those witnesses, or others who have produced facts, that are detrimental to our client.

Recommendations
Make sure you continually ask yourself when using these devices, “Do I care if anyone knows this?” where “this” means where you are, what’s in the photos, what I am searching for on Google, that I am watching a movie, that I am telling a joke, or a host of other information you are producing.
Isolate your professional life from your personal life. While it is clearly more convenient for you to use a single device for dual purposes, realize that if you maintain the integrity of your devices you will be able to shield irrelevant and personal information from business interrogations. While this is not ideal, it is light years better that being questioned about the homophobic, sexist, or racist joke you sent to your brother last year.

Keep some privileged or confidential information on your devices. While this will not likely keep your devices free from prying eyes, it will necessitate the need to implement more costly procedures in the examination of your devices which protect the integrity and character of your information.
Control the number and location of backups. The existence and locations of backup media can often be discovered in an examination of a device. If these backups are discovered by a competent examiner, you will be forced to produce them.

Don’t try to fool the professionals by hiding or deleting information. Be aware that the courts have tools for punishing those who get caught. Since you likely have little idea of the operating characteristics of all the applications and the operating system running on your device, you are not capable of discreetly eliminating data from your device.
Quit posting everything you do on social networking sites. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, foursquare and the like are fun, but can prove dangerous to your privacy. If you do post information on social networking sites make certain you use the privacy settings so that you can limit who has access to your information on an ongoing basis and so you can demonstrate your desire for privacy to a court if it orders your information production. At least don’t use your common identity (your first and last name) to catalogue your information.

Mr. Ronald Kaplan, MS, MBA is a partner at SICons, a management consulting and computer forensic expert witness firm in Los Angeles.


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Bill Gates tells Reddit he’ll target cloud, Windows and Office in his new role at Microsoft

Gates sounds like a CEO setting product goals, inspiring good work

As he starts work advising Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella on products, Bill Gates described his role to a Reddit chat group as also including agenda writing and setting performance standards, roles generally associated with the CEO.
Bill Gates

His message on products: get busy making Office in the cloud better and bringing more features to storage in the cloud.
Gates told the Reddit Ask Me Anything session that he sees potential to get more out of the Windows operating system, cloud services and improving Office.

+ Also on Network World: Satya Nadella and Bill Gates’s apron strings | What’s Microsoft going to look like after Ballmer? | So you think you know networking? Quiz II +

“I am excited about how the cloud and new devices can help us communicate and collaborate in new ways. The OS won’t just be on one device and the information won’t just be files – it will be your history including being able to review memories of things like kids growing up,” Gates wrote. “Even in Office there is a lot more that can be done.’

“Office connected to the cloud has a LOT of potential and we are off to a good start. Cloud Storage needs to be a lot richer though.”

He says he’s thrilled Nadella asked him “to make sure Microsoft is ambitious with its innovations,” and that he plans to spend a third of his working time on the task with the rest being spent on his charitable foundation.

With Nadella just finishing his first week on the job as CEO, Gates set himself up as setting goals and seeing they are carried out. “I make sure we pick ambitious scenarios and that we have a strong architecture to deliver on them,” he says. “I encourage good work (hopefully).”

While much of the questioning was about his work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, some of it was more related to technology, including what PC he uses. His answer? “Surface 2 PRO which works well for me,” which is a bit of a gaffe since the actual name of the device is Surface PRO 2.

What was his favorite project at Microsoft? Windows comes first, but, “Office was also great.” Those two products defined Microsoft’s success in the 1990s, he said.


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Patch Tuesday: Windows 8, Exchange in danger

Two critical patches, again nothing for Internet Explorer

Microsoft is issuing critical patches for flaws found in Windows 7, 8 and RT desktops as well as for the spam and malware filter for Microsoft Exchange server.

The first affects not only the Windows clients but also Windows Server 2008 and 2012, and if unpatched leaves them vulnerable to attacks that could result in interlopers remotely executing code on victim machines.

+ Also on Network World: How Microsoft and Mobilespaces are using the cloud for MDM | Satya Nadella and Bill Gates’s apron strings | So you think you know networking? Quiz II +

The second critical bulletin flags a vulnerability in Windows Forefront, which is security for Exchange. It could lead to attackers disabling Forefront, leaving mail recipients open to malware in emails or give attackers entry into the Mail server itself, says Wolfgang Kandek, the CTO of Qualys.

That makes this patch worth paying attention to, says Ross Barrett, a senior manager of security engineering at Rapid7. “Given a remote code execution in a perimeter service like Forefront, I’d have to say that this is the highest priority patching issue this month,” he says.

With a total of only five bulletins overall, that makes for the second light patching month in a row, he notes.

“This month’s bulletins are unusual in that they don’t touch older versions of Windows or Internet Explorer,” says Tyler Reguly, manager of security research for Tripwire.

Kandek says usually Microsoft issues Internet Explorer patches every other month, so it’s unusual that there were none in January and none again this month. But he expects a thorough patching next month just days before the annual Pwn2own browser-hacking contest. “I think it would make sense to have a fully patched browser at that point,” he says. Successful hacks from the competition may prey on flaws that are known now and could be patched by the time exploits against them come out at Pwn2own, he says.

He notes that separately, Adobe has issued an update to its Flash Player because there are live exploits for a vulnerability. Generally the Adobe patches align with Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday, but because an exploit has been found in the wild, it issued the fix early. Users should install the update right away, he says.


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