All posts in “Windows 10 S”

It’s time to take your medicine and stop WannaCry ransomware in its tracks

Hackers attacked a hospital system with ransomware and demanded $17,000 in bitcoin payment. 

This was not part of the potentially deadly Global WannaCry Ransomware attack that slammed Britain’s National Health Services (NHS) on Friday. It took place over a year ago, and the target was Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Like the NHS, Hollywood Presbyterian chose to pay the ransom so they could quickly regain control of their antiquated systems.

Ransomware attacks have been on the rise for more than a year and, according to Jonathan Penn, Avast Security’s director of strategy, WannaCry could be “just one wave in a very long series.”

So far, Avast, a security solutions company, has detected and prevented almost a quarter of a million WannaCry ransomware attacks around the world. 

If companies, people and governmental agencies like the NHS knew that ransomware was exploding last year, why weren’t they preparing themselves? It’s like the ground floor of a 28-story high-rise is on fire and, instead of putting out the flames, we just keep taking the elevator up to another unaffected floor.

There are many excuses businesses and government agencies use to avoid upgrading their software. But the dramatic rise of ransomware attacks means it’s time for them to take their medicine and figure out a way to get it done. Otherwise, these attacks will just keep spreading with organizations paying ransoms that are cheaper than upgrades, until they’re not.

Microsoft and most security experts will tell you that the surest way to prevent a ransomware attack is to keep your Windows system up-to-date and fully patched, run security software, and avoid opening email from unknown parties and opening unknown links. 

Those running Windows 10 can’t even avoid updates (they can postpone for a week or so, but that’s it). However, most people and businesses aren’t running Windows 10. They’re on older platforms like Windows 7, which Microsoft will only patch through 2020. 

This latest attack could be ‘just one wave in a very long series.’

A shocking 7% are still on Windows XP, a 16-year-old operating system Microsoft stopped supporting years ago (but patched just for this attack). Anecdotal information indicates that businesses and governmental agencies around the world are the primary culprits here. Late last year, Citrix reported that the majority of NHS hospitals were still running Windows XP on at least some of their systems.

Penn isn’t surprised that the NHS hasn’t upgraded more quickly. “The health service in Britain is government-run. So, they need to make quite a significant case, go up the chain or take budget from somewhere else.”

However, it’s more than just money and bureaucracy that’s keeping businesses and governments from retiring old hardware and software.

Think about what it takes to update your own computer — or even your smartphone. It’s a pain in the neck, especially if functionality changes (and many people simply don’t let devices update). “Now multiply that times a thousand for business,” said Penn.

Businesses and government agencies often have customized software and disparate systems that need to communicate. Patches and OS updates can’t roll out willy nilly; they must be tested. That takes time and money and so do the potential ancillary updates that are often required.

“It’s just a hamster wheel of expense for a lot of these people,” said Penn.

Many simply decide to not upgrade, especially if all systems are still functioning.

“It’s just a hamster wheel of expense for a lot of these people,” said Penn.

What they’re doing, essentially, is a risk assessment. Changing things incurs cost and maybe lost business or even the ability to serve constituents. But the risk equation is tilting dramatically in the other direction.

Penn told me that the risk ramsomware poses is getting larger and will not go away. More worrisome is that the effectiveness of the WannaCry ransomware attack will probably lead to more attacks.

And the risks are widespread. 

Sources within the U.S. Federal Government tell Mashable that, so far, the impact on government systems hasn’t been bad and that there have been no public reports of WannaCry-related issues. 

However, the U.S. health care system may not be so lucky.

“Our health care system is fragmented: medical records, for example, might be created and managed by a single doctor’s office or by large hospital systems,” said former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services CIO Frank Baitman via email. “Their ability to patch legacy systems and employ cybersecurity staff varies enormously. Even in large enterprises, it’s difficult to patch all computers as soon as a Zero Day vulnerability is discovered,” he wrote. A Zero Day attack has no known patch or signature.

Penn, though, believes the next logical target is the education system, which has a devil’s brew of massive amounts of private data and grossly underfunded infrastructure. “It’s low-hanging fruit,” he said. I also asked him about the electric grid’s vulnerability, but Penn wouldn’t comment. 

Even if consumers and businesses follow Penn’s advice and upgrade, patch, and install antivirus, they may not be fully protected.

Shortly after news of the Hollywood Presbyterian attack broke, Security Architect Kevin Beaumont detailed the powerful ransomware behind it. Called Locky, it was reportedly infecting thousands of systems a minute. More terrifying, Beaumont wrote that having fully up-to-date systems didn’t seem to matter:

Having your endpoints fully Windows and Office patched, antivirus software installed, behind a firewall and with Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware (in beta) likely wouldn’t have protected you if you allowed users to open macros and didn’t have application whitelisting correctly configured.

MessageLabs, Google Mail, Office 365 and hosted Exchange all delivered the Word documents.

Penn acknowledge that so-called Zero Day attacks are a reality.

“No one is going to claim that, if you do XY and Z you will never get any kind of attack, because there are these things called Zero-day attacks. They can be successful against systems with all these protections. It depends on nature of exploit,” he said.

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Wait, what? In Windows 10 S, you’ll be stuck with Microsoft Edge as default browser

Microsoft's Surface Laptop.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Thinking about purchasing one of Microsoft’s snazzy new Surface Laptops, running the company’s freshly introduced Windows 10 S operating system? 

Keep in mind that you won’t be able to change the default browser from Microsoft Edge, and in that browser — as well as Internet Explorer — you won’t be able to change the default search engine to, say, Google. 

The news comes, via Laptop Magazine, from Microsoft’s official Windows 10 S FAQ. In it, Microsoft explains in very clear language that this is something users just won’t be able to change. 

“Yes, Microsoft Edge is the default web browser on Microsoft 10 S. You are able to download another browser that might be available from the Windows Store, but Microsoft Edge will remain the default if, for example, you open an .htm file. Additionally, the default search provider in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer cannot be changed,” the FAQ states. 

“The default search provider in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer cannot be changed.”

This is in line with how Microsoft envisions Windows 10 S usage. This particular version of Windows will only let you use apps that are in Microsoft’s App Store, making it a lot more restricted than regular Windows, but also somewhat improves security and performance of the OS. As Microsoft puts it in that same FAQ, “by exclusively using apps in the Windows Store and ensuring that you browse safely with Microsoft Edge, Windows 10 S keeps you running fast and secure day in and day out.”  

Users will be able to change this by switching to Windows 10 Pro, but this will only be free if you’re a student or, if you’re not, only until the end of 2017. After that, the upgrade will cost $49. 

This sort of thing brings to memory Microsoft’s woes in the European Union. The company had to pay billions of dollars in fines in the last decade, as the European Commission had determined the company had been abusing its dominant position on the market by forcing Internet Explorer down consumers’ and developers’ throats.

Truth be told, other companies have similar restrictions in certain cases: You can’t, for example, change the default browser from Google’s Chrome on a Chromebook — though that’s largely due to the fact that Chrome essentially is the operating system on a Chromebook. You can, however, change the default search engine on a Chromebook. 

But it’s still a big deal; the first thing I do on a fresh installation of Windows is switch the default browser to Chrome, and I’m sure many other users do the same. Chrome currently has a towering 59% market share according to NetMarketShare, compared to Microsoft Edge’s 5.6%. On the search engine front, Google has an even bigger share, at 79.8%, compared to Microsoft Bing’s 7.1% Percentages aside, it’ll be interesting to see the reactions from real-world users when they realize they’re stuck with Microsoft’s Edge and Bing as defaults. 

We’ve reached out to Microsoft about this decision and will update the post when we hear back from them.

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With the Surface Laptop, Microsoft leads the PC industry back into the light

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Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop isn’t the $300 education system we were expecting, but then that’s not Microsoft’s role in the PC industry.

It’s the hero of this story.

A decade or more of darkness. Average products. Poor builds. The computer as a commodity. Once dominant computer manufacturers couldn’t figure out how to make eye-catching products that weren’t more form than function. 

This was, in part, Microsoft’s own fault. It built the Windows operating system and basically handed it to OEMs with a “Do with this what you will.” Obviously, there’s always been collaboration between Microsoft and hardware partners, but the OEMs always led the way on system design and, I guess, Microsoft always hoped for something better.

In the meantime, Apple’s Steve Jobs and then CEO Tim Cook tried to usher the world into the Post-PC era, even as that company built and sold its own personal computers.

The PC industry and, quite honestly, the PC, felt dead.

As we know, hardware revival came from an unlikely source.

Microsoft took its partners and really the entire Windows PC industry by the hand and showed them the way. A computer could be beautiful and functional. Design elements could serve capabilities. And what started with the Surface computer five years ago, a computer that straddled the line between tablet and ultra-portable, has culminated in this, the Surface Laptop, Microsoft’s first true clamshell computer, which Microsoft unveiled on Tuesday in New York City (along with the education-friendly Windows 10 S).

Like all the Surface computers that have come before it – Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Studio – the $999 Surface Laptop seeks to redefine a category with brash and unusual design choices, like a 3.6 mm-thin touch screen and a fabric-covered keyboard, that combine to make the portable more, not less, functional. My only quibble is that the wedge design makes the screen can’t fold all the way over onto the system’s back, which would, obviously, make it a convertible.

And to understand why today, a day in which Microsoft did not wow the world with a sub-$300 education laptop, is still a win for Microsoft, you need to know what Microsoft is doing in the PC space in the first place.

Form and Function

Microsoft’s plan with the Surface brand is not to, so to speak, flood the zone, covering every possible permutation of the venerable PC. Its all-in-one Surface Studio only arrived last year and it’s literally taken them years to build a non-convertible version of a laptop.

It’s also not building systems purely as a technology showcase. Yes, the Surface Book’s dynamic fulcrum hinge was unusual, but it was designed to help balance a system that split the battery and, in some cases, the discrete graphics and core CPU (and other components) into two slabs.

What Microsoft’s Surface design choices prove is that Microsoft focuses as much attention on industrial design as Apple does on each generation of the iPhone. Part of this is to show consumers and partners what’s possible, but most of it is to inspire current and future Windows customers. 

Microsoft has never had an issue with operating system name recognition. Everyone knows, if not loves or likes, Windows. Microsoft has never had a recognizable hardware brand — until Surface.

A fabric-covered keyboard is a better idea than you think it is.

A fabric-covered keyboard is a better idea than you think it is.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Surface is now as well known as Dell, Acer and Asus. But like the Apple brand, it carries a certain cachet. One that Microsoft won’t trade to fill a “value” niche, even if it’s trying to attract education buyers. Doing so would only harm the brand and its design leadership position.

Much of this became clear to me as I peppered the Surface Laptop design team with questions about the keyboard and mostly screw-free design. 

Easily the mostly startling aspect of the Surface Laptop is the keyboard. It’s a one-of-a-kind melding of aluminum, plastic and nylon.

As good as it looked, I couldn’t help but think that Microsoft has unnecessarily carpeted a computer.

“Why fabric?” I asked Microsoft Senior Designer Rachael Bell.

“First, why not?” said Bell, adding that a fabric-like material on keyboards has long been part of the Surface identity. While similar to Surface Touch Keyboard fabric, this material is different. I’d call it “feltier” but Bell told me it’s a non-woven, pressed nylon with a special polyurethane covering for durability, including water and chemical resistance.

Bell also reminded me that it’s “soft and beautiful to interact with,” and I had to admit that it felt good to the touch and comfortable when my palms rested on the spaces adjacent to the spacious touch pad.

That's a clean edge.

That’s a clean edge.

Image: lili sams/mashable

However, she added, there’s utility and value here, too. A fabric covering allows Microsoft to hide the speaker under the keyboard. Yes, there are precision holes cut in the fabric for the speaker grill, but you really can’t see them. If the keyboard cover were plastic, you’d see the holes.

Still, I worried about how the covering would hold up to wear and tear. What if it peeled off?

Mechanical engineer Mohammad Haq explained that Microsoft developed a lamination process, using heat, pressure and a specially formulated adhesive, to bind the fabric to the chassis.

As I held the Surface Laptop in my hands, I examined that bond, looking for a lip, a place where some middle-school kid could gain purchase and peel the fabric right off. I couldn’t find one. 

That perfect cut comes by way of an optical laser. The fabric cover starts out larger than the keyboard and then the laser trims away the excess leaving what looked like a one, clean edge.

During the Surface Laptop unveiling Microsoft Corporate VP Panos Panay said “When you hold the Surface Laptop, you will find no reference to how these parts came together.”

It’s true. I couldn’t see a screw anywhere. How did Microsoft do it? What’s holding this laptop together?

Where are the screws?

Where are the screws?

Image: lili sams/mashable

“There’s a considerable amount of adhesive, including heat activated pressure sensitive and liquid dispense (or hot melt),” said Haq. 

The only place you’d find screws are in the three-element hinge and on the motherboard.

All this attention to detail comes together in a laptop that I could literally open and close with a fingertip.

It’s not a $200 or $300 laptop and that’s by design. Microsoft has poured an insane amount of detail and expertise into crafting its perfect ideal of a traditional laptop. It’s a product consumers will probably want and partners can learn from. 

Ultimately, Microsoft will leave it to OEMs to build systems at the prices and variety consumers, especially education customers, demand, while it focuses attention on lust-worthy devices that remind people that Windows can live in cool hardware, too.

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Microsoft’s unveils new Surface Laptop with crazy battery life

Meet the newest member of the Surface family.

Along with the new Windows 10 S, Microsoft also introduced the Surface Laptop on Tuesday at its education-focused event in New York City. 

The Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s first Surface computer with a traditional clamshell design that’s not a detachable 2-in-1. Until now, Microsoft pushed the Surface Pro 4 (tablet that’s powerful enough to replace a laptop) and the Surface Book (laptop that detaches into a powerful tablet).

Its design is a departure for Microsoft and kind an affirmation that students don’t really need tablets—they need a rock solid laptop that’s affordable and can take a beating.

Available in four colors, Surface Laptop is lightweight at 2.76 pounds and thin at 14.5mm. It’s got a 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display and the keyboard is covered in an “Alcantara” fabric material Microsoft’s used on Surface Pro 4 keyboards before. The backlit keys have a 1.5mm travel and never feel cold when you type on them says Microsoft’s Panos Panay.

The Surface Laptop comes with the latest seventh-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 1TB of PCIe SSD storage, and up to 14.5 hours of battery life. Panay says it’s 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro and lasts longer, too (MacBook Air only gets up to 13 hours of battery life and MacBook Pro up to to 10 hours).

As for ports, it’s got a single USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and headphone jack on the left side, as well as a lone SD card slot on the right side. See that Apple? Even Microsoft’s low-cost Surface Laptop has an SD card slot. There’s no excuse the MacBook Pro doesn’t.

The Surface Laptop starts at $999 and launches on June 15. Pre-orders are available immediately.

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