All posts in “Windows 10”

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. 4d0b 0b85%2fthumb%2f00001

Microsoft’s new strategy: A deeper meaning

Satya Nadella changed Microsoft.

That’s the assessment of Microsoft Executive VP for Windows and Devices Terry Myerson who was recalling the very first staff meeting with the newly installed CEO three years ago.

“He deeply was convicted about refreshing our mission statement,” said Myerson, who sat down with me a few weeks ago, just hours after unveiling Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop.

Myerson looked a little drained (“I kind of feel like I go down in a dark cave for two days before these events”) and was careful not to tip anything coming at this week’s Build Developer’s Conference, but he wanted to explain Microsoft’s transition from a company that builds good products to one that more intentionally marries form and function. It all started, it seems with the new mission statement:

“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Nadella, Myerson told me, wanted Microsoft to ingest the mission statement so it became part of company culture, “as the purpose behind what we were doing every day.”

Nadella, it seems, agonized over every single word. Myerson described Nadella’s process:

 “‘Should we say, “Everyone on the planet” or should we not? Is that necessary?’”

“‘Should we say people and organizations or just people or just organizations?’”

“‘Is empower the right verb in the mission statement?’”

Getting it right was important because it would define Microsoft and its future projects.

“[Nadella has] internalized that as a mission behind everything that we’re doing and has led our culture behind that. That is now why we do everything we do at Microsoft.”

That effort to “empower” has led, somewhat naturally, to Microsoft’s new focus on creators. 

It’s a somewhat risky framing device as not everyone thinks of themselves as “creative,” but Myerson and Microsoft aren’t just thinking about artists, musicians, and designers.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Microsoft Build 2017 where he spoke of developers' opportunities and responsibilities.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Microsoft Build 2017 where he spoke of developers’ opportunities and responsibilities.

Image: Lance Ulanoff/Mashable

“I’m not a musician and I’m not an artist by any means, but I love being part of a creative process at work every day,” said Myerson, who joined Microsoft in 1997. 

Instead of Windows users being daunted by the process of creation, Microsoft wants them to feel empowered to do things like “sculpt in code” and “paint in numbers.” If people buy that, they may embrace Microsoft’s widening Creators strategy.

“When I see someone expressing themselves in an Excel spreadsheet,” said Myerson, that’s what Microsoft means by “painting the numbers.”

It’s not all touchy-feely empowerment. Myerson can be pragmatic when it comes to platform, hardware and, especially, partner choices.

He defends, for example, Microsoft’s choice to confine Windows 10 S application download choices to the Windows Store, even if it does cut out popular apps like Chrome, which just happens to compete with Microsoft’s relatively young Edge browser.

Myerson talking about Creators at Build 2017.

Myerson talking about Creators at Build 2017.

Image: Lance Ulanoff/Mashable

Myerson acknowledged Chrome’s absence, but added, “Certainly the policies we have for store ingestion are there only to protect the performance and security of system.”

It’s true, Google could add Chrome at any time and, Myerson noted, there are other browser choices in the Windows Store.

Windows 10 S is designed specifically to attract the sometimes-cash and IT-strapped education market, one that is often choosing super-cheap Chromebooks and the low-cost Google Docs platform over Windows.

Windows 10 S addresses some of the education market’s security, speed, and management concerns, but the Surface Laptop that was announced on the same day offers, at $999, no respite for budget woes.

When I asked Myerson why Microsoft doesn’t build a budget Surface device, he made it clear that he understands the appeal of and need for sub-$200 devices

“It’s awesome to have these $189 Windows education devices,” he said, “but to be honest, you know, at $229, at $259, at $299, there’s is more value at each tier. More ruggedization, pen, touch. Students and schools will get more out of that.

“At the same time, when I hear about a school district buying 10,000 devices at $189, I understand the prioritization they’re doing. They’re making the right decision for their school district.”

It’s still the role of the Windows OEM partners, which Myerson said he genuinely values, to offer a wider value/price/capabilities spectrum.

“So, if a school does have $20 to trade off, per device, they can decide how much they put into ruggedization, how much they put into touch, or pen. That’s why our partner ecosystem is so valuable,” said Meyerson. “The bar that I think they’re holding us to is: Are we innovating and growing the Windows ecosystem that they have bet their businesses on.”

It sounds both right and somewhat diplomatic, especially when you consider how Microsoft has created a PC brand out of Surface, one that could ultimately rival Dell or HP. 

There’s no question Microsoft will continue to honor, work with, and support its partners, but Myerson (and Nadella’s) Microsoft is about something more. 

Myerson told me that around the time that Nadella joined, many in the company were watching a Ted Talk about what makes a great company and how these companies not only understand what they’re building, but why they’re building it, too.

And, in part, out of that, Myerson said, came a deeper purpose and one that may explain the constant references at the Build Conference to empowerment and creativity (and even love).

“Let’s focus there across everything we’re doing and build deep meaning behind, deeper meaning that answers why these products will have an impact more than just the fact that they’re beautiful,” said Myerson. 0735 ad9a%2fthumb%2f00001

iTunes is coming to the Windows Store

Image: karissa bell/mashable

iTunes, Apple’s nearly two-decade-old music and video store, is coming to the Windows Store.

Microsoft announced the surprise addition, coming later this year, at its annual Build developers conference in Seattle on Thursday. There are almost 700,000 apps in the Windows Store, but this would be Apple’s first addition.

The news comes 14 years after “hell froze over” and Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that iTunes was finally coming to Windows. At the time, it was a critical move for Apple. iTunes was the dominant force for legal music downloads, but it was nowhere on the Windows PCs, which basically were the computing market at the time. That all changed with a splashy event featuring a live performance by singer Sarah McLachlan and live video drop-ins from Mick Jagger and U2’s Bono.

This announcement is a much quieter affair. 

Microsoft Executive Vice President of Windows and Devices Terry Myerson announced the addition of iTunes to the Windows Store as part of an update on Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform development tools. 

At the very least, iTunes users will be able to get automatic updates.

These tools make it easy for developers to build an application for one part of the Windows 10 platform and only make minor adjustments to make it work on other parts. In other words, Microsoft may have been able to encourage Apple to retrofit iTunes for Windows to the Windows Store by showing them how easy it would be.

It’s unclear if there will be any changes to the app now that it’s Windows-official. Windows Store apps are often recognizable for their Windows Metro design looks (flat colors, blocky design). At the very least, iTunes users will be able to get automatic updates, assuming they’ve enabled that functionality.

However, the news comes just a few weeks after Microsoft unveiled Windows 10 S an education-focused flavor of Windows 10 distinguished by its ultra-tight control over application installation. The only apps you can run on Windows 10 S are those vetted by Microsoft and available in the Windows Store. Application vendors do have to make more than just cosmetic adjustments to work in the Windows Store, like cutting out services that might run during and after installation.

Microsoft claims that these strict rules will result in safer and more efficient systems.

The other big question is if this really matters. In 2003, getting iTunes on Windows was a huge deal worthy of its own event. In 2017, most people download or stream their music directly through their iPhones, bypassing the desktop iTunes app entirely. Many people don’t even bother to dock and sync with a PC or Mac anymore. 

Apple hasn’t commented on the new iTunes update and Microsoft is only promising its appearance in the Windows Store by the end of the year. 5619 31d3%2fthumb%2f00001

First look at Windows Story Remix, the app that that turns anyone into a Hollywood director

I watch as a Tyrannosaurus Rex chases a frantic young woman across a vaguely familiar landscape, something straight out of Jurassic Park. She looks over her shoulder in horror. Will she outrun the T-Rex? Will she survive? Who knows? Who cares? The more pertinent question is how is a video like this was created on a Windows 10 PC by a bunch of junior high kids.

Yes, I’m watching Microsoft’s sizzle reel (see below) for its new video- and slideshow-creation software, Windows Story Remix, which was announced on Thursday at the Microsoft Build developers conference. It looks too good to be true. 

It’s not.

Story Remix, which I saw in action hours before the Day 2 Keynote, can take your photos, video and other media and auto-mix it into something elegant and instantly shareable. Alternatively, it can let you take the wheel and doing something quite stunning, like that dinosaur effect, without any video, 3D or special effects training. 

The application will arrive in full later this year as part of the upcoming Windows Fall Creators Update (a mouthful, I know). But it’ll also pop up in an early, considerably less-full-featured build (it will be called simply “Photos,” the parent app its built upon) on Thursday as part of the first Windows Insider build for Windows Fall Creators Update.

The app is more than just an automated video editor. It’s another front in the Microsoft artificial intelligence (AI) expansion and an affirmation of the creators strategy Microsoft launched last year with the Creators Update and Paint 3D. 

When I spoke to Microsoft Executive Vice President for Windows and Devices Terry Myerson shortly after the Surface Laptop launch, he told me Microsoft uses the broadest definition of the word “creator.” 

“I think there’s a creator in all of us,” he said. Story Remix is designed to unleash that creative spark.

The interface is simple with Explore, Create and Folders up top, your playback window below and asset pane on the right. You can choose from among pre-made montages or create your own. The video-editing interface steers clear of frames and presents clips as thumbnails with the length of each clip in minutes and seconds on top of it. Photos fit into this same timeline. You drag and drop to reorder and can adjust the length of each clip with a slider. There’s a text overlay tool that lets you select style and position, as well as filters and a soundtrack option.

In some ways, Story Remix is reminiscent of Apple’s recent entry in the simplified video creation space, Clips. Like Clips, Story Remix will be able to do in minutes what can take video newbies hours. 

However, Story Remix goes way beyond what Apple Clips can do with photos and videos. It doesn’t just help collect, edit and organize your media into square, music-backed video clips. Story Remix analyzes every frame, applying machine learning to identify, at a pixel level, what’s inside your photos and video, including the ground, objects and people.

Corporate VP of Windows and Devices Chris Pratley, who walked me through a demonstration of an early build, said people don’t think they have the time or skill to create these montages and videos. However, Story Remix is mutable, adjusting to whatever skill level you’re comfortable with. “We encourage you to move up, try a little more. Don’t be afraid,” he said.

When they see how easy Story Remix makes what should be the most complex video task, fear will not be a problem.

Pratley showed me how he could use the Microsoft Surface Pen to draw on video of a kid playing Ultimate and then, by marqueeing the kid on the paused video, anchor the words so they followed him, in proper perspective, all over the field.

I’ve done some video editing and even made a few lame attempts at special effects. The simplicity and power of this solution blew me away. 

“That’s insane,” was all I could manage.

The early builds of Story Remix won’t have some of these powerful features. It will, however, look at photos and videos stored in your OneDrive cloud and your local system storage and automatically create montages. The AI and machine learning looks for patterns like a lot of activity at one time, in one place or with the same group of people.

If, for instance, you took a vacation and dropped a bunch of photos and videos from it on your drive, Story Remix would see them and whip up something. The montages will pre-populate the top of your interface Story Editor interface (below it you’ll find your open projects). If you never use them, they eventually fade way. The interface features a big Remix button that you can keep pressing to see mix alternatives, with different cuts, filters, pacing, music. Pratley believes the very act of hitting that button can inspire and “release creativity.” 

When I asked about the number of stylistic variations, Pratley told me the styles “permute,” meaning that Story Remix does small adjustments on a variety of metrics. The permutations could be endless.

The choices you do make on each video, even the automated mixes you choose to keep or discard, will train Story Remix about your preferences. Over time, you will see more pre-built videos that align with your tastes. 

All the knowledge Story Remix has about your photo and video content means that you can more easily find people, places and things. Pratley showed me how he could search for people in his contact list without pre-tagging anyone’s faces. Similarly, he could search for “dog” and every image and video with a dog in it appeared in the results. 

That same AI will identify people in the video and let you change the “star” of the video to instantly remix it so the entire video is focused on that person.

The most interesting part of Story Remix, though, is the upcoming ability to combine multiple elements, including mixed-reality content from Microsoft’s 3D assets site, 3D Remix (it will also work with third-party content in the GLTF interchange format), to create eye-popping, special-effects-driven stories.

As I watched, Pratley grabbed a bunch of iPhone video clips that where shot with the intention of making a tiny Wizard- and Dragon-infused blockbuster.

Pratley selected one clip with a little boy dressed in a makeshift wizard costume. He was standing in a driveway. Then Pratley selected a pre-made 3D dragon from 3D Remix, complete with some built-in animations. Pratley told me that the Remix Community already has thousands of freely usable 3D objects and animations. He placed the dragon in the scene and rotated it so it faced the boy and then locked the dragon to the driveway pavement.

This sounds easy, but behind the scenes, Story Remix is using sophisticated image analysis to identify the ground and scene perspective. Pratley was also able to set when the dragon’s built-in animations would occur in the scene. Finally, he attached bolt of magic to the star on the tip of the boy’s real-world wand. All of this took just a few minutes.

Then Pratley hit play and showed me a polished video with the boy vanquishing the dragon. 

There’s also a creator’s community element to Story Remix. 3D Remix assets you use or alter will always include the original creator credit in your video. If you post the video publicly, those creators will be able to comment and, if you want, connect with you.

Eventually, Story Remix will be able to go even further. The sizzle reel shows how the app can apply a green screen effect with almost no effort beyond selecting the person or object you want to stay on top of the scene (in the case of the dinosaur video, they quickly replaced a soccer field with Jurassic Park-like vista).

There will be Android, iOS and Windows Phone versions of Story Remix, but they’re really only capture apps, not the full-featured editing suite (that’s Windows only). You can use those apps to grab additional photos and videos for your project. That’s how the teenagers grabbed the over-the shoulder shot in the dinosaur video, Pratley told me that multiple people can work on the same story project, shooing different angles or additional scenes that can automatically flow into the same video. 

Story Remix can output MPEG-4 video in a variety of quality levels and be shared directly with contacts or on your favorite social platform.

Like Apple Clips, Story Remix will start with a bunch of royalty-free theme music (Microsoft’s comes from Groove) that recomposes itself for each video, choosing the right tempo and lining up the beats with the video highlights. Each time you hit that remix button, the audio will change up, too. If you want, you can take control of the audio, using a slider that goes from “Chill” to “Energetic” to alter the tempo and intensity of the theme music.

The larger goal of Story Remix, said Pratley, is to put you in “the director’s seat as opposed to the editor’s seat,” allowing you to focus on creative, as opposed to technical, decisions. 

Pratley, however, is especially interested to see how teachers use Story Remix.

“The days where you sat in class and teacher told you facts are gone,” he said. These days, “engagement is key.”

A fungible video creation system that lets students dive as deeply or as little as they want on the video creation process could capture the imagination of students eager to express themselves without the drudgery of process.

Inspiring that kind of creativity is now serious work for Microsoft.

“If we can have an impact on creativity people are able to express,” Myerson told me, “I think that, especially in a world where artificial intelligence is automating so many things, creativity could be this one just amazing attribute of the human race.” 5b24 3f9e%2fthumb%2f00001

HP’s new Elite x2 might as well be the Surface Pro 5 that Microsoft won’t sell

With Microsoft seemingly uninterested in releasing a new 2-in-1 Surface Pro, other PC makers like HP are stepping in to fill the void.

HP’s Elite x2 1012 G2 (yeah it’s a mouthful) is the latest Surface Pro clone and it packs quite the punch.

You want premium looks in a thin and light package? The Elite x2’s got it. The aluminum tablet’s thinner than a Surface Pro 4 at 0.36 inches thick.

You want a bright and sharp screen? The Elite x2’s got it. The 12.3-inch touchscreen is larger than its 11.6-inch predecessor and the resolution’s identical to the Surface Pro 4’s: 2,736 x 1,824.

You want lots of power? Good, because the Elite x2’s got that as well. Powering Windows 10 are seventh-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processors with Intel HD Graphics 620, 16GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of SSD storage.

You want lots of ports? Perfect, because the Elite x2’s got all the ones you need, including a USB-C 3.1 Thunderbolt port, full-sized USB 3.0 port (because nobody likes being in #donglehell), a SIM card slot for cellular connectivity, microSD card slot, and a headphone jack.

You want to take photos with a tablet? Hey, we’re not gonna judge you. The Elite x2’s got a 5-megapixel shooter on the front and an 8-megapixels camera on the back with LED flash.

You want nice sound? Compared to the previous Elite x2, the new one’s got front-facing stereo speakers that direct sound towards you and not away from you. HP says the speakers are also designed to enhance bass.

What about top notch security to lock down all your precious memes work documents? You guessed it, this baby’s got a fingerprint sensor on the back and an IR camera on the front for face authentication.

Add on the sturdy Collaboration Keyboard with its backlit keys and loop for the Active Pen stylus and you’ve got yourself a solid laptop replacement to bang out that term paper, compile that quarterly report, or create the next Deviantart masterpiece.

HP’s new 2-in-1 sounds like a whole lot of win. That said, we’ve gotta wait to see how much it’ll cost before we hand out any awards. 5b24 3f9e%2fthumb%2f00001