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Windows 10: New Security Features and the Role of Third Party Security

Just like everyone else, we’re excited about Windows 10 this year. We particularly look forward to new security improvements that Microsoft brings to Windows with each new release. While this may sound like a strange position for a security company to take, the reason why we welcome these improvements is that every security improvement, no matter how big or small, is bad for hackers and criminals and good for consumers.  Like the majority of customers in the market, we’re also customers of Microsoft Windows and we recognize that Microsoft Windows is an attractive target for criminals.

Even with all of the new features, Microsoft Windows’ “attack surface” continues to grow with each new release. Microsoft-developed security improvements and features can play an important role in helping to reduce the attack surface of each new Windows release.


Windows Attack Surface

One of the benefits of Windows that customers love is backward compatibility, which allows old versions of your favorite software to continue to run on the new operating system. The problem with backwards compatibility from a security standpoint is that it not only allows older legitimate software to run, but malware to continue to run as well. Malware writers are able to stay active, tweaking and refining their malware to run on Microsoft’s newest operating system, rather than starting over and writing new malware from the ground up. In addition, while it is often useful to be able to continue to run older legitimate applications, these applications can contain bugs, which criminals can exploit. This is especially problematic if the vendor of vulnerable software has stopped updating the software.

Adding to these risks is the fact that Microsoft typically adds features and functionality to their new operating system as well. New features and functions can create new areas of potential exploitation by malware writers.

Let’s take a look at some of Windows 10’s new features, as well as potential barriers for some consumers to look for, and alternatives to keeping yourself safe on Microsoft’s new operating system.

Identity Protection and Access Control

Your passwords are a treasure trove for criminals because passwords often lead to a wealth of private information and financial data. Fortunately there is a security model called, “two-factor authentication” which makes it really hard for criminals to use your passwords, even if stolen. Two-factor authentication works by requiring two or more types of information in order to log in to an account or service. Microsoft has built two-factor authentication into the Windows 10 operating system under the names, “Microsoft Passport” and “Windows Hello.” By using this functionality, you can now log into a service using the physical computer in your possession as one factor to authenticate, and then use the device’s camera or fingerprint scanner as another factor. With these two steps in place, a crook that steals your computer will not have access to an account or service because they still need your fingerprint or face. The biggest hurdle this security improvement has to overcome is that you must own a supported device in order to login using Windows Hello, (facial recognition and fingerprint scanning don’t just work on any device). In addition, while Microsoft’s sign-on service has been designed to be adopted by other companies, the number of services and platforms that will support this out of the gate are going to be largely limited to Microsoft’s own services.

Third Party Alternatives to Protecting Your Identity

If you’re interested in two-factor authentication, and you don’t want to wait for Microsoft’s service to be widely adopted by your favorite services, you can turn on two-factor authentication for the most important services that you want to protect on a case-by-case basis (such as banking, Twitter, Facebook and email). An additional level of protection that you should employ is to protect your identity and passwords with a dedicated password manager such as Norton Identity Safe. Password managers operate on a variety of devices and platforms, generate secure passwords for you, securely store your passwords in the cloud and can automatically log you in to your favorite web site. 

Threat Resistance 

A lot of malware makes its way onto a customers’ machine by being unwittingly installed by the customer. The reason this happens is that criminals not only spend a lot of time developing dangerous malware, but also spend time creating scams and social engineering ruses to make us believe we’re actually installing something legitimate. Microsoft has included a new feature in Windows 10, called Device Guard, that allows enterprise administrators the ability to lock down a device and prevent software from being installed from anywhere but a legitimate source (such as the Windows Store). While this feature will greatly improve security in the enterprise by preventing unwanted software on a business-owned device, it still doesn’t prevent an average home customer from installing malware that they believe is legitimate. Why? Because Device Guard can easily be turned off if you decide you really want to install software that is not from a legitimate source.

How Third Party Security Can Add More Protection 

PC customers are used to installing their software from multiple sources (such as directly from a software maker). Third party security software such as Norton Security can provide you with the choice to download software the way you want to, while helping to protect you from installing compromised applications. We do this using our reputation database that tracks billions of files from millions of systems around the world. The minute a bad file is exposed, Norton will quarantine the file preventing it from embedding itself on your system. Knowing the reputation of a file is only the first step though. Norton Security has multiple additional layers of security running. These layers analyze network traffic looking for malware as well as track and report suspicious behaviors in order to stop bad applications before they take over your system.

Microsoft Edge Browser

We talked earlier about how Microsoft’s support for older applications allows both legitimate software to continue to operate as well as malware to operate. This backwards compatibility creates a continued risk for consumers using not only Windows but using Microsoft’s web browser as well. Because Internet Explorer has been so prone to malware that takes advantage of vulnerabilities in these older technologies, Microsoft has removed backwards compatibility for many of these technologies in its new web browser. This new browser, called Edge, was built from the ground up and does not support toolbars or browser extensions, meaning it will prevent by default, a lot of older malware that attempts to exploit those legacy technologies.

How Third Party Security Can Add More Protection

At Norton, we don’t make recommendations on which browsers to use because we believe choice is important. We support multiple browsers and our job is to protect you whichever decision you make. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when making a browser decision on Windows 10.

Customers who choose to use Edge should be aware that while a lot of older malware will no longer be effective, malware writers may find new vulnerabilities to exploit. Because of this, we strongly believe customers should employ at least some additional level of browser protection.

Norton Security provides important anti-phishing, scam site protection, safe search and password security within browsers that allow for extensions (such as Chrome and Firefox). These technologies work together to help keep you safe online and provide you with the flexibility to use your browser of choice.

Parting Thoughts

We’re big fans of Microsoft Windows and look forward to Microsoft’s newest version, Windows 10. New security features and improvements from Microsoft are welcome because they can help to reduce the attack surface that is available to criminals. The new security features Microsoft is including in Windows 10 are a strong step toward improving Windows security. However, they are not fail-safe, may not be widely deployed at launch, and in some cases restrict consumer’s choices. Third party security software such as Norton Security will help increase a customer’s security profile while providing customers with flexibility in how they work and play online.

For more information about Windows 10 migration and how to get the new Norton ready in time for the big release, check out our support article.

Updated 7/28/2015

Labels: Win 10