When looking at a new version of Windows, it’s tempting to focus on new features that are visible in the user experience, especially when one of those features represents a change to the way a task or activity used to work. Those sorts of changes (“Look, File Explorer now has a dark mode!”) make for easy demos and screenshots. But some of the most important changes in the latest update are essentially invisible.
Also: The top new features for IT pros
In this post, I focus on a handful of changes that are of special value to businesses and might otherwise go unnoticed, because they’re not an obvious part of the user experience.
1. The update experience
This might be the single largest pain point, but it’s also the linchpin of the entire “Windows as a service” experiment that defines Windows 10. Over the past three years, Microsoft has tweaked and tuned the Windows 10 update process, moving more of the installation process to the background, allowing administrators to set active hours during which updates shouldn’t be installed, adding notifications to lessen the risk of surprise reboots, and shrinking the size of downloads for each update package.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: The 7 best new features CNET
For this release, Microsoft also claims to have done substantial work on the logic that determines when your system reboots to install a pending update. The idea is not just to confirm that a device is not being used but to try to predict whether you’ve left for a long break or just stepped away for a cup of coffee.
The actual impact of these changes, of course, won’t show up until this new version rolls out, but once that update engine is in place across a wide swath of the Windows 10 installed base, the predictive model can be fine-tuned based on feedback (and a few screams) from users.
The Timeline feature represents probably the single greatest change in the Windows user interface since the Start menu. This feature, which debuted in the April 2018 Update, keeps track of your activity history across devices, and then it displays that history along with the list of open program windows when you press Alt+Windows key or click the Task View button to the right of the search box on the taskbar.
The initial release of Timeline was useful for anyone who uses Microsoft Office and Windows 10’s built-in Microsoft Edge browser. Some third-party apps, including Adobe’s Creative Cloud family, have added support for the Timeline APIs as well.
Being able to search your Web history along with files is a crucial part of what makes Timeline work. That’s unfortunate if your preferred browser is Chrome or Firefox (as is the case for the vast majority of Windows 10 users), because neither Google nor Mozilla has added Timeline support, nor have they announced plans to do so.
Also: How to install Windows 10 October 2018 Update right now CNET
As a workaround, Microsoft plans to release extensions for both Chrome and Firefox that will allow Timeline to include your activities in those browsers. (They’re “coming soon,” I’m told.) In addition, the new Launcher app on Android devices can now share activities to the Timeline for a signed-in account, and an update to the Microsoft Edge app will bring similar for iOS, due for release in November, will bring similar features to Apple devices.
3. Usability improvements
One of the biggest benefits of the Windows-as-a-service model is that it doesn’t take years for new features to address usability issues that affect your day-to-day experience. The October 2018 Update includes a handful of changes that fall squarely into this category, including the following:
- Bluetooth device battery life indicators, which allow you to see at a glance how much life is left in a Bluetooth-powered keyboard or mouse
- Magnifier tool customization options
- The Cloud Clipboard, which keeps a history of items you cut and paste, with the option to sync those saved items to other devices. (A new Snip & Sketch app makes it easier to capture screenshots and then annotate, edit, and share those captures.)
- Systemwide text size adjustments that don’t require changes to the overall scaling of Windows (one reader told me “I am ecstatic about this great improvement”)
4. RSAT features available on demand
If any part of your job requires you to administer a Windows Server, you know the Remote Server Administration Tools are valuable. In previous versions of Windows 10, installing those tools required jumping through multiple hoops starting with a manual download, and then you had to repeat the installation after each upgrade.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: What you need to know TechRepublic
Beginning with the October 2018 Update, all of the RSAT tools are available on demand and can be installed from Settings > Apps > Apps & Features > Manage Optional Features.
5. Windows Defender Application Guard and other security features
Microsoft Edge has one compelling feature for large organizations. A feature called Windows Defender Application Guard (WDAG) allows users to visit websites in an isolated, Hyper-V-enabled container. That approach means a malicious site can’t access a user’s credentials or your enterprise data. As administrator, you define which sites are trusted in an Application Guard window. All other sites are considered untrusted.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: How to use the new Storage Sense features TechRepublic
The October 2018 Update dramatically improves the performance of Application Guard windows and also adds the ability to download files. That feature is off by default, for security reasons. If you turn it on, downloaded files go into an Untrusted Files folder.
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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise
This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.
Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.
In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.
CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions
Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.
Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.
“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”
As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.
Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.
“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.
So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:
“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”
Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.
“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”
Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast
Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications
Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.
Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection
“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”
In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.
A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.
Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.
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