Microsoft brings Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection to Windows 7 and 8.1

Microsoft announced the general availability of Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) on devices running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on Friday.

Microsoft introduced Advanced Threat Protection in the Fall Creators Update for Windows 10 and made it a Windows 10 exclusive feature at the time.

The company revealed a few months later that it would bring Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection support to the older Windows versions Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

Plans to launch a preview in Spring 2018 and the final version in Summer 2018 were delayed. Microsoft did launch a preview of Advanced Thread Protection in 2018 but general availability was delayed.

Last week, Microsoft announced that the feature is now generally available for organizations that run Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on devices.

windows defender advanced threat protection

Windows Defender ATP events show up in Windows Defender Security Center, the central administrative location to manage endpoints.

Windows Defender ATP for Windows 7, and Windows 8.1 provides deep visibility on activities that are happening on endpoints, including process, file, network, registry and memory activities, providing security teams with rich, correlated insights into activities and threats happening on older versions of Windows.

Advanced Threat Protection remains an Enterprise and Pro only feature. It can be used on devices running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 Pro or Enterprise, and Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise.

It requires System Center Endpoint Protection and installation of the Microsoft Monitoring Agent (MMA).

Administrators find additional setup information in the onboarding instructions.

Why is Microsoft bringing ATP to older versions of Windows?

Microsoft made some features Windows 10 exclusive when it launched the operating system in 2015. Features like Microsoft Edge, support for certain hardware, or security features were not ported to older supported versions of Windows.

In some cases, features were made available on non-Microsoft operating systems such as Android instead.

Microsoft notes that it brings ATP to older versions of Windows to “help customers stay secure while upgrading to Windows 10”.

Support for Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system ends in January 2020. Enterprise customers may extend the support period by up to three years. Payments double each year up to a maximum of $200 per device in the third year for Windows 7 Pro devices.

Enterprise customers may use Windows 7 until 2023. Support for Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 operating system ends in January 2023. Microsoft has yet to announce whether Enterprise customers may extend the support period for that operating system as well; it seems likely that the option will be made available.

Related articles

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Microsoft bringing PC and Xbox gaming closer together

Remember the mysterious test that Microsoft wanted Windows 10 Insider Build testers to run recently without revealing anything about it?

Microsoft wanted users to report any issues found during the installation and launch of State of Decay, but did not reveal any information other than that.

Turns out that Microsoft could have had testers install the Xbox One version of State of Decay, or at least a large part of it, on the Windows 10 device.

Brad Sams over on Thurrot suggests that the State of Decay test was Microsoft’s first public test at making available an Xbox One game as the “primary installation for Windows”.

Microsoft did not confirm nor deny that; Sams discovered that the game installer downloaded the data from an Xbox Live domain and not from the usual server that Microsoft Store apps and games were offered from.

There is more evidence. It turns out that the downloaded files used the .xvc format. Microsoft created the format for the Xbox One but it seems the company added support for it to the upcoming version of Windows 10.

dxdiag

The State of Decay installer, which you can run from PowerShell as Sams notes, loads a legacy DirectX installation setup routine which installs the required DirectX components on the computer.

Microsoft has an interest in pushing the company’s Xbox One system and gaming on Windows 10. Making it easier for game companies to develop games that work on Xbox One and Windows 10 with little overhead will certainly help with that.

While it is certainly easier to develop games that run on PCs and consoles, thanks to consoles becoming more like PCs in many regards and improving development options, improving that process further could give Microsoft the boost it needs to compete with Sony and Nintendo in the console market, and increase Windows 10’s attractiveness as well.

It is unclear at this point whether the functionality will find its way into Windows 10 version 1903, the next feature upgrade version. It seems unlikely, considering that we are just 1-2 months away from the release of that version.

Microsoft could plan to have everything ready before the launch of its next console (Xbox Two, maybe). This would give it ample time, a year at least, to test and integrate the functionality in the operating system.

Closing Words

More Xbox games on PC is a good thing for PC gamers; most would probably prefer that Microsoft would not make the games Microsoft Store exclusive. Another concern that some gamers may have is that developers might use shortcuts by launching the Xbox One version in its unmodified or nearly unmodified state on PC; this could be problematic in regards to controls, graphics, and other functionality.

Now You: what is your take on this?

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Windows 10 1903: support for filenames and folders with beginning dot character

The next feature update for Windows 10, Windows 10 version 1903, will support filenames and folders that begin with a dot character in Explorer.

The news may not be super exciting for users of Linux or other operating systems that supported filenames  or folders with dots in the beginning for decades, but for Windows, it is certainly a milestone.

When you try to create a filename or folder that begins with a dot character, you may notice that Windows won’t allow that filename or folder to be picked for the file if you use Explorer to do so.

The error “you must type a file name” is displayed (yes also for folders) and the only option the dialog provides is to select ok to restore the old filename or folder name (if you create a new file on Windows using Explorer, a file extension is added automatically).

you must type a file name

The limitation applies only if you don’t add at least one additional dot to the file. Windows’ File Explorer won’t allow the creation of “.htaccess”, but it does allow the creation of “.silly.filename.txt”, or “.htaccess.”. Similarly, it won’t allow the creation of the folder “.test” but it does allow “.test.”

Windows Explorer makes the creation of filenames without extension difficult. The file manager adds a file extension to new files that you create automatically. While you may remove the file extension to create a file without one, it is probably not something that most users of Windows do regularly.

Webmasters and developers might, especially if they work with web servers or Linux systems. It is not possible to create a .htaccess file from scratch using the Windows file manager, but you can copy a file like .htaccess to the Windows system and use it just like any other file that is on the system.

A double-click opens the file, and it saves just fine as well once you are done with the editing.

The same is true for names such as.gitignore or .nomedia which some users may make use of.

Windows 10 users who run Insider Builds can test the new functionality already; the change is live in the most recent Windows 10 version 1903 Insider Build and in the Skip Ahead build as well.

The change does not remove the limitation to use reserved names for files:  CON, PRN, AUX, NUL, COM1, COM2, COM3, COM4, COM5, COM6, COM7, COM8, COM9, LPT1, LPT2, LPT3, LPT4, LPT5, LPT6, LPT7, LPT8, and LPT9. Files or folders with these included cannot be created.

Now You: What is your take on the change? Did you run into file name or folder name creation issues in the past? (via Deskmodder)

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How Windows Sandbox config files work

Microsoft is working on Windows Sandbox, a sandboxed environment for the Windows operating system, currently.

The feature is being tested in Windows 10 Insider Builds currently and it is possible that Windows Sandbox will find its way into Windows 10 version 1903.

The initial version of Windows Sandbox was quite basic: users could launch it on Windows 10 devices and use it, but that was about the scope of it.

Sandbox Config files

SandboxConfigFile

Starting with the latest builds, it is now possible to use config files to customize certain aspects. Config file support is basic at this point but it allows administrators and users to launch apps or scripts automatically in the sandbox. In other words: you may run something in the sandboxed environment automatically.

The config files use XML and have the extension .wsb. You may run any .wsb file with a double-click or by running it from the command line or by using scripts.

Windows Sandbox .wsb scripts support the following configuration options currently:

  • Enable or disable the virtualized GPU.
  • Enable or disable networking in the sandbox.
  • Share folders from the host.
  • Run a startup script or program.

Most options are straightforward at this point in time.

Virtualized GPU

  • Disable — Disables virtual GPU support in the sandbox. Software rendering will be used.
  • Enable — Enables virtual GPU support.

Networking:

  • Disable — Disables networking in the sandbox.
  • Enable — Enables networking in the sandbox.

Shared Folders:

path to the host folder
value

You need to specify a folder that you want to share with the host system, e.g. c:virtual, and whether you want it to be read-only or support write operations as well.

ReadOnly values are true (make it read-only) or false (read and write support).

Note that folders are always mapped under the path C:UsersWDAGUtilityAccountDesktop.

Command on Logon

The command

You may specify a file name and path or a script. The command explorer.exe would work, as would reference to a script, e.g. C:userswdagutilityaccountdesktopteststart.cmd.

Example XML file

Disable
Disable

C:UsersMartinDownloads
true

explorer.exe C:usersWDAGUtilityAccountDesktopDownloads

Save the file as something.wsb and launch it whenever you want to run the sandbox with this configuration. It is pretty basic: disables the virtual GPU and networking, maps the Downloads folder of the user account Martin, and launches File Explorer in the sandbox that displays the Downloads folder.

Closing Words

Config file support extends Windows Sandbox functionality significantly as you may use these files to share folders with the sandbox and run scripts. You could use it to map a downloads folder and run downloaded files in the sandbox for that extra bit of security.

We will update the guide when new features are introduced.

Now You: What is your take on the Windows Sandbox so far? What would you like to see?

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Microsoft: fix security issue with non-security update. Instructions point to non-existent KB page

Can things get any worse than this? Microsoft published a security advisory yesterday — ADV190005 | Guidance to adjust HTTP/2 SETTINGS frames — which affects Windows Server running Internet Information Services (IIS).

The security issue could be abused to cause CPU usage to increase to 100% until the malicious HTTP/2 “connections are killed by IIS”.

The advisory recommends to administrators that they install the February non-security updates for the version of Windows 10 that is installed on an affected device. Microsoft released cumulative updates for all supported versions of Windows 10 on the February Patch Tuesday that included security updates.

The updates that Microsoft refers to in the advisory were released this week for Windows 10 version 1607 to 1803 (the update for Windows 10 version 1809 is being tested in the Release Preview ring currently) and the related Windows Server versions.

No instructions available

microsoft-windows-security-update-not-found

It is not the first time that non-security updates update security related content. The main issue with the approach is that it weakens the already-very-weak distinction between the monthly security and non-security releases.

The approach is far from ideal especially for administrators and users who install security-only patches exclusively on devices.

What makes this particular security advisory even more problematic is that Microsoft asks customers to review a Knowledge Base article that does not exist.

The security advisory was published yesterday, but the essential support article is not published yet (a day after the release). It is possible that Microsoft made an error when it added the link to the page, but someone would certainly have verified the link before hitting the publish button.

It is unclear whether the installation of the updates fixes the issues or if other steps are required to resolve it completely.

Closing Words

This is not the first time that Microsoft released updates or advisories without publishing their support pages. I published Microsoft, please publish support pages before updates in 2016 to raise awareness for the issue.

Users and administrators may encounter Windows updates and patches without option to find out what they actually do, may introduce issues, or have additional steps or requirements.

Administrators could install the patches and hope for the best in this particular case, or wait until Microsoft publishes the support page. Both options are not very pleasant; the first could mean that important steps to protect the server are not implemented because of missing instructions, the second that attacks could hit the server while the administrator waits for Microsoft to release the support page.

Now You: What would you do and what is your take on this? (via Ask Woody)

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Windows 10 updates KB4487029, KB4487021, KB4487011 and KB4487006 released

Microsoft released several cumulative updates for different Windows 10 versions on February 19, 2019. The cumulative updates KB4487029, KB4487021, KB4487011 and KB4487006 update Windows 10 version 1803, 1709, 1703 and 1607 but not the current version 1809.

Only the Enterprise editions of Windows 10 version 1607 and 1703 are supported. Home and Pro editions of these versions of Windows 10 are no longer supported; in other words: you need to upgrade the operating system to a supported version to receive continued support with updates.

Note: These are not security updates; they fix stability and other issues only. It is recommended that you back up your system before you install the updates or wait if you are not affected by any of the listed issues.

And Windows 10 version 1809? Microsoft pushes cumulative updates for the current version of Windows 10 to the Release Preview ring first before release. It is likely that an update will be released in the coming days / week.

KB4487029  for Windows 10 version 1803

KB4487029

Windows 10 version 1803 is the most used edition of Windows 10. Microsoft launched Windows 10 version 1809 last year but bugs forced the company to stop the distribution of the operating system for weeks.

The update increases the build of the operating system to 17134.619. The following changes are listed in the changelog:

  • Media Content can play e-learning content with USB adapter cables on Microsoft Edge.
  • Windows ActiveX content in iframes scrolls with other content in Internet Explorer 11.
  • Fixed an issue that caused Registry keys that are app-specific to be deleted after updates.
  • Time Zone information for Chile updated.
  • Fixed an audio compatibility issue of games with 3D Spatial Audio modes.
  • Fixed an issue that prevented users from pinning web links to Start or the Taskbar.
  • Fixed an issue that prevented the lockscreen image from updating.
  • Improved the performance of case-sensitive string comparison functions.
  • Fixed an compatibility status evaluating issue.
  • Improved the reliability of the UE-VAppmonitor.
  • Fixed a user hive updating issue.
  • Fixed an issue that allowed protected files (by Windows Information Protection) to be transferred using Bluetooth.
  • Fixed an issue with Internet Explorer proxy settings that caused the initial logon to stop responding.
  • Fixed an issue that prevented the deletion of wireless network profiles.
  • Addressed the cause for error “STOP 0x1A”.
  • Fixed a Timeline issue that caused File Explorer to stop working.
  • Fixed an issue that caused the Photos app to stop working when used from within the Mail app.
  • Fixed a PLMDebug.exe tool issue that caused the losing of debug sessions.
  • Improved AOVPN (Always On VPN) reconnect and disconnect functionality.
  • Further Japanese era name issue fixues.
  • Fixed an issue that caused Internet Explorer to skip loading images that have a backslash character in their relative source path.
  • Fixed an issue that caused applications that use Microsoft Jet Databases with Microsoft Access 95 formats to stop working.

You can download the update manually from the Microsoft Update Catalog website.

KB4487021 for Windows 10 version 1709

KB4487021

The update includes some of the fixes found in the update for Windows 10 version 1803 but not all of them. It does include some fixes that are not included in the update for version 1803.

The update increases the build to 16299.1004.

The changelog lists the following fixes and improvements:

  • Time Zone information for Chile updated.
  • Improved the performance of case-sensitive string comparison functions.
  • Fixed an compatibility status evaluating issue.
  • Improved the reliability of the UE-VAppmonitor.
  • Fixed a user hive updating issue.
  • New Group Policy called “Policy Details” that disconnects any wireless connections immediately when a wired connection is detected and “Minimize simultaneous connections” is configured.
  • Additional Japanese era date and format fixes.
  • Fixed the Internet Explorer not loading images with backslash characters in path issue.
  • Fixed an issue that caused applications that use Microsoft Jet Databases with Microsoft Access 95 formats to stop working.

You can download the update manually from the Microsoft Update Catalog website.

KB4487011 for Windows 10 version 1703

KB4487011

The update is only for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education editions. The update brings the build to version 15063.1659.

It includes the same updates as KB4487021 with the exception of the following exclusive additions:

  • Fixed an issue that caused programs to stop responding if its threads share the same input queue.
  • Addressed an issue with a rooted pointer to an item identifier list (PIDL) in File Explorer

The update is available on the Microsoft Update Catalog website as a manual download.

KB4487006 for Windows 10 version 1607 and Windows Server 2016

KB4487006

The update bring the version of the operating system to 14393.2828. It is only available to Enterprise and Education editions.

The changelog lists the following improvements:

  • Chile Time Zone information update.
  • Fixed an issue that caused Remote Desktop Protocol client applications to display a black screen on login.
  • Improved the performance of case-sensitive string comparison functions.
  • Fixed an compatibility status evaluating issue.
  • Improved the reliability of the UE-VAppmonitor.
  • Fixed a user name display issue in the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) servers.
  • Addressed an issue that caused updates to a relying party trust to fail when using PowerShell or the Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) management console.
  • Fixed an issue that caused “specific error message for external complexity password changes” to display.
  • Fixed an issue that caused Microsoft Outlook to throw the error “The Operation Failed” when viewing Microsoft Exchange address books.
  • Fixed an issue that prevented the enabling of Storage Maintenance Mode.
  • Fixed a server stop working error when handling a compound client request that includes a rename.
  • Fixed error 0x165 when pausing a node and taking it down for maintenance.
  • Fixed a cause for Stop 24 error on a virtual Remote Desktop Service server.
  • Fixed an issue with Japanese era names.
  • Fixed a reliability issue with win32kfull.sys.
  • Fixed the Internet Explorer not loading images with backslash characters in path issue.
  • Fixed the Microsoft Jet database access issue.

Microsoft lists three known issues, all known already:

  1. For hosts managed by System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), SCVMM cannot enumerate and manage logical switches deployed on the host after installing the update.
  2. After installing KB4467691, Windows may fail to start on certain Lenovo and Fujitsu laptops that have less than 8 GB of RAM.
  3. After installing KB4467684, the cluster service may fail to start with the error “2245 (NERR_PasswordTooShort)” if the group policy “Minimum Password Length” is configured with greater than 14 characters.

The update can be downloaded manually from the Microsoft Update Catalog website.

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Microsoft's Store is not a safe haven

Symantec discovered eight application in the official Microsoft Store that ran cryptomining operations without informing the user about it in the background when installed.

One of the main arguments for integrating the Microsoft Store in Windows 8 and Windows 10, unveiled in 2011 by Microsoft, was that it protected users from installing malicious or problematic applications on their devices because of a review process and other safeguards.

While it is certainly the case that Windows Store offers a safer environment, it is far from the safe haven that Microsoft would like it to be.

We talked about deceiving apps, copycat apps, and deceptive apps in the past, and covered Microsoft’s attempts to improve quality by pruning low quality applications.

The introduction of PWA support appears to have opened the door for another type of unwanted software: cryptomining.

microsoft store apps

Symantec discovered eight applications in Microsoft Store that started cryptomining operations as soon as they were installed and launched by users from the Microsoft Store.

The applications were published by three developers but there is strong evidence that a single person or group is responsible for all of them. Evidence comes from the use of the same mining key and Google Tag Manager key, and that all applications used the same origin (but different domains).

The apps were fairly popular, judging from the 1900 ratings that they received between publication in April 2018 and December 2018. It is certainly possible that part of the ratings came from fake accounts or services that rate apps in return for payment.

Microsoft does not reveal installation counts for applications; it is unclear if the applications landed on thousands, hundred of thousands, or even more devices running Windows 10.

Windows 10 users were exposed to these applications in various ways: when they searched for apps in the Store, browsed the free listings, or were directed to the Store from websites that linked to these applications.

The applications fetched a JavaScript mining library using Google Tag Manager when they were launched for the first time after download and installation. All applications included privacy policies but mining operations were not mentioned in any of them or the descriptions.

The applications used the majority of the computer’s CPU cycles according to Symantec for mining operations.

Symantec informed Microsoft about the applications, and Microsoft has removed them in the meantime from the Store.

Closing Words

While it is certainly arguable that cryptocurrency mining is less harmful than a device’s infection with malicious software or ransomware, it is clear that Microsoft Store users need to be careful when it comes to the installation of apps from the Store.

I recommended that users verify app developers before they install apps in 2013. Microsoft’s Store is not the only Store that hosted cryptomining applications or extensions. The particular form of unwanted software was found in extension stores, e.g. in Mozilla’s or Google’s for the Firefox or Chrome browser, and on Google Play previously already.

Now You: do you use Store applications?

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Microsoft changes Windows Update for Business options

Microsoft employee John Wilcox revealed yesterday that Microsoft will remove the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) option from Windows Update from Windows 10 version 1903 forward.

Business customers have two options right now to define when updates get released: they may set a deferral period for feature updates and select between the Semi-Annual Channel or Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted). The latter two options may sound confusing at first but are explained easily.

Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) is identical to what consumers get. It is the only option and that just means that two feature updates of Windows 10 are delivered via Windows Update to consumer devices each year.

Businesses had the option to delay when feature updates become available by switching to the Semi-Annual Channel instead. All that this channel did was delay the update availability by about 4 months. Starting in Windows 10 version 1903, that option won’t be available anymore but the option to delay feature updates remains.

wufb branch readiness 1903

If you open the Advanced Options on a business version of Windows 10 version 1903 or later, you will notice that the option to switch channels has been removed.

While that may look like another attempt of Microsoft to give businesses less choice, it is not really that bad provided that administrators know about this and can react to it as it is easy enough to adjust the deferral period accordingly.

Wilcox notes that there was never a dedicated Semi-Annual Channel release but just a milestone release of the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted).

What administrators need to do in Windows 10 version 1903 is to adjust the deferral period accordingly to add the removed Semi-Annual Channel delay period that way. Just add 120 days to the deferral period once Windows 10 version 1903 is installed to reflect the change.

Devices configured with a branch readiness of Semi-Annual Channel will get the upgrade to Windows 10 version 1903 with a delay of 60 days according to Microsoft for that release only. The change will be server-side and only active for that particular release; it won’t affect any release after Windows 10 version 1903.

Closing Words

The removal of Semi-Annual Channel may have an impact on devices after the release of Windows 10 version 1903 but only if the administrator does not modify the deferral period.

It could result in feature updates being delivered earlier than expected to Windows for Business devices; Woody Leonhard hopes that the change results in release quality improvements to take the possibility into account.

Microsoft did not state that and it is almost certain that the company would have pushed the narrative if that would be the case (hey, look, we don’t need Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) anymore because feature update quality increased by this much). I think it is just a consolidation.

Now You: Do you defer or block Windows Updates?

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Microsoft: help us test new gaming tech on Windows 10 1903 but we don't tell you anything about it

Microsoft released a new build to the Windows 10 Fast Ring Insider Channel yesterday evening. The new build, build number 18334, is a bug fix release mostly.

Microsoft does advertise one new feature on the Windows Experience blog though stating that it is “excited to bring technology tailor-made for gaming to Windows”.

The company wants users who run Insider builds of Windows 10 to help “validate these systems” to make sure they “work as expected”.

It hands out limited copies of State of Decay for that, and published instructions for Insider build users on how to get access to the game and play it. Microsoft promises that it will increase the number of available slots in the coming weeks.

windows 10 gaming

Users who participate in the testing are asked to report any install or game launch issues using the Feedback Hub.

Microsoft does not reveal anything about the “technology tailor-made for gaming” on Windows 10 devices. The entire article, and the linked copy on the Xbox site, offer no information so that users are left in the dark.

Is it related to how games are installed and started? The request to provide feedback if install or start issues are experienced suggests that this could be the case.

We don’t know, however, and it could be something unrelated or something else (or an addition) entirely.  It could be the test of a streaming gaming service on Windows 10 as well, as it is also related to installing and running games.

Lack of information

It is possible that Microsoft does not want to reveal the gaming technology yet that it plans to implement in Windows. It could have said so in the article, however if that is the case.

Whatever the reason may be, the lack of information will surely turn away some users who might be interested if Microsoft would have revealed anything about the new gaming technology that it wants tested in the new build.

The request to test is not the first time Microsoft failed to provide essential information. Update information, known issues for instance, often lack vital information as well.

The company could improve its relationship with administrators and customers by providing essential information; it would drop support requests and questions, and help everyone involved including Microsoft itself.

Now You: What is Microsoft’s secret gaming tech that it tests in the new build?

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