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Saturday, 24 June 2017 09:03

Microsoft claims on Windows 10 S security blown away Featured

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Microsoft's claims that no known ransomware can run on Windows 10 S have been blown sky high by a researcher – in just three hours.

When the company announced Windows 10 S, it made much of what it said was its reduced susceptibility to ransomware because it was locked down. Only apps from its app store were permitted to run, one of several measures which were said to offer increased security.

ZDNet reported that it had asked Matthew Hickey, the co-founder of Hacker House, to test whether ransomware could be installed on this operating system. He took three hours to crack the system open.

The results are here and let me not detract from ZDNet's moment of glory; it has done users a singular service by exposing this claim for what it is – just more empty words from the company which gave us Trustworthy Computing a little more than 15 years ago.

This time, the only difference is that no phrases were trademarked.

unicorn.

Despite all the claims made by Microsoft boosters and its army of journalist supporters on the make, Microsoft and security and words which should never be uttered in the same sentence.

A narrative is being sold that the company's culture has changed and that it is now bothered about customers. Well, I give you the following real-life example.

On Thursday evening, I had a chat with Yaacov Ben Naim, the senior director of cyber security at Israel-based CyberArk Labs, about a method the company had developed to bypass the security put in place by Microsoft's kernel patch protection which is better known as PatchGuard.

Ben Naim said that, despite the fact that one needed admin access in order to use what CyberArk had developed — a method dubbed GhostHook — it was highly significant because it would allow an attacker to take over systems at the kernel level and remain undetected.

On questioning, Ben Naim said, as a company that practises responsible disclosure, they had informed Microsoft about it, so that the Redmond giant could take action before CyberArk made its announcement.

This is what Microsoft told CyberArk: "The engineering team has finished their analysis of this report and determined that it requires the attacker already be running kernel code on the system. As such, this doesn’t meet the bar for servicing in a security update however it may be addressed in a future version of Windows. As such I’ve closed this case."

I pointed out to Ben Naim that this was the equivalent of a security company telling a house-owner that because one burglar had gained entry to his/her house, there was no point in trying to prevent a second burglar — who was also armed with potassium cyanide and could poison the food in the house — from gaining entry.

He laughed and agreed.

CyberArk's official reply to Microsoft's reaction was this: "Microsoft does not seem to realise that PatchGuard is a kernel component that should not be bypassed, since PatchGuard blocks rootkits from activities such as SSDT hooking, not from executing code in kernel-mode."

So when people tell me that Microsoft's attitude to security has changed, I have a stock reply: tell it to the birds.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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