New Security Features in Windows 11

Microsoft have announced a raft of new security features for Windows 11 – aimed squarely at the new trend of hybrid working.

With millions of users working remotely post-Covid, the enhancements largely focus on hardware security and identity protection, as end-user devices access ever more cloud-resources from a broader range of working environments.

 

Microsoft Pluton

‘Microsoft Pluton’ is the name of a new security processor integrated into CPUs on devices shipping with the new operating system – an App Control feature designed to prevent untrusted apps from running, block the theft of user credentials, and counter dangers from outdated drivers.

As we’ve noted before, Pluton (like Windows 11 itself) also relies upon Trusted Platform Module (TPM) technology to fire up a PC securely – but some TPM chips remain vulnerable to encryption keys being intercepted between components. Pluton devices are expected to close off that weakness, preventing this kind of hardware attack.

 

Smart App Control

As many predicted, Application Management begins taking centre-stage in 2022, as bigger organisations seek to prevent users introducing rogue software into their IT infrastructure (or worse, introducing it back into the company network themselves.)

Smart App Control blocks unsigned or suspicious apps at the OS level, and will receive regular updates daily.

However – it’s worth noting this core feature only applies to newly shipped devices – so even those who adopted Windows 11 early would have to complete a full operating system reinstall to ensure Smart App is live.

 

Microsoft Defender SmartScreen

SmartScreen helps protect identity by alerting the user if they’ve begun interacting with a known malicious application, fake or hacked website – with the added advantage that the safeguard is pre-installed for all users.

Microsoft are keen to demonstrate SmartScreen’s record of success elsewhere – blocking nearly 26 billion brute force attacks on Microsoft Azure Active Directory, and nearly 36 billion phishing emails that were intercepted by Microsoft 365, last year alone.

 

Credential Guard

Another ‘by default’ upgrade – Credential Guard isolates really important system secrets in a way that is designed to stop ‘pass the hash’ style attacks where a hacker is able to use the encrypted version of a password to gain entry, and (Microsoft claim) can even prevent malicious applications that have somehow obtained Admin-user privileges on their device from accessing those secrets.

 

You can discover the full list of the security enhancements coming to Windows 11 here.


How to prepare for Windows 11

Windows 11 is due to be released officially on 5th October 2021 – the first major version upgrade since Windows 10 was released in 2015.

As with Windows 10, PC users will be able to begin downloading the new version from this date, and new PCs will begin shipping with Windows 11 pre-installed.

If the thought of your PC changing fills you with dread – never fear! Here’s how you prepare:

 

See a preview

The first thing most users will notice is the visual improvement – Windows 11 features a ‘new design’ which forms the backbone of the update in an effort to make PC screens feel more user-friendly, calming and interact better with natural light.

 

Check Minimum Specifications

The following list summarises the published minimum specifications required to install and operate the new upcoming version:

Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
RAM: 4 gigabyte (GB)
Storage: 64 GB or larger storage device
System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
Display: High definition (720p) display that is greater than 9” diagonally, 8 bits per colour channel
Internet connection and Microsoft accounts: Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use.

Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode also requires internet connectivity. For all Windows 11 editions, internet access is required to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features. A Microsoft account is required for some features.

Microsoft’s full specifications for Windows 11 can be found here.

 

Things to Expect

The following Windows 10 features are all due to disappear on the new version, in some cases being disabled, replaced by newer apps or available only via manual re-download from the Windows store on new installs:

– Internet Explorer
– Windows S Mode (Home Edition Only)
– Skype (Personal), 3D Viewer, Paint 3D and ‘OneNote for Windows 10’
– Start Menu Groups
– Taskbar Moving
– Tablet Mode
– Timeline

Cortana will also be relegated to the Start Menu – no longer used during setup and not automatically pinned to the taskbar.

 

Make a Backup / Create a Recovery Drive

Major (or even minor) Windows version upgrades are not without pitfalls as we’ve seen in recent years, so it’s worth checking that you have a full backup of your device prior to leaping into the unknown.

Synchronised copies of files in Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox are always a plus, although for rapid restoration it’s also helpful to make a manual, local backup to a portable hard-drive that will be more quickly restorable if your subsequent upgrade doesn’t go to plan.

For the extra precaution of a route ‘back’ to Windows 10 if you discover a major compatibility issue, it’s important to make a recovery drive using a USB device.

 

Test the Beta

For power users, a beta version (Preview Build 22000.160) is available to test for those who register with the Microsoft Insider program.

 

For IT Support & Technical Expertise, please contact our team today.


Windows 11: everything you need to know about Microsoft’s latest OS

Windows’ latest operating system offering was unveiled today at their virtual event, boasting the arrival of the “next generation of Windows”.

The announcement comes somewhat of a shock to the tech world who were told that Windows 10 would be the final version of the Windows OS with over 1.3 billion user devices.

However due to the rapidly changing, hybrid working environment emerging from the pandemic and the announcement that Windows 10 would no longer receive extended support past 2025, it appears that Microsoft are updating the OS platform to incorporate the working from home demands from its users.

Microsoft CEO Natya Sadella agreed saying “We need to be empowered to choose the applications we run, the content we consume, the people we connect to, and even how we allocate our own attention”. He further stated that “operating systems and devices should mould to our needs, not the other way around.”

New centralised task bar interface layout in night mode

These demands are being met with features such as tighter integration with Microsoft Teams directly into the centralised task bar (a significant shift away from the attachments to Skype) and the blending of the Xbox Series X’s Auto HDR graphical enhancements along with Xbox Games Pass; both come pre-installed.

The focus of Windows 11 revolves around the simplification of the standard Windows user interface whilst increasing performance and multitasking functionality. Microsoft executive, Panos Panay revealed that Windows 11 Updates are 40% smaller that its OS predecessors and gone are the days of work being interrupted by Windows Updates as they now are downloaded and installed without the need for system shutdown.

Snap Layouts for compartmentalisation of multiple screens

Additionally, the new ‘Snap Layouts’ promote easier movement of apps to defined compartments of the screen for easier multitasking and the OS will remember collections of apps open on external monitors when the PC/Laptop is unplugged thanks to ‘Snap Groups’ – mirroring certain characteristics of the cancelled, dual screen Windows 10X project.

A further major change comes as part of the Microsoft Store which, through Microsoft’s partnership with Intel and Amazon, now allows developers to distribute their apps through the Microsoft Store without sharing revenue and Windows systems will be able to support Android apps using the Amazon AppStore. Developers can even use their own payment systems within the Microsoft Store.

Before today’s virtual launch, a first build of the OS was leaked allowing for a quick glimpse of the evolved ‘Sun Valley’ interface – with a Start Menu in the centre of the main task bar with a return of Windows Widgets in the form of an AI-powered personalised feed. Widget types include a news feed, maps and weather. This evolution of Widgets signals the quiet removal of the controversial Live Tiles introduced with Windows 8.

Windows 11 will be available as a free update to existing Windows 10 users requiring 64 GBs of storage and 4GBs of RAM, but only for ‘eligible PCs’ – those with two or more cores and a clock speed of 1GHz or higher.

A preview early test version of the new system will be released for app developers as part of the Windows Insider beta testing programme in the beginning of July 2021. A public access version is expected to be made available in October 2021 without new hardware speculated to be released alongside.