Windows 10 To Improve Security With Two-Factor Authentication, App Signing, More

Microsoft has been falling behind in adding strong security features to its browsers and operating systems for all of its users -- for consumers, only Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 8.1 Pro even support Bitlocker disk encryption, for example. Things may change a little with Windows 10, which promises to add three new security technologies: two-factor authentication, file containerization and app signing.

These are all features that have existed in other operating systems such as Android, iOS, Mac OS X and Linux for years, but it's good to see Microsoft working to bring them to Windows 10, too. Microsoft's Windows operating system is still highly popular on PCs, so adopting better security is going to benefit hundreds of millions of users in the future.

The adoption of two-factor authentication seems to have sped up lately. Some sites have supported it for a while, but it probably didn't attract mainstream attention until the recent hacking of many celebrities' iCloud accounts. Two-factor authentication would have protected most, if not all, of those celebrities from the hacks.

Google has had two-factor authentication for a long time, and not just through SMS, but also through its Google Authenticator app (which actually provides better security than SMS-based systems). The company further improved on this yesterday with the announcement of support for FIDO's U2F open standard and adoption of USB Security Keys for two-factor authentication.

In fact, Microsoft's two-factor authentication solution is also likely to be based on FIDO's interoperable open standards, which include support for biometrics such as fingerprint scanning, voice recognition and possibly face recognition. It seems Microsoft will likely choose the default to be two-factor authentication based on your phone.

It's unclear right now whether that means SMS-based two-factor authentication or authentication through Bluetooth/NFC. Authenticating through NFC is likely to be a more secure option, as the pairing happens locally (at a much shorter range than Bluetooth) instead of sending you a code through a not-so-secure medium (ie., a cell network). SMS-based systems are also likely to fall prey to phishing-like attacks by tricking users into installing malware through SMS and then getting their SMS codes to log into apps or services.

Microsoft also wants to add file containerization for each file. This sounds similar to what Linux, Android and iOS have had for quite a while. This should greatly reduce the type of damage malware can do to a system, but it will depend on Microsoft how strict those containers will be for each file by default, and how much control a user will have to further restrict their permissions. Microsoft also said this system will better protect VPN connections.

Another feature that has existed for years on iOS, Android (since version 4.1) and Mac OS X (since Apple introduced the Mac App Store), is app signing. This should also greatly reduce the number of malware-infected applications that can be installed on Windows. However, this system will only apply to apps from the Windows store.

Microsoft seems to mention files being encrypted and working with the TPM module (which will likely help keep the keys safe from being stolen by a virus or hacker), but it's not clear whether the company also intends to add the same kind of out-of-the-box encryption that iOS 8 and Android 5 adopted recently, or if it's only referring to optional encryption.

Windows, Android and iOS are the three most popular computing platforms in the world right now. Those last two have already adopted encryption by default, so Microsoft is the only one left without it. There is still at least half a year before Windows 10 will be ready to ship, so hopefully, Microsoft is planning to adopt default encryption by then.

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  • Cool features. :D But I'll wait until Windows 10 officially comes out, to check out the nice features & see if it gets good reviews.
    It'd be cool if Microsoft could add the option to press F8 to get to safe mode on boot ike in Windows 7 because they removed that in Windows 8 & it can be a pain in the butt to e.g. uninstall graphics drivers.
  • burkhartmj
    If memory serves me, last time I installed Windows 8.1 it asked for my 2-factor authenticator code just like Chrome does at first sign-in. How is it functionally different in Windows 10?
  • garrickaking
    Uh... Microsoft's 2 factor authentication appears to be years ahead of Google's... have you experienced the "Microsoft account" app for two factor authentication? It is SO much better, so much faster ,and so much easier to use that I actually switched from Gmail to Outlook.com, and have been happier with everything about it, so glad I did. Everywhere I sign in, the minute I submit my password, my phone asks me simply yes or no, and it takes within half a second. It is so impressive I was blown away the first time I used it after having used Google's two factor authentication for multiple personal and Google Apps for Business accounts. I'm extremely excited to roll it out to my Office 365 / Exchange Online users too.


    I'd also be interested in comparing the amount of vulnerabilities in Chrome/Android and IE/Windows 8.1. This article stinks of hipster hate for MS.