The past week has been an exciting one for cyber security announcements. On Tuesday, President Obama gave his State of the Union address, in which he briefly mentioned his proposals for a more secure future. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a bevy of new projects, including its new operating system, Windows 10.
Windows 10 is the company’s reworking of the Windows operating system. It’s a significant update, promising a unified experience across all Windows-compatible devices—phones, tablets and computers—and giving users unprecedented control over their Windows ecosystem.
In short: Windows 10 should be a great step forward from a security perspective.
The Windows 10 philosophy towards security is strong identity protection and access control. With this in mind, Microsoft crafted an operating system that integrates two-factor authentication—a security method requiring both something that only you would know, like a password, and something that only you would have, like a registered device, a key or a thumbprint—into its core. This is good. It’s a strong, forward-looking development that takes future innovative security solutions into account.
According to Jim Alkove, General Manager of Security and Interactive Entertainment Business, Microsoft is planning to bake two-factor authentication right into device in two ways: Personal Identifying Number (PIN) and biometrics.
Many companies have already used PINs to enhance security. When implemented, users logging into a service from a new device will be sent a one-time code, often to their smartphone, in order to verify the person trying to access the application is the actual user. It’s a significant step toward locking down your data, and you should enable it where possible.
Microsoft is using this same technique to allow you to access your devices. Say you want to log into your Windows 10 profile on your work computer. In addition to your password, you’ll be prompted to enter a short code sent to a device of your choosing, like your phone. They send it to your device, you type it in on your computer and voilà: two-factor authentication for devices.
But say you don’t want to type in a new code. That’s fine. With your registered phone, you’ll be able to access devices over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, turning your phone into a portable key-card of sorts.
What if both your smartphone and laptop are stolen? No problem: the thief doesn’t have your password (the thing only you know) and can’t, without a great deal of effort, gain access to your data.
Microsoft is also including, according to NetworkWorld’s security fanatic, Ms. Smith, a “per-application VPN” feature. This means users, both business and casual, will be provided with a secure virtual private network (VPN) to access and use with certain applications. A VPN is software that creates a secure connection over an otherwise public network. For businesses, this will cut down on the number of people who can access a sensitive network or application. For consumers, this may simplify the process of running a VPN outside of work—making for more secure connections, and safer communications, on public Wi-Fi.
There are additional security features built into Windows 10 that are great as well, like giving administrators control over port (a series of numbers that identify a program or application) access and application management, but these are designed with businesses in mind.
Overall, Microsoft is working hard to anticipate future security needs, and is driving some much-needed innovation in device security. If you use Microsoft products, we’d highly recommend updating to Windows 10. After all, newer systems tend to be more secure than their older, unsupported counterparts. And Microsoft’s latest update will be available for the best price: free (for Windows 7 and 8 users, at least).