Apr 18 2018

Microsoft claims to make Chrome safer with new extension

Enlarge (credit: Chrome's unsafe content warning.)

Chrome already provides effective protection against malicious sites: go somewhere with a poor reputation and you'll get a big, scary red screen telling you that you're about to do something unwise. But Microsoft believes it can do a better job than Google, and it has released a Chrome plugin, Windows Defender Browser Protection, that brings its own anti-phishing protection to Google's browser.

Microsoft justifies the new plugin with reference to a 2017 report that claims that the company's Edge browser blocked 99 percent of phishing attempts, compared to 87 percent by Chrome and 70 percent in Firefox. The plugin brings Edge's protection to Chrome, so if the theory holds, it should bump the browser up to 99 percent, too.

The new extension doesn't appear to disable Chrome's own checking (or at least, it doesn't seem to be doing so for me), so at the very least isn't likely to make you less safe, and with phishing being as widespread as it is, the extra protection probably doesn't hurt.

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Apr 16 2018

Intel, Microsoft to use GPU to scan memory for malware

Intel Skylake die shot. (credit: Intel)

Since the news of the Metldown and Spectre attacks earlier this year, Intel has been working to reassure the computer industry that it takes security issues very seriously and that, in spite of the Meltdown issue, the Intel platform is a sound choice the security conscious.

To that end, the company is announcing some new initiatives that use features specific to the Intel hardware platform to boost security. First up is Intel Threat Detection Technology (TDT), which uses features in silicon to better find malware.

The company is announcing two specific TDT features. The first is "Advanced Memory Scanning." In an effort to evade file-based anti-virus software, certain kinds of malware refrain from writing anything to disk. This has can have downsides for the malware—it can't persistently infect a machine and, instead, has to reinfect the machine each time it is rebooted—but makes it harder to spot and analyze. To counter this, anti-malware software can scan system memory to look for anything untoward. This, however, comes at a performance cost, with Intel claiming it can cause processor loads of as much as 20 percent.

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Apr 11 2018

AMD systems gain Spectre protection with latest Windows fixes

Enlarge / An AMD Ryzen. (credit: Fritzchens Fritz)

The latest Windows 10 fixes, released as part of yesterday's Patch Tuesday, enable protection against the Spectre variant 2 attacks on systems with AMD processors.

Earlier this year, attacks that exploit the processor's speculative execution were published with the names Meltdown and Spectre, prompting a reaction from hardware and software companies. AMD chips are immune to Meltdown but have some vulnerability to the two Spectre variants. Spectre variant 1 requires application-level fixes; variant 2 requires operating system-level alterations.

Both Intel and AMD have released microcode updates to alter their processor behavior to give operating systems the control necessary to protect against Spectre variant 2. Microsoft has been shipping the Intel microcode, along with the operating system changes necessary to use the microcode's new features, for several weeks now; with yesterday's patch, similar protections are now enabled on AMD machines.

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Apr 10 2018

Practical passwordless authentication comes a step closer with WebAuthn

Enlarge (credit: Pablo Viojo / Flickr)

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and FIDO Alliance today announced that a new spec, WebAuthn ("Web Authentication") had been promoted to the Candidate Recommendation stage, the penultimate stage in the Web standards process.

WebAuthn is a specification to allow browsers to expose hardware authentication devices—USB, Bluetooth, or NFC—to sites on the Web. These hardware devices enable users to prove their identity to sites without requiring usernames and passwords. The spec has been developed as a joint effort between FIDO, an industry body that's developing secure authentication systems, and W3C, the industry group that oversees development of Web standards.

With WebAuthn-enabled browsers and sites, users can sign in using both integrated biometric hardware (such as the fingerprint and facial-recognition systems that are widely deployed) and external authentication systems such as the popular YubiKey USB hardware. With WebAuthn, no user credentials ever leave the browser and no passwords are used, providing strong protection against phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, and replay attacks.

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