Microsoft OneDrive gets a more secure Personal Vault, plus additional storage options

The Microsoft logo displayed at Microsoft's booth at a trade show.

Enlarge / Microsoft at a trade show. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan)

Microsoft is launching a new layer of security for users of its OneDrive cloud storage service. OneDrive Personal Vault is a new section of your storage that's accessed through two-step verification, or a "strong authentication method," although Microsoft didn't define the latter term.

Microsoft notes that fingerprinting, face scans, PINs, and one-time codes by email, SMS, or an authenticator app are among the acceptable two-step verification methods. And you’ll automatically get de-authenticated after a period of inactivity—that's the key to Microsoft's special security argument here. Two-factor authentication using text or email is less secure than other options. Using the more heavy-duty face or fingerprint verification will require the appropriate hardware, such as a device with Windows Hello.

It also has options for transferring physical documents to the OneDrive mobile app. You can scan documents or take photos directly into the Personal Vault section without needing to store the file in a less secure part of your device first.

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Windows 10 May 2019 Update now rolling out to everyone… slowly

Stylized image of glass skyscrapers under construction.

Enlarge (credit: David Holt / Flickr)

To avoid a replay of the problems faced by the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, Microsoft has taken a very measured approach to the release of the May 2019 Update, version 1903, with both a long spell as release candidate and a much less aggressive rollout to Windows Update.

That rollout starts today: while previously one needed to be in the Insider Program (or have a source such as an MSDN subscription) to download and install version 1903, it's now open to everyone through Windows Update.

However, Windows users are unlikely to see the update automatically installed for many months. Initially, only those who explicitly visit Windows Update and click "Check for Updates" will be offered version 1903, and even then, they'll have to explicitly choose to download and install the update. This is part of Microsoft's attempt to make Windows Update less surprising: feature updates are offered separately from regular updates, because feature updates take a long time to install and regular updates don't (or at least, shouldn't). This installation experience requires the use of version 1803 or 1809, and it also requires the most recent monthly patch, which is also released today.

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Password1, Password2, Password3 no more: Microsoft drops password expiration rec

Password1, Password2, Password3 no more: Microsoft drops password expiration rec

For many years, Microsoft has published a security baseline configuration: a set of system policies that are a reasonable default for a typical organization. This configuration may be sufficient for some companies, and it represents a good starting point for those corporations that need something stricter. While most of the settings have been unproblematic, one particular decision has long drawn the ire of end-users and helpdesks alike: a 60-day password expiration policy that forces a password change every two months. That reality is no longer: the latest draft for the baseline configuration for Windows 10 version 1903 and Windows Server version 1903 drops this tedious requirement.

The rationale for the previous policy is that it limits the impact a stolen password can have—a stolen password will automatically become invalid after, at most, 60 days. In reality, however, password expiration tends to make systems less safe, not more, because computer users don't like picking or remembering new passwords. Instead, they'll do something like pick a simple password and then increment a number on the end of the password, making it easy to "generate" a new password whenever they're forced to.

In the early days of computing, this might have been a sensible trade-off, because cracking passwords was relatively slow. But these days, with rainbow tables, GPU acceleration, and the massive computational power of the cloud, that's no longer the case—short passwords are a liability, so any policy that makes people favor short passwords is a bad policy. It's better instead to choose a long password and, ideally, multifactor authentication, supplementing the password with a time-based code or something similar.

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Latest Windows patch having problems with a growing number of anti-virus software

This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith)

Enlarge / This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith) (credit: CDC)

The most recent Windows patch, released April 9, seems to have done something (still to be determined) that's causing problems with anti-malware software. Over the last few days, Microsoft has been adding more and more anti-virus scanners to its list of known issues. At the time of writing, client-side anti-virus software from Sophos, Avira, ArcaBit, Avast, and most recently McAfee are all showing problems with the patch.

Affected machines seem to be fine until an attempt is made to log in, at which point the system grinds to a halt. It's not immediately clear if systems are freezing altogether, or just going extraordinarily slowly. Some users have reported that they can log in, but the process takes ten or more hours. Logging in to Windows 7, 8.1, Server 2008 R2, Server 2012, and Server 2012 R2 are all affected.

Booting into safe mode is unaffected, and the current advice is to use this to disable the anti-virus applications and allow the machines to boot normally. Sophos additionally reports that adding the anti-virus software's own directory to the list of excluded locations also serves as a fix, which is a little strange.

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