Category Archives: Microsoft

Windows 10 Pro for Workstations


Since the release of Windows 10, Microsoft has received feedback from certain users, to the effect that the O/S doesn’t meet the “demanding needs of mission critical and compute intensive workloads.” It either doesn’t detect, or simply doesn’t use the capabilities of some types of high-performance hardware.

Microsoft’s answer to that feedback is Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, which will become available for testing soon, via the Insider Preview program.

The new version of Windows 10 includes the ReFS filesystem, which is supposed to be much more resilient than the NTFS filesystem used by standard Windows. It also includes support for non-volatile NVDIMM-N memory modules, which provide high-speed access to files. SMB Direct provides a faster file sharing mechanism. There’s also more support for high performance hardware, including server-grade Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors, up to four CPUs (regular Windows is limited to two) and memory up to 6TB (regular Windows is limited to 2TB).

High-end system builders, and people running high-performance niche applications may find these features useful, but I suspect that most people won’t be interested, especially as the new version is likely to be rather expensive, as is the related hardware.

There’s no word yet on whether privacy-related instrumentation will be any easier to disable in Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, or whether system administrators will be able to control which updates are installed, or disable auto-update completely.

Patch Tuesday for August 2017

It’s once again time for the monthly headache otherwise known as Patch Tuesday.

As you’re no doubt aware from my previous whining, Microsoft no longer publishes a bulletin for each update, and finding useful information in the Security Update Guide is awkward at best. It feels like Microsoft is trying to get everyone to just give up and enable auto-update. Of course with Windows 10 you no longer have a choice: you get updates when Microsoft wants you to have them. Which is one of the reasons I don’t use that particular O/S.

From my analysis of the Security Update Guide‘s entries for August 2017, it appears that we have thirty-nine updates, addressing fifty-three vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, Edge, Windows, SharePoint, Adobe Flash Player, and SQL Server. Eighteen of the updates are flagged as Critical. Time to fire up Windows Update on all your Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 computers.

Adobe released updates for Flash and Reader today. The Reader update (Reader DC/Continuous: 2017.012.20093; Reader 2017: 2017.011.30059; Reader DC/Classic: 2015.006.30352) addresses sixty-seven vulnerabilities. The Flash update (version 26.0.0.151) addresses two vulnerabilities. Anyone still using Flash or Reader, especially as web browser plugins, should install the new versions as soon as possible.

Patch Tuesday for June 2017

In a somewhat surprising move, Microsoft is releasing more updates for Windows XP today. To be clear, Microsoft had already created these updates for corporate (paying) clients. All they’re doing is making those updates available to the rest of us. While the updates are welcome to those still running Windows XP, one wonders how paying customers feel about it.

Here’s Microsoft’s explanation: “In reviewing the updates for this month, some vulnerabilities were identified that pose elevated risk of cyber attacks by government organizations, sometimes referred to as nation-state actors or other copycat organizations.” What that probably means is that Microsoft believes — along with the rest of us — that last month’s WannaCry threat was only the beginning of the havoc coming our way in the wake of The Shadow Brokers‘ leaks. The bit about ‘government organizations’ is presumably to get people to take notice.

That announcement is also somewhat misleading, in that it talks about ‘enabling Windows Update’ in supported versions of Windows, when in fact they’re referring to automatic updates. Further, automatic updates in Windows 10 cannot be disabled.

From the June 2017 security update release announcement: “we recommend those on older platforms, such as Windows XP, prioritize downloading and applying these critical updates, which can be found in the Download Center (or alternatively in the Update Catalog).”


The Download Center site doesn’t work particularly well in Internet Explorer 8, the version my poor old Windows XP Virtual Machine is stuck with. The page does show a prompt to try Edge, which is not particularly helpful as Edge won’t run on Windows XP. Okay, how about the Update Catalog? All I get there is ‘The website has encountered a problem’.

The Download Center works a lot better in Chrome, but clicking the Microsoft Update link only tells me that I have to use Internet Explorer for that. Entering the Windows category just invites me to visit the Update Catalog. That site also seems to work with Chrome, but it’s basically just a search form. What do I search for to get the available updates for Windows XP? Searching for ‘Windows XP’ produces 870 results. Sorting the list by date shows the most recent update was in 2014.


A post on the Technet site provides additional information about the vulnerabilities: Microsoft Security Advisory 4025685 – Guidance related to June 2017 security update release. Fifteen vulnerabilities are addressed, almost all of which are flagged as Critical. But there’s nothing on that page about how to install the updates on Windows XP.

The general guidance page links to additional guidance pages, one for supported versions, and another for older versions of Windows.

The page for older versions starts by pointing out that “All security updates Microsoft provides do not check Windows Genuine Advantage status.” That means even people running bootleg copies of Windows XP can install these updates. It goes on to say “For customers on these older platforms, the following table provides information to manually download applicable security updates.”

So installing these updates on Windows XP involves manually downloading them with the links provided on the Microsoft security advisory 4025685: Guidance for older platforms page. Some of the links go to the Update Catalog, and some involve additional navigation, but I was able to use Chrome to download and install all twelve of the updates linked from the guidance page on my WinXP VM. Not exactly convenient, and certainly not fast, but it did work.

Microsoft security advisory 4025685: Guidance for supported platforms includes a summary of the month’s updates for supported software. Numerous vulnerabilities are addressed, affecting the usual software: Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Edge, Silverlight, Skype and Flash. Extracting the complete details from the Security Update Guide is still annoyingly awkward, and the release notes are rather light on details.

More bungled Windows updates

If you’re on the Windows Insider program — the one that gets you early looks at where Windows 10 is heading — you may have noticed some unusual updates in the last day or so.

First, a new development version of Windows 10 was rolled out to some unlucky users. This version was not intended for users, even those on the Insider Preview program. Microsoft caught the error and stopped the update, but if your computer was affected, you may notice some new “issues that impact usability of your PC.” You can roll back to the previous release, or live with any new issues until the next release.

Second, a development version of the mobile variant of Windows 10 was pushed out, again unintentionally. If your mobile device received this unfortunate update, it’s probably no longer usable. Microsoft recommends using their Windows Device Recovery Tool to fix the problem.

Microsoft wants us all to trust them to install updates whenever they want, but mistakes like these are not helping.

Ars Technica has more.

Timeline: NSA hacking tool to WannaCry

A recent Washington Post article is helping to answer some questions about Microsoft’s actions in recent months. Here’s a timeline of events:

2012 (or possibly earlier): The NSA identifies a vulnerability in Windows that affects all existing versions of the operating system, and has the potential to allow almost unfettered access to affected systems. A software tool — an exploit — is developed either for, or by, the NSA. The tool is called EternalBlue. People at the NSA worry about the potential damage if the tool or the vulnerability became public knowledge. They decide not to tell anyone, not even Windows’ developer, Microsoft.

EternalBlue finds its way into the toolkit of an elite hacking outfit known as Equation Group. Although it’s difficult to know for certain, this group is generally assumed to be operating under the auspices of the NSA. Equation Group may work for the NSA as contractors, or they may simply be NSA employees. Regardless, the group’s actions seem to align with those of the NSA: their targets are generally in places like Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Syria, and Mali.

Early to mid-2016: A hacking group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers somehow gains access to NSA systems or data, and obtains copies of various NSA documents and tools. Among those tools is EternalBlue.

August, 2016: The Shadow Brokers begin publishing their NSA haul on public services like Tumblr.

January 7, 2017: The Shadow Brokers begin selling tools that are related to EternalBlue.

Late January to early February 2017: The NSA finally tells Microsoft about the vulnerability exploited by EternalBlue. We don’t know exactly when this happened, but it clearly happened. The NSA was Microsoft’s source for this vulnerability.

February 14, 2017: Microsoft announces that February’s Patch Tuesday updates will be postponed. Their explanation is vague: “we discovered a last minute issue that could impact some customers.

Late February 2017: The Windows SMB vulnerability exploited by EternalBlue is identified publicly as CVE-2017-0144.

March 14, 2017: March’s Patch Tuesday updates from Microsoft include a fix for CVE-2017-0144, MS17-010. The update is flagged as Critical and described as Security Update for Microsoft Windows SMB Server (4013389). Nothing in Microsoft’s output on March 14 calls special attention to this update.

April 14, 2017: The Shadow Brokers release 300 megabytes of NSA material on Github, including EternalBlue.

May 12, 2017: WannaCry ransomware infection wave begins. The malware uses EternalBlue to infect vulnerable computers, mostly Windows 7 PCs in Europe and Asia. Infected computers clearly had not been updated since before March 14, and were therefore vulnerable to EternalBlue.


It’s now clear that the NSA is the real problem here. They had several opportunities to do the right thing, and failed every time, until it was too late. The NSA’s last chance to look at all good in this matter was after the vulnerability was made public, when they should have made the danger clear to the public, or at least to Microsoft. Because, after all, they knew exactly how useful EternalBlue would be in the hands of… just about anyone with bad intent.

Everyone involved in this mess acted foolishly. But whereas we’ve grown accustomed to corporations caring less about people than about money, government institutions — no matter how necessarily secretive — should not be allowed to get away with what the NSA has done. Especially when you consider that this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every WannaCry, there are probably a thousand other threats lurking out there, all thanks to the clowns at the NSA.

Ars Technica’s analysis.

Techdirt’s analysis.

WannaCry update

According to Kaspersky Labs, almost all of the computers infected with WannaCry (WCry, WannaCrypt) were running Windows 7. A small percentage (less than 1%) were running Windows XP.

Microsoft released updates in March 2017 which — if installed — protect Windows 7 computers from WannaCry infections. So all those Windows 7 WannaCry infections were only possible because users failed to install updates. This is a good argument for either enabling automatic updates, or being extremely diligent about installing updates as soon as they become available.

A researcher at Quarkslab discovered a method for decrypting files encrypted with WannaCry, although it only works on Windows XP, and only if the computer has not been restarted since the files were encrypted.

Building on the discoveries of Quarkslab, researchers at Comae Technologies and elsewhere developed a tool that can decrypt files encrypted by WannaCry on Windows 7 as well as XP. The new tool — dubbed wanakiwi by its developers — uses the same technique as its predecessor and has the same limitation: it doesn’t work if the infected computer has been restarted since encryption occurred.

The Register points out that while the NSA was hoarding exploits, Microsoft was doing something similar with patches. Microsoft is in fact still creating security updates for Windows XP and other ‘unsupported’ software; they just don’t normally make those updates available to the general public. Instead, they are only provided to enterprise customers, which pay substantial fees for the privilege. When Microsoft released the Windows XP patch in response to the WannaCry threat, the patch was already developed; all Microsoft had to do was make it available to the general public. Sure, developing updates costs money, and Microsoft wants to recover those costs somehow, but it seems clear that we would all be better off if they made all updates available to everyone.

Bruce Schneier provides a useful overview of WannaCry, and how best to protect yourself. From the article: “Criminals go where the money is, and cybercriminals are no exception. And right now, the money is in ransomware.”

Update 2017May21: Analysts have confirmed that WannaCry’s initial infections were accomplished by scanning the Internet for computers with open Server Message Block ports, then using the EternalBlue SMB exploit to install the ransomware. Once installed on any computer, WannaCry spread to other vulnerable computers on the same local network (LAN). Earlier assumptions about WannaCry using spam and phishing emails to spread were not accurate.

WannaCrypt variants infecting systems worldwide

The accidental stifling of WannaCrypt’s spread was too good to last, apparently. New versions of the ransomware — unaffected by the serendipitous domain registration of a security researcher — are now making their way around the world. You can even watch the malware spread using MalwareTech’s WannaCrypt live feed.

Our advice remains the same: make sure all your Windows computers have the relevant updates installed, including Windows XP. Microsoft’s Customer Guidance for WannaCrypt attacks is a good place to start; there are links to the updates at the bottom of that page. For more information about the exploit used by WannaCrypt, see Microsoft’s MS17-010 bulletin from March 14.

SANS has a good summary of the technical aspects of WannaCrypt.

Update 2017May16: There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess. Microsoft is being criticized for abandoning Windows XP when it’s still widely used. Meanwhile, Microsoft is blaming the NSA’s vulnerability hoarding.

WannaCrypt ransomware: Microsoft issues updates for unsupported Windows

Ransomware known as WannaCrypt (aka WCry, WannaCry) has already crippled as many as 75,000 unpatched Windows computers in Europe and Asia. So far it hasn’t done much damage in North America, but that could change quickly.

The flaw WannaCrypt uses to infect Windows computers was patched by Microsoft in March, but unpatched computers and those running unsupported versions of Windows were left unprotected.

Microsoft has long since stopped releasing security updates for Windows XP, but WannaCrypt is spreading quickly, and Windows XP computers are essentially defenseless against it. So Microsoft has taken the unprecedented step of publicly releasing an update that protects Windows XP computers from the flaw that WannaCrypt uses to spread.

If you manage any computers that run Windows XP, you should install the update immediately: download update for 32-bit Windows XP Service Pack 3. There’s more information about this from Microsoft.

Techdirt points out that the flaw WannaCrypt exploits was exposed in the recent NSA tool leaks. Which is exactly the problem when security organizations hoard flaws instead of reporting them responsibly.

Update 2017May14: Apparently a security researcher at MalwareTech registered a (previously unregistered) domain used by WannaCrypt as part of his investigation into the ransomware. This is standard practice, because it often allows researchers to gain a better understanding of their subject. Surprisingly, this move stopped WannaCrypt from doing any further damage.

The latest guidance from NCSC.

Don’t use Edge to print or create PDF files

A bizarre bug in Microsoft’s Edge web browser is baffling users. Depending on the selected printer and other factors, attempting to print a PDF file, or use Edge’s ‘Print to PDF’ function, will cause random changes in the output. The changes are difficult to detect: we’re not talking about the usual kind of printer garbage. For example, users are reporting shifted cell numbers, added words and symbols, and substitution of words and characters.

If you’re printing invitations to a neighbourhood barbecue, this issue is unlikely to cause any serious problems, but what if you’re printing legal, medical, or architectural documents?

Microsoft hasn’t said much about this yet, but according to at least one bug report, they are at least aware of the problem. Which is good, because Microsoft just announced that Windows 10 is running on 500 million devices; Edge is the default browser on all those devices, and Print to PDF is the default printer on many.

My advice? If you use Windows 10, don’t use Edge at all if you can avoid it: try Firefox or Chrome. If you must use Edge, use a different PDF reader to view and print PDF files. Adobe’s Reader is free and actually works as expected.

Patch Tuesday for May 2017

Well, I was right. The announcement for May’s Patch Tuesday has almost exactly the same wording as last month’s. That’s because neither contains any useful information. No, it’s back to the new Security Update Guide, at least if you want to know what Microsoft wants to do to your computer this month.

According to my analysis of this month’s update information in the SUG, there are fifty distinct bulletins, affecting Flash, Internet Explorer, Edge, .NET, Office, and Windows. A total of fifty-six vulnerabilities are addressed. Fifteen of the vulnerabilities are categorized as Critical.

Today Microsoft also issued three advisories: