Archive for Windows 10

Windows Virtual Desktop Generally Available Now

Microsoft has announced that its Windows Virtual Desktop is now generally available worldwide on Azure and will include Windows 7 free Extended Security Updates for up to three years.

Windows Virtual Desktop

Windows Virtual Desktop from Microsoft, which was announced last September but has just been made generally available worldwide, is a Cloud-based ‘virtual’ version of Windows that can be accessed by employees from any device from anywhere, provides full multi-session, and is always up to date.  The Virtual Desktop has been designed with modern working practice in mind where not all employees sit in an office, use just one device or work from secure locations.

According to Microsoft, Windows Virtual Desktop is the only virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that can provide simplified management, multi-session Windows 10, optimizations for Office 365 ProPlus, as well as and support for Remote Desktop Services (RDS) environments.

The Virtual Desktop enables Windows desktops and apps to be deployed and scaled on Microsoft’s Azure portal in minutes, and it includes built-in security and compliance features.

Supported Transition to Windows 10

One key sweetener of the new service for those companies facing the end of support for their old Windows 7 deployments is that it offers free extended security updates for the Windows 7 virtual desktop including more support options for previous app versions while users transition to Windows 10.

Migrate

Microsoft is keen to emphasise that its Virtual Desktop can work with your current Remote Desktop Services (RDS), and can therefore easily be migrated on Azure.

Trust

Microsoft is also keen to emphasise that businesses can trust the new Windows Virtual Desktop not least because Microsoft invests more than USD $1 billion annually on cybersecurity research and development, employs 3,500+ security experts, and Azure has more compliance certifications than any other cloud provider.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With Virtual Desktop, Microsoft is hoping to capitalise on the fact that many businesses have workers in multiple locations with multiple devices who need to have convenient and secure access to a constantly updated version of their desktop.  Microsoft also knows that companies are getting more confident about moving more of their infrastructure to the Cloud, and want a secure, scalable ‘as-as-Service’ offering where they don’t need to worry about having the expertise in-house.

The easy migration aspect of the service and the offer of extended Windows 7 support may be of value to businesses looking to make a leveraged move forward to Windows 10 and may help Microsoft retain valuable business customers.

Worldwide Rollout of ‘Personal Vault’ OneDrive Security Features

Microsoft has announced that the ‘Personal Vault’ security features for its OneDrive storage service are now available worldwide on all OneDrive consumer accounts.

What Is Personal Vault?

Personal Vault is a protected area in OneDrive that can only be accessed with a strong authentication method or a second step of identity verification.  These methods include a fingerprint, face, PIN, or a code sent to the OneDrive user via email or SMS.

The idea of Personal Vault is to add another layer of protection to important files, photos, and videos e.g. copies of documents such as a passport, driver’s licence, or insurance information. Even though the new feature means that users must go through a verification process, Microsoft has stressed that it won’t slow users down and that they should still be able to quickly access their files on a PC, OneDrive.com or on their mobile device.

Protection Against Lost, Stolen, or Unauthorised Access

The Personal Vault security measures should mean that files are not being stored unprotected on a PC and have additional protection, even if the Windows 10 PC or mobile device is lost, stolen, or if someone gains access to it or to the user’s account.

Other Security Measures

In addition to the second layer of identity verification, Personal Vault also includes security measures such as :

  • Scan and shoot, which enables documents to be scanned or photos to be shot directly into the secure Personal Vault area rather than leaving them on a camera or unsecured device.
  • Automatic locking of the Personal Vault after a period of inactivity to protect against private files being left open accidentally.
  • BitLocker encryption on Windows 10 PCs, so that all Personal Vault files are synced to a BitLocker-encrypted area of the local hard drive.
  • Restricted sharing so that Personal Vault and shared items moved into Personal Vault can’t be shared.

Some Limitations

Personal Vault does come with some limitations. For example, users with OneDrive’s free or standalone 100GB storage plan can store up to three files in Personal Vault, and Office 365 subscribers can store as many files as they wish as long as this doesn’t exceed their normal storage limits.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Microsoft Personal Vault, this is another step in its competition with its most popular competitor, Dropbox, which recently partnered with BetterCloud to help with it provide cutting-edge data protection and orchestration.

For businesses using OneDrive, these new security features should prove attractive, particularly when most businesses need safe, fast Cloud storage for mobile devices and work PCs, and need an easy, reliable and convenient way to store sensitive and personal files and data.

Microsoft’s Phone App Challenge to iMessage and FaceTime

Reports from online tech commentators indicate that Microsoft will soon be enhancing its Your Phone app with the ability to make phone calls from a desktop PC, thereby making the app a serious challenger to Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime.

The Your Phone App

Microsoft’s Your Phone desktop App connects your phone to your PC thereby giving you access to your phone’s notifications, photos and texts while working on your PC. Giving the desktop Phone App the details of your phone (Android or Apple, phone number) means that you receive a download link to the ‘Phone Companion’ via SMS text.

Installing the Phone Companion on your mobile enables you to sync your phone with your PC e.g. an Android phone with Windows 10 PC.  This gives instant access to your phone on your PC so that you can reply to texts at your PC and instantly receive photos on your PC that have been taken on the phone.

Making Calls – Challenging Apple’s iCloud Integrations

The addition of being able to dial a number, search your phone contacts and make a call directly from your PC is an important enhancement that could make Microsoft’s Your Phone desktop App a serious challenger to Apple’s iCloud integrations on macOS.

Apple Mac users can currently use these to send messages from their desktop using iMessage and can also make voice and video calls using FaceTime.

‘Use Phone’ Button

The enhanced Your Phone App from Microsoft will include a ‘Use Phone’ button that can send a call back from the PC (microphone and speakers) to the handset,  thereby enabling more privacy and/or shutting out any distracting background noise e.g. keyboard noises and noises from home working.

Who?

A full-feature Your Phone App would most likely be of maximum value to those workers who need to be in front of the desktop for long periods of time with minimal distractions although, arguably, messages and notifications popping up on the screen could be less easy to ignore than if they’d been quietly arriving on the phone in corner.

The Your Phone app could also be of use to workers in a situation where too much obvious interaction with their handset in the workplace is frowned upon and where visual monitoring and supervision is particularly intense.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Microsoft, this improvement to the Your Phone desktop App, which has been around for some time, gives it much greater potential value to users and gives Microsoft another way to seriously compete with its rival Apple.

For any business users who are typically tied to the PC for most of the time the ability to handle all phone matters on the desktop adds value in terms of convenience, possible time savings, and fewer distractions.

Latest Windows 10 Update Causes Problems For VPN Enterprise Users

The latest update to Windows 10 could break the platform’s Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN) and, therefore, cause problems with VPN for Enterprise users with certain settings.

Potentially Millions

Given that the latest Windows update which contains the problem code accounts for 50 million users, it was initially thought that a problem may have been created on a massive scale. Microsoft has, however, said that the code problem will only impact Windows 10 Enterprise.

What’s The Problem?

With certain settings, the latest KB4501375 update for Windows 10 1903 contains code that appears to adversely affect the Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN), which manages how Windows 10 connects to the internet and, therefore, is affecting VPN services.  The interruption to VPN services happens for Windows 10 Enterprise and results from a non-default setting (the diagnostic data level being manually configured to the non-default setting of 0) when used in conjunction with a VPN profile being configured as ‘Always ON VPN’ (AOVPN).  This can result in an error “0xc0000005” being shown on devices as the RASMAN stops working, and reports indicate that users have also reported an error in the Application section of Windows Logs in the Event Viewer with Event ID 1000 listing “svchost.exe_RasMan” and “rasman.dll”.

VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) provides a secure, encrypted connection, between a user’s device and a server operated by the VPN service thereby meaning that apps running across a VPN benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.

The VPN market has grown rapidly in recent years as users seek greater security, and the large number of mobile and wireless devices now used by businesses and organisations which need to access business applications from remote locations (employees securely accessing the corporate intranet while outside the office) has made VPN technology a crucial component across various business verticals.

What To Do

Microsoft is reported to be developing a fix for the problem with no timeframe as yet, but a workaround is shown near the bottom of the page on Microsoft’s support site here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-au/help/4501375/windows-10-update-kb4501375

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many businesses now have workers who need to access the company’s network securely from a variety of remote locations, and VPN has, therefore, become an important business tool.  Although there are many different VPN services, Microsoft is a big name, a trusted brand, and its Enterprise users (those with 500 or more computers and 250 for the public sector) may be those likely to be using Microsoft’s VPN.  The disruption to VPN caused by the update may, therefore, be significant and can’t help Microsoft in the highly competitive and growing VPN market. As well as being disruptive and potentially costly, having VPN problems could also pose a security and privacy risk to businesses. It may also be quite inconvenient having to wait for the fix to be developed, with no sign off it to date.

Tech Tip – Night Light For Windows

If you leave your computer on and/or need to work late into the evenings, for example, the Windows 10 ‘night light’ feature enables the gradual limitation of the colour spectrum from your computer so that your body’s Melatonin (the bedtime-indicating chemical) isn’t impeded.

When a screen is left on it emits blue light which can keep you overly awake.  With the night light setting on, warmer colours are displayed which can help you sleep.  Windows knows what time zone your computer is in so scheduling it for your sunset and sunrise should be easy.

To activate night light:

Go to ‘Settings’, click on ‘System’.

Put night light ‘On’ and click on ‘night light settings’ to select ‘colour temperature’.  You will also see a ‘Turn on Now’ button to help you get the right colour temperature.

Under ‘Schedule’, toggle ‘Schedule night light’ to ‘On’.

Either select ‘Sunset to sunrise’ or select ‘Set hours’ and enter custom times for the night light to turn on and off.

Tech Tip – Using Your Windows Clipboard History

You may not have tried it, but if you need to clip up to 10 or more things to your windows clipboard (copy) and come back to them later, the clipboard that’s built-in to Windows 10 allows you to do this quickly and easily.

Here’s how to get the most out of the clipboard:

In the first instance, hit the Windows key + v.  This will give you the option to turn the clipboard function on.

Once turned on, hit Windows key + v.  You’ll be shown a list of the items currently on your clipboard e.g. text segments you’ve copied. Click on an item to paste it into your current page.

The icons (top right) also give you the option to delete or pin clipboard items i.e. keep them when you clear your clipboard history or when restart your PC.

In Settings, you can also choose to turn the feature off or choose to sync your clipboard across your other Windows devices so your desktop and laptop can share a clipboard history.

New AI Feature For Microsoft Word Online To Improve Your Writing

The new ‘Ideas’ feature, an AI-powered editor in the cloud for Microsoft Word is intended to provide intelligent suggestions to make your writing more concise, readable, and inclusive.

Ideas

The new ‘Ideas’ feature, which is already being used with PowerPoint and Excel, is likely to be a value-adding improvement on traditional grammar and spelling checks because it is designed to help with the reading and writing of (online) Word documents.

The feature announced at Microsoft 2019 and scheduled for testing in June, will be able to follow along as you write, offer familiar fixes for spelling and grammatical errors, suggest improvements, be able to detect nuances in language and even suggest rewrites for tricky phrases or clunky paragraphs.

The Ideas feature will also be able to help with the reading of Word documents by, for example, providing estimated reading times, extracting key points, and decoding acronyms using data from the Microsoft Graph.

British Company Wins Google Money For AI

It’s not just Microsoft that’s making the news this week for its ongoing pursuit of augmenting its products and services with AI and machine learning.

British fact checking company Full Fact has just been named among the 20 winners of Google’s AI Impact Challenge.  The award will mean that they will receive a share of 19.1 million dollars worth of Google investment as well as consultation help and mentoring from Google.  The AI Impact Challenge from Google asked for organisations to submit ideas on how to use AI to help address societal challenges.  For Full Fact, this involved ideas about how to use AI to combat the kind of misinformation that affects millions of people’s health, safety and ability to participate in society, and is considered by many to be a threat to democracy in many countries.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The addition of an AI-powered, cloud-based enhancement to Microsoft’s online version of Word is considered to be the next, more intelligent step onwards from enhancements like predictive text.  It also offers Microsoft a way to compete with popular grammar programs such as Grammarly, and it will be interesting to see how such companies respond to Microsoft’s ‘Ideas’ feature.

The ‘Ideas’ feature is likely to be particularly good news for journalists and other writers as it will presumably be able to make the low-level composing work a little easier and may be able to save time and add value to their work.  It may even help Microsoft reach its aim of enabling people to design documents for maximum readability, and in doing so, make the workday more productive for many people.

One area where AI is predicted to offer some real promise in the near future is in the (cloud-based) cyber security market.  For example, the Visiongain ‘Artificial Intelligence in Cyber Security Market Report’ for 2019-2029 values the 2019 AI in cyber security market at $4.94bn.  Cloud-based cyber security that incorporates AI could prove to a cost-effective and affordable source of protection for SMEs and large enterprises.

Microsoft’s Move Away From Passwords Towards Biometrics

In a recent interview with CBNC, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Officer Bret Arsenault signalled the corporation’s move away from passwords on their own as a means of authentication towards (biometrics) and a “passwordless future”.

Passwords – Not Enough On Their Own

Many of us are now used to two-factor authentication e.g. receiving a code via text or using apps such as Google Authenticator as a more secure way of using passwords.  Mr Arsenault also notes that hacking methods such as “password spraying”, where attackers attempt to access large numbers of accounts at once using some of the most commonly used passwords, are still effective and highlight the weakness of relying on passwords being used on their own.  Mr Arsenault highlights how damaging this can be for businesses where a hacker can get password/employee identity and use this to gain access to a whole network. This is one of the reasons why many businesses, including Microsoft, are moving away from the whole idea of passwords.

Setting Example – Biometrics

Microsoft is one of the most-attacked companies in the world, and this, combined with reports of the billions of password hack incidents worldwide, have driven the company to move beyond passwords.

For example, 90% of Microsoft’s 135,000 workforce can now log into the company’s corporate network without passwords using biometric technology such as facial recognition and fingerprint scanning via apps such as ‘Windows Hello’ and the ‘Authenticator’ app.

Also Uses Federated Cybersecurity

In addition to rejecting passwords for biometrics, Microsoft also uses a federated cybersecurity model.  This means that each Microsoft product has its own head of cybersecurity and that ethical hackers are actively encouraged to attack the company’s networks and products to test for flaws.

Scrapping Password Expiration Policies

Microsoft has announced that it is scrapping its password expiration policies in Windows 10 arguing that password expiration is an out of date method of data protection.  Users will now effectively be forced to update their passwords every few months once the Windows 10 May 2019 has been rolled out.

Other Tech Companies Moving Away From Passwords

Other tech companies that are known to be moving away from passwords towards biometrics and other methods include Google which has been testing USB key fobs which plug into customers’ computers and provide a second factor of authentication and Cisco which acquired dual-factor authentication start-up Duo in 2018.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As Microsoft points out, multi-factor authentication is more secure than relying on just a password for authentication, as password spraying and credential stuffing are widely in use and are still yielding good results for hackers.  As a recent National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) survey has shown, many people still rely upon weak passwords, with ‘123456’ featuring 23 million times, making it the most widely-used password on breached accounts. There is a strong argument, therefore, for many businesses to look, as Microsoft is looking, towards more secure biometric methods of authentication, and towards a “passwordless future”.

Even though biometrics has been shown to make things incredibly difficult for cybercriminals to crack it, biometrics has not proven to have been 100% successful to date.  For example, a Reddit user recently claimed to have used a 3D printer to clone a fingerprint and then use that fake fingerprint to beat the in-display fingerprint reader on a Samsung Galaxy S10. Also, there was the report of the Twitter user who claimed to have fooled Nokia 9 PureView’s fingerprint scanner by using somebody else’s finger, and then just a packet of chewing gum, and of the incident back in May 2017 where a BBC reporter said that he’d been able to fool HSBC’s biometric voice recognition system by passing his brother’s voice off as his own.

There is no doubt that the move away from passwords to biometrics is now underway, but we are still in the relatively early stages.

No Windows 10 Updates For PCs With USB Devices or SD Cards Attached

Microsoft has announced that if your PC has a USB device or SD card attached it will not be possible to upgrade the computer to the Windows 10 May 2019 Update because of an “Inappropriate drive reassignment” issue.

The Scenario

On its support site, Microsoft has announced that an attempt to upgrade a computer with the Windows 10 May 2019 Update will result in an error message being displayed if the following three factors are in place:

  1. You’re running a Windows-10 based computer that has either the April 2018 Update (Windows 10, version 1803) or the October 2018 Update (Windows 10, version 1809) installed.
  2. An external USB device or SD memory card is attached to the computer.
  3. You try to upgrade the computer to the May 2019 Update, or you have automatic updates turned on in the Windows Update settings.

Inappropriate Drive Reassignment

Microsoft says that the upgrade will not be able to occur in these situations because of the risk of inappropriate drive reassignment.  For example, a user may have booted Windows from external storage and may have left an external storage device (USB device or SD memory card) attached during the installation of the May 2019 upgrade.  Prior to the upgrade, the external device would have been mounted in the system as drive G based on the existing drive configuration, but after the upgrade, the device is reassigned a different drive letter e.g. H.  This is a situation that Microsoft is trying to avoid – hence the error message and the blocking of computers with external devices attached from receiving the upgrade.

The Workaround

According to Microsoft, the simple workaround is to remove the external media and restart the May 2019 Update installation.

Microsoft also says that the issue will be resolved in a future servicing update for Windows 10, and for Windows Insiders, the issue is resolved in build 18877 and later builds.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is more than just a small element of Microsoft being cautious in issuing this error message and putting out information about the nature of the issue and workaround, after the many problems and bugs that led to Build 1809 having to be withdrawn after a few weeks before a re-issue. This time, Microsoft wants good publicity and good customer experience for its ongoing WaaS strategy.

If you’re planning to upgrade Windows 10 with the May 2019 Update and you want things to go smoothly, the advice is to make sure that you don’t have external storage devices connected to the computer at the same time.

Microsoft 365 Business Subscription Customers Get Shared Computer Activation (SCA)

SMEs that need to have multiple users (connecting to and using the same remote computer) but only have a (less-expensive) Microsoft 365 Business subscription have been given a boost by Microsoft in the form expanded rights with the imminent roll-out of SCA for Microsoft 365 Business.

What Is SCA?

Shared Computer Activation (SCA) is a service that allows a business to deploy Office 365 on a computer that is accessed by multiple users.

SCA That Doesn’t Count Against The Device Limit

The latest announcement from Microsoft means that Microsoft 365 Business subscribers (who would normally only be able to install and activate the Office 365 Business Client on a limited number of devices such as 5 PCs) will, with the roll-out from 30th April, be able to benefit from being able to use the Office 365 Business Client with shared computer activation enabled in a way that doesn’t count against that device limit.

Where It’s Useful

Situations (where this can add value and be useful to SMEs) include :

  • Multiple workers on different shifts at the same premises needing to use a shared computer with each worker using Excel on that computer during their shift to track orders & shipments.
  • Multiple workers use Word on shared computers at a work station throughout the day to create reports from a template.
  • Business owners and accounts staff can connect remotely to a Windows 2016 Server running Remote Desktop Services (RDS) to use Excel and the company’s accounting software.
  • Field service employees use Office on a computer that’s located in a conference room to update/write reports.
  • Remote workers connect from home connect to Windows Virtual Desktops (WVD) in Azure with Office installed to work on specific accounts/records.

Limitations

It is important to note that M365 Business does not include Office 365 Pro Plus, just the activation rights in the existing business client that comes in M365B.  The new SCA rights in M365 Business will, therefore, still require that each user be licensed, because companies can’t legally share Office on a single PC among, e.g. 5 users, where only three are covered by M365 Business licenses.

Also, users can only share the Windows, not a Mac version of Office on an SCA-covered machine.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although Microsoft is not giving anything away as such with the SCA rights in M365 Business, it is, however, introducing something that takes account of how some industries need to work with software in real life i.e. computers often need to be  shared by multiple users with different user profiles, and multiple users in some businesses need to connect to the same remote computer at the same time. In this respect, it may add a great deal of value for many businesses, and in doing so, may help gain and retain customers, and lead to new opportunities for Microsoft.

SMEs are likely to welcome this added value service from Microsoft as they may have been stuck between having to choose E3 (without SCA), saving costs, and try to implement time-consuming workarounds to get more out of what they had.

Even though the roll-out date starts on April 30th, it may take a couple of months before the full roll-out is completed.