How Secure is Windows 8?A brief analysis of the security features for Windows 8

Windows 8 is upon us, and unless you are the owner of the Fortune 500 company, you’ll have to wait until October 26 to get your hands on it. The entire tech world is buzzing with reviews, which, range from hailing it as a revelation to’ those describing it as an abomination. Saying,”it’s getting mixed reviews” is an understatement. People are certainly passionate about this release. Surprisingly, the security features of Windows 8 is not that much of a hot topic around the world. Perhaps because it has burned us too many times, or that there isn’t enough data to conduct detailed tests. Nevertheless, we venture forth! Here is what our research shows. Microsoft has trodden new ground with Windows 8′s security, using old and new techniques. Let’s look at the pros and cons of a few features:
Secure Boot
Booting is the process where the BIOS tells your hardware what it needs to do in order to start. Malware like root kits embed themselves during the boot-up process and spread through the system. Secure boot means the OS and the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) will follow strict protocols when booting. This will prevent low-level threats and root kits from spreading during the boot sequence, which is imperative in a
corporate environment as the system remains serviceable even after infection. Secure boot also ensures that only pre- approved anti malware
software is loaded before malware can take control. So if you are using a third party anti-malware tool (for example McAfee Antivirus, Kaspersky Internet Security etc), you still have a fighting chance.
Downside: Users upgrading from any other OS (even another version’ of Windows) will not have access to this feature as it will be embedded in the BIOS. Updates will probably be released later to incorporate this feature into legacy systems. Also, for as long as Secure Boot is active, users will not be able to install other operating systems ~such as Linux or FreeBSD) on the system. PC makers have made it clear that users will be able to turn Secure Boot on or off inside the UEFI options, which means you either get Windows 8 or no Secure Boot. Also, this is not available for ARM-based machines.
A feature for Internet Explorer 10. If you download something using IE10, Smart Screen will check how many other users have downloaded the file and whether or not it contains malware. When turned on, it is excellent prevention from phishing. Thus making Internet Explorer 10 the safest browser out of the box around (until we install Chrome and our favorite plugins and never think about IE again).
Downside: Limited only to Internet Explorer. Also, if you are downloading software from a new or an obscure (but safe) developer, your download will not have enough ratings and will be marked down by Smart Screen. The entire purpose is somewhat lost when you realise it just allows you to run popular software.
Tiled (formerly known as Metro) Apps

What about Tiles? How are they different from regular executables? Tiled apps, much like Windows Phone, run in their own sandbox limiting their access to the rest of the system, making them safer to run. Internet Explorer 10 also runs plug-ins in exclusive sandboxes and breaks tabs into different processes as well. Since these apps are available exclusively from Microsoft, we can expect malware free content.
Downside: This framework holds true as long as we are limited to the sandbox framework. However, Windows 8 has two sides, the Tiles and the Vista/7 interface. If you use Tiles, you are restricted to one app running in full screen, so multi-tasking might as well not exist. Using a PC like a smartphone sounds interesting, but it defeats the purpose of owning a PC if you can’t run multiple apps simultaneously.
PC Refresh and Reset
An improvement on the previous System Restore option that started with Windows XP If something goes irreparably wrong with their systems, users can easily revert to the last functioning state in a few clicks. Frequent Windows users will acknowledge that backup and formatting takes a lot of time and they could do without it. Windows 8 does the restoration itself, all you have to do is to select the option and let Windows do the rest.
Integrated Antivirus – Defender
Windows 8 comes with a built-in anti-virus called Defender. It’s much better than Windows Ts Defender, but that isn’t saying much.
Downside: Inexperienced users will dub this OS “safe to use” upon seeing Defender and they might not install third-party protection. It is not especially effective. If malware is an army of tanks, then Defender is a speed bump at best. Outside this analysis, there are a few security concerns that come even from the people who create software for Windows. Adobe pointed out that they discovered a vulnerability in Flash that could potentially harm Internet Explorer 10 users. This bug was fixed by Adobe, but as of the writing of this article it has not been addressed by Microsoft. They have said they will fix it before the OS ships. Good news on one front, and bad that a vulnerability has been exposed before it even released, on the other. Symantec “acknowledges that Defender in Windows 8 is greatly enhanced from Windows 7 but finds that it fails to block many threats in Symantec’s test suite.” They go on to explain how various bugs could exploit these features. Hopefully their security suite will eliminate these as problems entirely. McAfee express an optimistic view of Windows 8′s security features, saying that malware manufacturers will have their work cut out for them. Of course, once the platform releases, mass scrutiny can begin. Hackers and malware manufacturers will get their turn, and we shall see if we indeed have an impregnable fortress, or just a sign that says “beware of dog”.


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