Microsoft tackles boot and root kits in Windows 8

Redmond beefs up free Windows Defender with its other freebie.

Microsoft’s anti-malware program Windows Defender will be revamped in Windows 8 with a host of features drawn from its other platform, Security Essentials.

To date, Windows Defender only contained a limited view of what Microsoft knew to be bad, however in Windows 8 it will integrate the entire set of signatures from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, providing protection against viruses, worms, bots and rootkits, according to Jason Garms, a Microsoft program manager for reliability and security in Windows 8.

Microsoft’s free Security Essentials security product, which launched in 2009 and was meant to supersede Defender, already contained the additional protections on top of Defender which mainly targeted spyware and adware.

However, one new feature to join Defender in Windows 8 will be “Secure Boot”, designed to combat infected USBs flash memory or so-called bootkits. 

The feature will only work on new PCs that support UEFI 2.3.1 specification. For those systems it will only load validated code to ensure the integrity of Microsoft’s firmware and to ensure that malware cannot load during boot or resume processes.

Attackers using “boot sector” kits to launch these attacks raised alarm bells in 2008 after they were employed in rigged but otherwise legitimate websites.

Windows 8 will also retain and increase the randomisation of its operating system hardening feature, Address Space Layout Randomisation, which counters the threat of attackers being able to predict which segments of memory to write instructions to.

Microsoft had also tackled attacks on the user-mode heap (the memory allocated dynamically in run time) by randomising their location, while Windows 8 will get reputation-based application defences that Microsoft has previously employed its browser-based URL reputation-based SmartScreen filter.

The feature will become apparent to users through a pop-up that notifies them when an application they attempt to download from the web lacks a reputation.

Read more: Dispelling Common Myths Surrounding UTM

Unlike previous alert systems such as User Access Control, which irritated critics for over-zealously delivering prompts, Garms did not expect application reputation in Windows 8 to do the same.

“We expect average users to see a SmartScreen prompt less than twice per year and when they do see it, it will signify a higher risk scenario,” he said.

According to Microsoft’s data, 92 per cent of applications downloaded in IE 9 had an established reputation, in contrast to the 25 to 70 per cent chance of downloading malware when its system did flag the user. 

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