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GCN : October 2012
14 GCN OCTOBER 2012 • GCN.COM FEATURE ANALYSIS been migrating to Windows 7, according to Commerce Chief Information Officer Simon Szykman. At this point, Commerce has no specific timeline for department- wide migration to Windows 7, he said, but the Office of the CIO is looking to com- plete its Windows 7 migration during FY 2013. Meanwhile, Travis Howerton, chief technology officer for the Energy Depart- ment s National Nuclear Security Admin- istration, said the agency is moving ahead with its Windows 7 migration. The cost of an upgrade is one reason Windows migrations tend to take time. "The traditional process for testing and implementing a Windows upgrade is ex- pensive due to the large amount of man- ual labor to install," Howerton said. "The result is that NNSA has made steady progress in our migration to Windows 7 within our budget constraints, but there is still more work to be done at some sites." The need to train users becomes an is- sue in any software acquisition. Daven- port said he believes Windows 8, with its touch-friendly UI that differs from its predecessors (although it also includes an option to set the interface back to look like Windows 7), will involve a "little bit of a user training burden." "There is some lack of user familiarity and subsequent need to train employees with any new operating system," said Commerce s Szyman, adding that, "other considerations include the availability of compatible security tools and compat- ibility of legacy applications with a new operating system." Another factor: systems administra- tion. IT shops often create operating sys- tem images to facilitate configuration and deployment. The goal is to manage as few images as possible for a more efficient and cost-effective desktop environment. For IT departments, moving away from a standard image is a big deal, according to Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights. He noted that administrators need to manage software upgrades and patch management for each new image they take on. "That issue is looming in the back- ground from a management standpoint," McCarthy said. "Most agencies aren t go- ing to say we are jumping to 8 immedi- ately." McCarthy said organizations that have built a stable image that users are happy with, won t be inclined to adopt a new OS without a compelling reason to do so. "Without the killer need, it s easier to keep the status quo," he said. FEATURES OF INTEREST Some IT managers said they will be watching for Windows 8 s touch interface and the new tablets soon to be using it. A number of tablets are expected to hit the market running Windows 8 or Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 for devices equipped with ARM-based microproces- sors. Among those will be the Microsoft- branded Surface tablet, which will come in both Windows RT and Windows 8 va- rieties. "I m interested in taking a look at some root kits or other malware have changed anything at all, or if the connection be- tween Windows 8 and UEFI is somehow blocked, UEFI won t allow a system to boot. Some people might complain that this effectively means that hardware designed for Windows 8 can t ever run alternative operating systems, like Linux. In a sense this is true because if the connection be- tween the Windows 8 OS and the UEFI is not made, the system won t boot. Howev- er, Microsoft is allowing Linux companies to register so that their OS s can function the same way as Windows 8, and protect machines from boot-level malware. Red Hat Linux has already done that. BOOTS KICK OUT MALWARE The second major security upgrade with Windows 8 is Trusted Boot, which modi- fies a convenience technology found in Windows 7 to prevent accidental dele- tion of critical files. You might not know this, but if you re running Windows 7 and you delete your Notepad program, it should come back after a few minutes. That s because Notepad is considered es- sential, and a copy is stored in a secure part of your OS. If the system detects that it s gone missing, it will copy it back over for you, an idiot-proofing of critical files. Microsoft has taken that technology and modified it to work with critical .dll and system files during the boot process for Windows 8. The Trusted Boot process scans every file being loaded during the boot phase, including all the usual sus- pects targeted by malware. If any file has been replaced or modified in any way, the OS simply copies the actual file over the top of it from the secure area, and boots normally. Trusted Boot and Secure Boot require new hardware, but there are several se- curity features that will work just fine with existing computers being upgraded from an older OS. The most impressive is the early loading of anti-virus software, something that is sorely needed to com- bat malware. A trick virus writers have used in re- cent years is to have their malware load its drivers and system commands before any anti-virus program. Then they can block AV from working, or even give false information to users. Windows 8 identi- fies legitimate anti-virus programs from known companies and loads their drivers first. And even if you don t have an anti- virus program, Windows 8 ships with Windows Defender, which is flagged as a first-load program. So everyone with Windows 8 will have some form of virus protection, and it will be given priority over almost everything else on the sys- tem. I was able to test this feature with a piece of malware from the GCN Lab s vi- rus vault that tries to pre-load before an AV program. The virus was successful in taking over a system running Windows