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GCN : October 2012
GCN OCTOBER 2012 • GCN.COM 15 FEATURE ANALYSIS of the Microsoft slates and tablets," Dav- enport said. "I think it s reasonable to say that if we decide to take a look and explore some of the tablets, I think Windows 8 could be in consideration there." Davenport said it s possible that Win- dows 8 could arrive first on tablets in some organizations. But the unfolding of that particular scenario, he noted, will depend to a significant degree on user de- mand on the app side. "I think the first experience with Win- dows 8 for many of us will be on tablets," added Howerton. "Our users are demand- ing mobility while IT demands security. Over time, you will see more penetration of Windows 8 into the desktop/laptop arena." As for other Windows 8 features, those in security could influence migra- tion. Howerton pointed to the software s memory manager component, which he said has seen huge upgrades. "In particu- lar, the heap manager now randomizes memory allocation," he said. "This makes it significantly harder to overwrite specific memory blocks to allow the execution of arbitrary code." The Commerce Department will "con- sider a number of factors in deciding to make the move to Windows 8," said Szyk- man, including security settings, granu- larity of controls on user permissions, familiarity, user demand, and interoper- ability. But nothing beyond that security fea- ture strikes Howerton as justification for an immediate move to Windows 8. "It will likely be more of a gradual move with refresh and dipping our feet in the water early with tablets and some touch-enabled all-in-ones in the near term," he said. THE VIRTUAL PATH One path to Windows 8 may go through virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), an approach that hosts a user s desktop op- erating system as a virtual machine on a server. VDI eliminates the need to tinker with individual client devices when new software rolls out. McCarthy said agencies could explore Windows 8 as virtual desk- tops, noting an increased interest in VDI in government agencies. Howerton suggested that VDI could provide a smoother upgrade path. "As we scale out our implementations of [VDI], we will enable a more seamless process for Windows upgrades," he said. In addition, Howerton said layering --- separating the underlying OS from user settings and applications, for ex- ample --- could also allow faster and/ or cheaper upgrade experiences even on traditional client-side machines. In the meantime, McCarthy said he believes most agencies will take a wait-and-see attitude with Windows 8. He noted that many government IT departments will obtain a handful of machines to learn about configuration and check into compatibility issues. Davenport said he has run the Win- dows 8 preview release on his home computer, noting that the OS seems like it is pretty solid. "I will keep an eye on it," he said. • XP even though it was protected by an- ti-virus software. But it failed in trying to use that same first-load trick to get around identical protection running un- der Windows 8. So this is a huge weapon in the fight against malware. ENCRYPTED SYSTEMS Specifically for feds, but good for anyone, Windows 8 has the option to fully encrypt an entire system using the BitLocker pro- gram. In the past, feds have been cool to embrace BitLocker because when push- ing out an update to distributed systems, administrators did not have access to Bit- Locker-protected computers. What would happen is that the encrypted system would wake up and ask for the security key, but not install any patches or updates until that key was entered locally. Then when it was entered, the user, who was just coming into work, had to wait for the patch process to complete. Windows 8 solves this problem by giv- ing access to BitLocker-protected systems if a variety of conditions are met. A sys- tem must be plugged into its home and trusted network with a cable --- wireless does not count --- and then the adminis- trator can wake it up and apply patches without local intervention. This could make BitLocker far more attractive in en- terprise environments. Where BitLocker protects entire drives, Windows 8 also improves security on individual files by adding an extra layer to Dynamic Access Control lists, which track permissions across a network, and are notoriously difficult to manage in large groups. An administrator can use common language to create an extra gateway to help plug holes that develop in the DAC list. For example, adding "If User.country = US, allow Read/Write" would be a way some organizations could make sure that each user is only reading a file if he is in the United States, according to the Active Directory listing. This extra check hap- pens before the DAC is even accessed, so if a user is in China in this example, the system doesn t even bother to check the DAC. He is simply rejected and not al- lowed to read a protected file. KEYS TO WORKING REMOTELY The final major upgrade for Windows 8 in terms of security is that all copies of Win- dows 8 will support Windows to Go. That means that Windows 8 can be installed on a flash drive. When you plug the flash drive into any computer, you are able to work from the secure OS stored there and ignore whatever is on the host computer you happen to be using. This would allow feds and other gov- ernment employees to work securely from a public terminal inside a mall if necessary. It would also prevent the loss of data if a notebook or tablet is stolen since all the real data and even the OS is sitting on a secure key drive. And it