Windows 8 RT Poses Security Dilemma

When Windows 8 hits the street later this year it will represent the boldest overhaul of the dominant desktop operating system to date. Aside from the Metro interface, one of the biggest departures from Windows tradition will be the addition of a new variant that runs on ARM hardware. While that opens up some new horizons for Windows, it may also put Windows 8 RT users at risk.

What’s the risk? Well, Windows users have been conditioned to have a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to phishing attacks and malware, and they know they’re supposed to run security software to help detect and block threats. The problem is that legacy Windows software will not function on the ARM version of Windows. That means that consumers will have to purchase new or different security software for Windows 8 RT than they’re used to on their legacy Windows systems.

Windows itself will still be Windows, though. The operating system will still be a popular target for malware developers, and users will need to be able to defend their Windows 8 RT systems. Developers will have to develop new solutions specific to Windows 8 RT which will most likely result in fewer choices when Windows 8 RT launches. Its also possible that the features and capabilities of the Windows 8 RT version of a security solution may not match the traditional Windows version.

Another potential security concern is that Windows 8 RT users may be limited to browsing with Internet Explorer. Other vendors can develop Metro app versions of their browsers, but those browsers won’t function in “Classic” mode on Windows 8 RT. There’s nothing wrong with Internet Explorer per se, but the lack of choice gives attackers a sole target to focus on.

Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson complained in a blog post, “Microsoft’s browser practices regarding Windows 8 Metro signal an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn’t have browser choices.”

That’s a bit hyperbolic, but he has a point. The combination of having to select and use new security software that you’re not used to, along with being limited to Internet Explorer for Web browsing is a throwback to days gone by when Microsoft had a virtual monopoly of both the operating system and browser markets, and users lacked the tools necessary to defend themselves.

It is a brave “reimagining” of Windows that Microsoft is introducing later this year. There’s nothing wrong with departing from tradition and creating an innovative new platform. But, Microsoft and Windows 8 RT customers need to be mindful that its still Windows, it will still be a primary malware target, and it needs protection.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld. ]

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