Windows 11 gets chatty as Teams integration turns up

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The Register 21 July, 2021 - 08:44am 14 views

Is Windows 11 released?

Windows 11 is due out later in 2021 and will be delivered over several months. The rollout of the upgrade to Windows 10 devices already in use today will begin in 2022 through the first half of that year. That being said, new devices running Windows 11 are still expected to release this year. Moneycontrol.comWindows 11 RTM release date: Intel's support document may have leaked it

Windows “HiveNightmare” bug could leak passwords – here’s what to do!

Naked Security 21 July, 2021 - 04:00pm

As if one Windows Nightmare dogging all our printers were not enough…

…here’s another bug, disclosed by Microsoft on 2021-07-20, that could expose critical secrets from the Windows registry.

Denoted CVE-2021-36934, this one has variously been nicknamed HiveNightmare and SeriousSAM.

The moniker HiveNightmare comes from the fact that Windows stores its registry data in a small number of proprietary database files, known in Microsoft jargon as hives or hive files.

If you have ever used password cracking or hacking tools (or found evidence of them on your network after detecting an active attack), you’ll know that the SAM database is where many cybercriminals start digging in order to try to get hold of administrator credentials to move around your network.

Fortunately, you need to have Administrator access already in order to get at the SAM data in memory, and you can’t get at the SAM registry hive on disk while Windows is running even if you are an Administrator, because the SAM file shown above is locked for the exclusive use of the operating system.

We wrote a tiny C program that you can use to get an “accessibility indicator” for any file on the system – it simply tries to open the filename or filenames you put on the command line, and reports the Windows error code if the file couldn’t be opened up for read access.

(The code below is in the public domain so you can do what you like with it, but you use it at your own risk.)

Let’s try again from a non-elevated command prompt, where we’re running as a regular user:

Seeing Error 0x20 means that the program was allowed to have a go at opening the file, and failed at that point, instead of being blocked from even trying to access the file in the first place.

You need to be Administrator, and to make the following security change:

In other words, any unprivileged user could just read out data such as your Windows access control secrets or password hashes from the shadow copies instead.

(A restore point is like an online snapshot or temporary backup that you can use to “rewind” your hard disk’s contents and recover an older version of your system if something breaks, for example after an update that didn’t work out.)

Restore points may have been made by IT at various times; also, system upgrades and even some security software may create restore points automatically for their own use.

We’ve got one shadow copy (we created it on purpose for this article), as you can see here:

Using a non-Administrator command prompt, we get:

Microsoft’s official workaround is fairly easy:

Of course, as Microsoft wryly notes, “Deleting shadow copies could impact restore operations, including the ability to restore data with third-party backup applications.

That’s one reason why ransomware crooks almost always delete all your restore points just before they trash your network, to make recovery slower and harder.

In case you’re wondering, the quick way to zap all your restore points is to use the following command as an Administrator:

But we’ve not tried doing that, and we’re not sure if a restore point would still work properly if you modified its contents “unofficially” in this way, so we’re not going to recommend it.

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You might as well address this one on your home computer if you can… this isn’t so much a vector for getting infected (where crooks could implant malware in the first place), but it’s a nasty trick by which a crook who has already got a foothold on your computer by some other means (e.g. phishing, browser bug, rogue attachment) might grant themselves the keys to the whole castle and therefore make a bad attack much worse, or extend their criminal reach from your laptop to other users or devices on your network.

A castle doesn’t have to be large and extensive to be valuable and important!

System restore points aren’t offline backups like the ones you might make to an external drive. They backup large parts of your system onto the local drive so you can “unroll” or “rewind” to known-good points, for example after a failed update.

The problem with relying on restore points as a general backup method is that you can’t unplug them and keep them safe in the cupboard in case you need to restore your data to a completely different computer (e.g. if your usual one gets lost, damaged or stolen), and the files are sitting there along with all your other files where criminals who want to do you harm can delete them deliberately. Ransomware criminals, notably, wipe out your restore points before scrambling your files, thus making recovery that bit harder.

If you are serious about protectinng your most criticial data, I recommend not relying on “online/on-computer” backups. There’s a 3-2-1 rule that says to aim for 3 copies of your data at any time (the live one and two backup copies), using 2 different technologies (e.g. cloud and removable drive) so that if one turns out to have a bug or problem the other is unlikely to share it, and keep 1 of them offline and ideally offsite (if you have a backup program that lets you encrypt your backups then you could just consider leaving a USB disk at a friend’s house, and keeping a drive for them in return).

I am not an expert in non-business-grade Windows backup utilities – it’s best to find a trustworthy friend and ask them to share their experiences – so I can’t really advise. Mac users may pay a bit more for Apple’s laptop products, but they all come with FileVault (can encrypt both local and removable drives) and Time Machine (easy-to-use backup utility) built in. On Windows, the non-Enterprise versions don’t have the same features as the Enterprise ones…

How to do a clean install of Windows 11

Tom's Guide 21 July, 2021 - 08:53am

Here’s how to do a clean install of Windows 11 without becoming a Windows Insider

However, this method only allows you to upgrade to Windows 11 from your current Windows 10 installation. Although upgrading preserves all your files, settings, and programs, it also means that any junk, broken registry entries and performance issues will be transferred to your new setup. 

Performing a clean install, in contrast, gives you a completely fresh start with Windows 11, and ensures that it runs as smoothly as possible. You can either install the new operating system on a spare PC, or on a partition on your current hard drive, so you won’t overwrite important files or lose access to Windows 10.

There’s been a lot of controversy about Windows 11 requirements, with Microsoft deeming many processors incompatible with the new operating system. The good news is that preview releases of Windows 11 can be installed despite the restrictions, and will work for the moment, at least.

The only official way to test drive Windows 11 is to sign up for the Windows Insider Program and upgrade from Windows 10. Microsoft has yet to release ISO files of the new operating system that can be downloaded and installed individually.

Fortunately, if you want to clean install Windows 11, it is possible to download ISOs of the latest preview builds from a third-party website called UU Dump. This is a safe, trustworthy source, and you don't even need to register with the site.

Here we show you how to clean install Windows 11 by downloading the correct ISO file for your PC.

2. Select the most recent version of Windows 11 at the top of the list of releases. At the time of writing, this was Cumulative Update for Windows 11 (10.0.22000.71). 

Choose the “x64” build, rather than “arm64”, unless you have an ARM-powered laptop such as the Microsoft Surface Pro X.

3. Click Next on the following page and select the edition of Windows 11 you want to clean install. We chose Windows Home, because that’s the version we’re running on our laptop. Click Next again to confirm.

Click the "Create a download package" button to download a ZIP file containing the Windows 11 setup files. 

Once you’ve downloaded the latest Windows 11 build, you’ll need to install the required files to create an ISO disk image of the operating system. The package you downloaded from UU Dump will do the hard work for you.

Here we explain how to perform the ISO creation process and why you’ll need to be patient to get your clean install of Windows 11.

1. Open the downloaded ZIP file and extract its contents to a folder on your PC. The default folder will have a very long name and be located in your Downloads folder, so you may want to create a dedicated folder on your Desktop for easier access. 

We’ve called our folder “win11iso”. Make sure your folder doesn’t have any spaces in its name, as this will prevent installation. 

2. Double-click the file in the folder named uup_download_windows. If Windows displays a SmartScreen security warning, click More info and choose Run anyway (the file is completely safe to run.)

3. A command prompt window will now open and start downloading all the installation files required to create the Windows 11 ISO. 

Be warned that this can take a long time, and may hang for a while: we waited for over an hour on our HP laptop.

4. Once all the files are downloaded, the ISO file should be created automatically. Press 0 on your keyboard to close the command prompt window and look in the setup files folder from step 1. 

You should see the new ISO disc image file in the same folder as the uup_download_windows file you double-clicked in step 2.

Now comes the tricky task of creating a bootable install disk from the Windows 11 ISO file. You’ll need a USB stick with at least 8GB of storage space on it.

Usually, we’d recommend using the excellent free program Rufus to create the bootable USB drive, but sadly Microsoft has made this difficult, in fact impossible, with Windows 11.

If you try to burn the Windows 11 ISO to a USB stick using Rufus or a similar program, it will create an NTFS-formatted drive rather than a FAT32-formatted one. This is because the Windows 11 installation file is larger than 4GB, which is the maximum size supported by FAT32.

To boot into a clean install from an NTFS drive, you’ll need to disable your PC’s Secure Boot feature, and Windows 11 won’t run without Secure Boot being enabled. Luckily, there is a workaround, as we’ll explain below.

1. Insert your USB stick and make sure there’s nothing important stored on it, as all data will need to be erased to create the bootable install disk. 

Open the Disk Management Tool by typing “disk partition” into the Start menu search box and selecting "Create and format disk partitions."

2. Select your USB stick in the list of drives, then right-click each of its partitions in the bottom section of the window and choose Delete Volume. Click Yes when asked if you’re sure you want to continue.

3. Next, right-click the USB stick’s empty space and choose New Simple Volume. Create a new partition that’s 1GB in size and format it as FAT32

Create a second partition that uses the remaining space on the drive and format it as NTFS.  

4. Once this is done, go back to the Windows 11 folder, right-click the ISO file and choose Mount.  

5. When the ISO folder opens, copy all the files and folders, except the "sources" folder, to the FAT32 partition on the USB drive

Create an empty folder called "sources" on this FAT32 partition and copy the “boot.wim” file from the original "sources" folder into it. 

6. Now copy all the files and folders from the ISO, including those you copied before, to the NTFS partition of the USB stick

This can take a while, but once complete, you should (finally!) have a bootable install disk for Windows 11.

With that difficult part out of the way, you can now perform your clean install of Windows 11 from the bootable install disk on your USB stick, so make sure it’s inserted in your PC.

In our instructions below, we’ve recommended selecting your USB drive in Windows 10’s Advanced Startup Options, but you could also boot straight from the USB stick by changing the boot order in your system’s BIOS. 

1. Restart your PC into Advanced Startup Options. To do this, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard when you choose Restart from the Power menu. 

Alternatively, open Settings, choose Update & Security, then Recovery, and click "Restart now" under "Advanced start-up". 

2. When the Advanced Startup screen appears, click "Use a device" under "Choose an option."

On the following screen, select the USB stick that you copied the Windows 11 ISO to. As you created two partitions, you’ll see two options: the top one should be the NTFS-formatted partition, so click that. If it doesn’t work, try the other option.

3. The Windows Setup screen will now open. Choose your preferred language, time and currency format, and keyboard and input method from the drop-down menus and click Next. 

On the following screen, click "Install now."

4. You may now be asked to enter your Windows product key. If you have your license key for Windows 10 to hand, type it in, but if not don’t worry: you can just click “I don’t have a product key” to continue.

This will mean losing all files, settings, and applications stored on the installation drive, so make sure you have everything backed up.

6. Select the drive or partition you want to install Windows 11 on. Obviously, make sure you choose the correct one, so you don’t overwrite anything important. Click Next to continue.

7. The clean install of Windows 11 will now begin - at last! Once the installation is complete, you’ll be prompted to restart your PC, so you can enter the exciting new world of Microsoft’s latest operating system.  

Robert Irvine is How-To Editor at Tom's Guide. He has been writing tutorials about software, hardware, websites and other tech topics since the days of dial-up modems, and was previously the editor of Web User magazine. Robert enjoys cooking, and makes a mean sausage casserole, but is definitely not the celebrity chef of the same name.

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