Microsoft shuts down phishing sites, accuses Russia of new election meddling

Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Moscow Urban Forum 2018 on July 18, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (credit: Getty Images | Mikhail Svetlov )

Russia has denied any knowledge of a spear phishing attempt that allegedly mimicked the domains of the US Senate and two US-based think tanks.

Russia’s denial came after Microsoft said it detected and shut down the campaign.

“Last week, Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) successfully executed a court order to disrupt and transfer control of six Internet domains created by a group widely associated with the Russian government and known as Strontium, or alternatively Fancy Bear or APT28,” Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote in Microsoft’s announcement Monday. “We have now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group.”

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Microsoft prepares to kill the Windows 8 store: No new apps from November

(credit: Microsoft)

Windows 8.1 dropped out of mainstream support earlier this year, entering the five-year extended support period in which it receives only security fixes. However, Microsoft is still accepting new application submissions to the Windows 8 Store. Submissions for new Windows Phone 8 apps are also currently accepted.

Today, Microsoft announced that this is soon coming to an end. After October 31, new applications will no longer be accepted for distribution through the store.

Updates to existing applications will continue to be supported. However, there’s now an end date for these, too: from July 1, 2023, Microsoft will cease to distribute any updates for Windows 8.1 Store applications. The deadline for Windows Phone 8 is sooner: updates for those apps will end on July 1, 2019.

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Next Windows 10 update nearing completion as it gets its official name

Enlarge (credit: Peter Bright / Flickr)

The last few Windows Insider preview builds of Windows 10 have offered few new features; instead these have focused on fixing bugs.

The latest build, released today, takes a step towards completion: it’s changed the operating system’s version stamp. Until now the previews have called themselves version 1803, the release from earlier this year. Today’s build updates that version label to 1809, showing that Microsoft intends to wrap up its development in September with an October release likely to follow.

Version 1809 will be the last of the five Redstone-codenamed Windows releases. The next release, likely to come in April 2019, is codenamed simply “19H1,” with Microsoft opting for date-based codenames to go with its date-based releases.

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Alexa and Cortana integration starts rolling out today

Enlarge (credit: Amazon)

Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa digital assistants can now talk to each other. The collaboration between the two assistants was announced last year and was originally due to become available by the end of 2017.

Microsoft showed how the integration would work at its Build conference earlier this year, and what’s rolling out today seems little changed from that demo. From a Cortana-native device (a Windows 10 PC, an Xbox, the Harman Kardon speaker), “Hey Cortana, open Alexa” will switch you to speaking to Alexa. From there, you have access to Alexa’s full range of shopping (not that anyone seems to really care about that), music, weather, and so on.

From an Alexa-native device, the opposite incantation—”Alexa, open Cortana”—will open Microsoft’s digital assistant for you to check your calendar, manage your to-do list, or listen to some emails.

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Microsoft nearly banned Gab over post saying Jews should be raised as livestock

Enlarge / The Microsoft logo at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan)

The Microsoft Azure cloud computing service threatened to stop hosting Gab, a self-described “free speech social network,” unless the site deleted two anti-Semitic posts made by a neo-Nazi who previously ran for a US Senate seat.

Gab founder Andrew Torba yesterday posted a screenshot of Microsoft’s notice, which said that Microsoft had “received a complaint of malicious activity” and that Gab must take action within two business days or face the possible “suspension of your deployment(s).”

“Gab’s hosting provider, Microsoft Azure, has given us 48 hours to take action on two posts or they will pull our service and Gab will go down for weeks/months,” the website’s official Twitter account said.

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Windows 10 to get disposable sandboxes for dodgy apps

Enlarge (credit: F Delventhal)

Microsoft is building a new Windows 10 sandboxing feature that will let users run untrusted software in a virtualized environment that’s discarded when the program finishes running.

The new feature was revealed in a bug-hunting quest for members of the Insider program and will carry the name “InPrivate Desktop.” While the quest has now been removed, the instructions outlined the basic system requirements—a Windows 10 Enterprise system with virtualization enabled and adequate disk and memory—and briefly described how it would be used. There will be an InPrivate Desktop app in the store; running it will present a virtualized desktop environment that can be used to run questionable programs and will be destroyed when the window is closed.

While it would, of course, be possible to manually create a virtual machine to run software of dubious merit, InPrivate Desktop will streamline and automate that process, making it painless to run things in a safe environment. There’s some level of integration with the host operating system—the clipboard can be used to transfer data, for example—but one assumes that user data is off limits, preventing data theft, ransomware, and similar nastiness.

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Microsoft adding support for Movies Anywhere, giving away free X-Men movie

Enlarge (credit: Movies Anywhere)

Microsoft’s Movies & TV app for Windows 10 and Xbox now supports the Movies Anywhere service. And for a limited time, if you add your Microsoft account to the Movies Anywhere app, you’ll get a free film.

Movies Anywhere, originally launched by Disney in 2014, brings together movies you’ve bought from a wide range of content providers, including Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu. Rather than having to hunt through different apps (and even different devices) to figure out which service you bought a given film from, Movies Anywhere, means all your films will show up in one app and the app can run on a wide range of devices. The Movies Anywhere app also supports buying from any service that you’ve connected.

Movies Anywhere movies will show up within Microsoft’s Movies & TV apps, even if they were bought on competing platforms. At least, so long as you live in the US, because “anywhere” does not actually mean “anywhere.”

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