Microsoft’s secret weapon in ongoing struggle against Fancy Bear? Trademark law

Enlarge (credit: Harald Deischinger)

On Friday, representatives of the notorious hacking entity known as Fancy Bear failed to appear in a federal court in Virginia to defend themselves against a civil lawsuit brought by Microsoft.

As the Daily Beast first reported on Friday, Microsoft has been waging a quiet battle in court against the threat group, which is believed to be affiliated with the GRU, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency. For now, the company has managed to seize control of 70 domain names, but it’s going after many more.

The idea of the lawsuit, which was filed in August 2016, is to use various federal laws—including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and American trademark law—as a way to seize command-and-control domain names used by the group, which goes by various monikers, including APT28 and Strontium. Many of the domain names used by Fancy Bear contain Microsoft trademarks, like microsoftinfo365.com and hundreds of others.

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Microsoft’s most baffling release yet, Surface Laptop is just a laptop

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After several years of building systems that compete with, but aren’t quite, laptops, Microsoft has built a plain old laptop: the Surface Laptop.

I think there’s a good chance that the Surface Laptop will become Microsoft’s best-selling piece of PC hardware. This is such a straightforward proposition: it’s a regular PC laptop. It has no trickery; no tear-off keyboard, no special hinge, no detachable GPU, none of the other things that have made the Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Studio notable or unusual. It can’t be said any plainer: Surface Laptop is just a PC laptop.

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Microsoft 4Q17: Office 365 revenue surpasses traditional licenses

(credit: Julien GONG Min)

In the fourth quarter of its 2017 financial year, Microsoft posted revenue of $23.3 billion, up 13 percent on a year ago, with an operating income of $5.3 billion (up 73 percent), a net income of $6.5 billion (up 109 percent), and earnings per share of $0.83 (up 112 percent on the same quarter last year).

For the full 2017 financial year, revenue was $90.0 billion (up 5 percent on 2016), operating income was $22.3 billion (up 11 percent), net income was $21.2 billion (up 26 percent), and earnings per share were $3.31 (up 29 percent).

Microsoft currently has three reporting segments: Productivity and Business Processes (covering Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Dynamics), Intelligent Cloud (including Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Enterprise Services), and More Personal Computing (covering Windows, hardware, and Xbox, as well as search and advertising).

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Clover Trail systems won’t get Windows 10 Creators Update, ever

Enlarge / One of the affected Atom processors. (credit: Intel)

Systems using Intel’s Clover Trail Atom processors and running Windows 10 won’t ever receive the Creators Update, or any major Windows 10 updates in future. But in an exception to its normal Windows 10 support policy, Microsoft has said that it will provide security updates to those systems until January 2023.

We wrote earlier this week about the tricky situation of the Clover Trail systems. Those machines shipped with Windows 8 and 8.1 were due to receive software support until 2023. However, the systems were also eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 10. But to receive security fixes on Windows 10, you have to keep pace with the periodic regular major upgrades that Microsoft makes to that operating system. Each of these named releases is only supported for 18 months, after which you have to upgrade, or else you’re cut off from security fixes.

This is a problem for the Clover Trail machines, because those systems are prevented from installing and using the Windows 10 Creators Update, leaving them stuck on last year’s Anniversary Update. Support, including security fixes, for the Anniversary Update is due to end in early 2018. As such, it appeared that upgrading from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 has taken Clover Trail systems from being supported until 2023, to supported until 2018, a five-year regression.

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Windows XP, Vista buried by Blizzard

Enlarge / Appropriately enough, I don’t see the Blizzard Launcher on this familiar Windows XP desktop image…

If you’re using an operating system that’s over a decade old to play Blizzard games, we have some bad news for you. Starting in October, Blizzard says it will “begin the process of ending support for Windows XP and Windows Vista in World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm.”

The fact that Blizzard was still supporting these long-in-the-tooth Microsoft OSes (XP launched in 2001, Vista launched in early 2007) says something about the long tail of low-end hardware that the company targets alongside top-of-the-line modern systems. Though Microsoft dropped mainstream support for Windows XP and Windows Vista years ago—and ceased issuing security fixes for the operating systems in 2014 (with another issued earlier this year)—Blizzard says that a “decent portion of our audience was still using” the platforms long after Microsoft left them for dead. Three major Windows releases later, though, the “vast majority of our audience has upgraded” to a more recent OS, Blizzard says.

Windows XP’s longevity was something of an outlier in the world of PC operating systems, still seeing significant adoption a decade after its launch. When Microsoft finally pulled the plug on mainstream support for the OS in 2014, it was still running on 29 percent of web users’ PCs. Even today, XP commands a surprising 6.4 percent of all desktop web users, according to NetMarketShare, far ahead of Vista’s 0.53 percent.

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Claiming “mistranslation,” Microsoft says even UK will get Fall Creators Update

Enlarge (credit: Gordon Plant)

We wrote on Monday that Microsoft was branding the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update as the “Autumn Creators Update” in countries such as the UK and India, where the season between summer and winter isn’t called “fall.” Microsoft was using this British English branding on its English-language sites where British English prevails over American English.

The company has informed us today that this was a “mistranslation”—yes, between English and English—and that the update will, in fact, be called the “Fall Creators Update” everywhere. The use of British English branding for British English speakers was a mistake.

Similarly, the update will retain this branding for those living in the southern hemisphere, where it isn’t fall or autumn, because it’s spring.

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Windows 10 support could end early on some Intel systems

Enlarge / One of the affected Atom processors. (credit: Intel)

When Microsoft introduced Windows 10 and its “Windows as a Service” model, the company promised Windows users a steady stream of updates to their machines. The days of being stuck on an old version of Windows would be forgotten; once you were on Windows 10, you’d have access to the latest and greatest forever. But that support came with a small footnote: you’d only receive updates for the “supported lifetime of the device” that you were using Windows 10 on.

The old system of Windows development, with substantial paid upgrades every three years or so, had many problems. Not least among those problems was how many people opted to stick with older versions of Windows, which was bad for both system security (old Windows has fewer security protections than new Windows) and software developers (old Windows APIs have wider market share than better, newer ones) alike. But the old system did afford a certain advantage when to hardware support: each new release of Windows represented an opportunity to revise the system specs that Windows demanded. A new major version of Windows could demand more memory, certain processor features, or a particular amount of disk space.

Moreover, if a given version of Windows worked on your hardware, you’d be assured that it would continue to receive security updates for a set period of time, thanks to the 5+5 support policy that Windows had: five years of security and feature updates, followed by five years of security-only updates. Exactly how many years of updates you’d get would, of course, depend on how far through that ten year cycle your purchase was made, but at least the end date was predictable and known ahead of time.

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