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Application Security

9/26/2016
10:00 AM
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Microsoft Launches Windows Defender App Guard For Its Edge Browser

Microsoft debuts a new tool to strengthen security in its Edge browser for Windows Enterprise customers.

Microsoft today at its 2016 Ignite conference in Atlanta announced a new security tool for its Edge browser, Windows Defender Application Guard.

App Guard is part of Microsoft's broader strategy to secure Windows 10 at a time when organizations are increasing their global footprints and business dynamics are evolving, with business users needing to be constantly connected, no matter where they are.

This expectation raises the challenge for businesses already struggling to stay secure, says Rob Lefferts, head of security and engineering for Windows. The average data breach amounts to $12 million and will cost an estimated $3 trillion in lost productivity by 2020.

"We see the browser as one of the primary vectors of attack on systems for enterprise customers, and customers in general," adds Dave Bossio, group product manager for Windows Enterprise and Security.

Businesses' current software investments aren't sufficient to address the sophisticated attacks coming their way, he explains. Microsoft has noticed an uptick in kernel-level attacks, and sandboxing isn't enough to protect users, he notes.

As it currently exists, if a machine is attacked via malware from the browser, the entire device is infected. It’s a significant attack vector that sophisticated hackers can use to get persistent malware onto machines.

App Guard is a virtualization-based security tool that isolates critical processes in Edge so the OS can’t be compromised in a cyberattack. It's designed to protect against a broad range of cybercrime including malware, vulnerabilities, viruses, and zero-day attacks, according to Microsoft.

While other browsers use software-based sandboxes, App Guard isolates the browser and user activity using a hardware-based container, according to Microsoft. This prevents malware from infecting the device and causing damage across the corporate network.

Bossio describes the tool in the context of spearphishing, a popular means of targeting corporate devices and one that’s difficult to train employees to spot. If someone receives a spearphishing email and clicks a bad link, the untrusted page is opened in a new isolated container session. The malware does not go outside the container and is erased after the browsing session is terminated.

Enterprise policies dictate which websites need App Guard protection. Every business has a list of websites; if a site isn’t on the list, App Guard will open a new isolated container session for it. Users will see an indicator if they open a page that requires an untrusted session.

Businesses also have control over content copied and pasted from the isolated container to the host OS. Users can also print to network printers from untrusted sessions.

Microsoft is initially targeting security-conscious enterprise customers with the App Guard rollout. "The technology is something any customer will want, but we want to be thoughtful about how we roll it out," says Bossio.

Windows Defender App Guard is currently undergoing internal testing at Microsoft and will arrive to Windows Insiders in October or November of this year. The final version will launch in 2017 for Windows 10 Enterprise customers as part of the Current Branch for Business update model.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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