New Windows 11 features strengthen security to address evolving cyberthreat landscape

Credit to Author: David Weston| Date: Mon, 20 May 2024 18:00:00 +0000

Ahead of the Microsoft Build 2024 conference, we announced a new class of Windows computers, Copilot+ PC. Alongside this exciting new class of PCs, we are introducing important security features and updates that make Windows 11 more secure for users and organizations and give developers the tools to prioritize security.

Today’s threat landscape is unlike any we’ve seen before. Attacks are growing in speed, scale, and sophistication. In 2015, our identity systems were detecting around 115 password attacks per second. Less than a decade later, that number has surged 3,378% to more than 4,000 password attacks per second.1 This landscape requires stronger and more comprehensive security approaches than ever before, across all devices and technologies we use in our lives both at home and at work.

Cybersecurity at the forefront of all we do

We’ve always had a longstanding commitment to security in Windows. Several years back, when we saw cyberattackers increasingly exploiting hardware, we introduced the Secured-core PC to help secure from chip to cloud and that critical layer of computing.

As we’ve seen identity-based cyberattacks increase at an alarming rate over the years, we’ve expanded our passwordless offerings quickly and broadly. In September 2023, we announced expanded passkey support with cross-device authentication, and have continued to build on that momentum. Earlier this month we announced passkey support for Microsoft consumer accounts and for device-bound passkeys in the Microsoft Authenticator app for iOS and Android users, expanding our support of this industry initiative backed by the FIDO Alliance. Passkeys on Windows are protected by Windows Hello technology that encompasses both Windows Hello and Windows Hello for Business. This latest step builds on nearly a decade of critical work strengthening Windows Hello to give users easier and more secure sign-in options and eliminate points of vulnerability.

Earlier this month we expanded our Secure Future Initiative (SFI), making it clear that we are prioritizing security above all else. SFI, a commitment we shared first in November 2023, prioritizes designing, building, testing, and operating our technology in a way that helps to ensure secure and trustworthy product and service delivery. With these commitments in mind, we’ve not only built new security features into Windows 11, but we’ve also doubled down on security features that will be turned on by default. Our goal remains simple: make it easy to stay safe with Windows. 

Today we are sharing exciting updates that make Windows more secure out of the box, by design and by default.


Windows 11

Create, collaborate, and keep your stuff protected.

Modern, secure hardware

We believe security is a team sport. We are working in close partnership with our Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) partners to complement OEM security features and deliver more secure devices out of the box.

While Secured-core PCs were once considered specialized devices for those handling sensitive data, now Windows users can benefit from enhanced security and AI on one device. We announced that all Copilot+ PCs will be Secured-core PCs, bringing advanced security to both commercial and consumer devices. In addition to the layers of protection in Windows 11, Secured-core PCs provide advanced firmware safeguards and dynamic root-of-trust measurement to help protect from chip to cloud. 

Microsoft Pluton security processor

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Microsoft Pluton security processor will be enabled by default on all Copilot+ PCs. Pluton is a chip-to-cloud security technology—designed by Microsoft and built by silicon partners—with Zero Trust principles at the core. It helps protect credentials, identities, personal data, and encryption keys, making it significantly harder to remove, even if a cyberattacker installs malware or has physical possession of the PC.

All Copilot+ PCs will also ship with Windows Hello Enhanced Sign-in Security (ESS). This provides more secure biometric sign ins and eliminates the need for a password. ESS provides an additional level of security to biometric data by leveraging specialized hardware and software components, such as virtualization-based security (VBS) and Trusted Platform Module 2.0 to help isolate and protect authentication data and secure the channel on which it is communicated. ESS is also available on other compatible Windows 11 devices.

Stay ahead of evolving threats with Windows

To enhance user security from the start, we’re continuously updating security measures and enabling new defaults within Windows.

Windows 11 is designed with layers of security enabled by default, so you can focus on your work, not your security settings. Out-of-the-box features such as credential safeguards, malware shields, and application protection led to a reported 58% drop in security incidents, including a 3.1 times reduction in firmware attacks. In Windows 11, hardware and software work together to help shrink the attack surface, protect system integrity, and shield valuable data.2 

Windows Hello for Business

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Credential and identity theft is a prime focus of cyberattackers. Enabling multifactor authentication with Windows Hello, Windows Hello for Business, and passkeys are effective multifactor authentication solutions. But, as more people enable multifactor authentication, cyberattackers are moving away from simple password-based attacks and focusing energy on other types of credential theft. We have been working to make this more difficult with our latest updates:

  • Local Security Authority protection: Windows has several critical processes to verify a user’s identity, including the Local Security Authority (LSA). LSA authenticates users and verifies Windows sign ins, handling tokens and credentials, such as passwords, that are used for single sign-on to Microsoft accounts and Microsoft Azure services. LSA protection, previously on by default for all new commercial devices, is now also enabled by default for new consumer devices. For users upgrading where it has not previously been enabled, For new consumer devices and for users upgrading where it has not been enabled, LSA protection will enter into a grace period. LSA protection prevents LSA from loading untrusted code and prevents untrusted processes from accessing LSA memory, offering significant protection against credential theft.3 
  • NT LAN Manager (NTLM) deprecation: Deprecating NTLM has been a huge ask from our security community as it will strengthen user authentication, and deprecation is planned in the second half of 2024.
  • Advancing key protection in Windows using VBS: Now available in public preview for Windows Insiders, this feature helps to offer a higher security bar than software isolation, with stronger performance compared to hardware-based solutions, since it is powered by the device’s CPU. While hardware-backed keys offer strong levels of protection, VBS is helpful for services with high security, reliability, and performance requirements.
  • Windows Hello hardening: With Windows Hello technology being extended to protect passkeys, if you are using a device without built-in biometrics, Windows Hello has been further hardened by default to use VBS to isolate credentials, protecting from admin-level attacks.

We have also prioritized helping users know what apps and drivers can be trusted to better protect people from phishing attacks and malware. Windows is both creating new inbox capabilities as well as providing more features for the Windows app developer community to help strengthen app security.

  • Smart App Control: Now available and on by default on select new systems where it can provide an optimal experience, Smart App Control has been enhanced with AI learning. Using an AI model based on the 78 trillion security signals Microsoft collects each day, this feature can predict if an app is safe. The policy keeps common, known-to-be-safe apps running while unknown, malware-connected apps are blocked. This is incredibly effective protection against malware.
  • Trusted Signing: Unsigned apps pose significant risks. In fact, Microsoft research has revealed that a lot of malware comes in the form of unsigned apps. The best way to ensure seamless compatibility with Smart App Control is with signing of your app. Signing contributes to its trustworthiness and helps ensure that an existing “good reputation” will be inherited by future app updates, making it less likely to be blocked inadvertently by threat detection systems. Recently moved into public preview, trusted signing makes this process simpler by managing every aspect of the certificate lifecycle. And it integrates with popular development tooling like Azure DevOps and GitHub.
  • Win32 app isolation: A new security feature, currently in preview, Win32 app isolation makes it easier for Windows app developers to contain damage and safeguard user privacy choices in the event of an application compromise. Win32 app isolation is built on the foundation of AppContainers, which offer a security boundary, and components that virtualize resources and provide brokered access to other resources—like printer, registry, and file access. Win32 app isolation is close to general availability thanks to feedback from our developer community. App developers can now use Win32 app isolation with seamless Visual Studio integration.
  • Making admin users more secure: Most people run as full admins on their devices, which means apps and services have the same access to the kernel and other critical services as users. And the problem is that these apps and services can access critical resources without the user knowing. This is why Windows is being updated to require just in time administrative access to the kernel and other critical services as needed, not all the time, and certainly not by default. This makes it harder for an app to unexpectedly abuse admin privileges and secretly put malware or malicious code on Windows. When this feature is enabled, such as when an app needs special permissions like admin rights, you’ll be asked for approval. When an approval is needed, Windows Hello provides a secure and easy way to approve or deny these requests, giving you, and only you, full control over your device. Currently in private preview, this will be available in public preview soon. 
  • VBS enclaves: Previously available to Windows security features only, VBS enclaves are now available to third-party application developers. This software-based trusted executive environment within a host application’s address space offers deep operating system protection of sensitive workloads, like data decryption. Try the VBS enclave APIs to experience how the enclave is shielded from both other system processes and the host application itself. This results in more security for your sensitive workloads.

As we see cyberattackers come up with new strategies and targets, we continue to harden Windows code to address where bad actors are spending their time and energy.

  • Windows Protected Print: In late 2023, we launched Windows Protected Print Mode to build a more modern and secure print system that maximizes compatibility and puts users first. This will be the default print mode in the future.
  • Tool tips: In the past, tool tips have been exploited, leading to unauthorized access to memory. In older Windows versions, tool tips were managed as a single window for each desktop, established by the kernel and recycled for displaying any tool tip. We are revamping how tool tips work to be more secure for users. With the updated approach, the responsibility for managing the lifecycle of tool tips has been transferred to the respective application that is being used. Now, the kernel monitors cursor activity and initiates countdowns for the display and concealment of tool tip windows. When these countdowns conclude, the kernel notifies the user-level environment to either generate or eliminate a tool tip window.
  • TLS server authentication: TLS (transport layer security) server authentication certificates verify the server’s identity to a client and ensure secure connections. While 1024-bit RSA encryption keys were previously supported, advancements in computing power and cryptanalysis require that Windows no longer trust these weak key lengths by default. As a result, TLS certificates with RSA keys less than 2048 bits chaining to roots in the Microsoft Trusted Root Program will not be trusted.

Lastly, with each Windows release we add more levers for commercial customers to lock down Windows within their environment.

  • Config Refresh: Config Refresh allows administrators to set a schedule for devices to reapply policy settings without needing to check in to Microsoft Intune or other mobile device management vendors, helping to ensure settings remain as configured by the IT admin. It can be set to refresh every 90 minutes by default or as frequently as every 30 minutes. There is also an option to pause Config Refresh for a configurable period, useful for troubleshooting or maintenance, after which it will automatically resume or can be manually reactivated by an administrator.
  • Firewall: The Firewall Configuration Service Provider (CSP) in Windows now enforces an all-or-nothing application of firewall rules from each atomic block of rules. Previously, if the CSP encountered an issue with applying any rule from a block, the CSP would not only stop that rule, but also would cease to process subsequent rules, leaving a potential security gap with partially deployed rule blocks. Now, if any rule in the block cannot be applied successfully to the device, the CSP will stop processing subsequent rule and all rules from that same atomic block will be rolled back, eliminating the ambiguity of partially deployed rule blocks.
  • Personal Data Encryption (PDE): PDE enhances security by encrypting data and only decrypting it when the user unlocks their PC using Windows Hello for Business. PDE enables two levels of data protection. Level 1, where data remains encrypted until the PC is first unlocked; or Level 2, where files are encrypted whenever the PC is locked. PDE complements BitLocker’s volume level protection and provides dual-layer encryption for personal or app data when paired with BitLocker. PDE is in preview now and developers can leverage the PDE API to protect their app content, enabling IT admins to manage protection using their mobile device management solution. 
  • Zero Trust DNS: Now in private preview, this feature will natively restrict Windows devices to connect only to approved network destinations by domain name. Outbound IPv4 and IPv6 traffic is blocked and won’t reach the intended destination unless a trusted, protected DNS server resolved it, or an IT admin configures an exception. Plan now to avoid blocking issues by configuring apps and services to use the system DNS resolver.

Explore the new Windows 11 security features

We truly believe that security is a team sport. By partnering with OEMs, app developers and others in the ecosystem—along with helping people to be better at protecting themselves—we are delivering a Windows that is more secure by design and secure by default. The Windows Security Book is available to help you learn more about what makes it easy for users to stay secure with Windows.

Learn more about Windows 11.

To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions, visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us on LinkedIn (Microsoft Security) and X (@MSFTSecurity) for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

1Microsoft Password Guidance, Microsoft Identity Protection Team. 2016.

2Windows 11 Survey Report, Techaisle. February 2022.

3Users can manage their LSA protection state in the Windows Security Application under Device Security -> Core Isolation -> Local Security Authority.

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