Microsoft Updates Windows Analytics To Aid Spectre And Meltdown Response

Microsoft is rolling out new security capabilities to help IT professionals protect corporate fleets of Windows devices against the Spectre and Meltdown processor exploits, via an update to the company's Windows Analytics service.

The update will enable Windows Analytics to report on the status of firmware, operating system and antivirus software, with the aim of allowing IT teams to better assess the security of Windows devices in the face of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities.

[Related: Microsoft Deploys Windows Update To Help Undo Intel's Troubled Spectre Patch]

"A top question we continue to hear from IT professionals around the world is how can they best assess if the Windows devices across their enterprise are protected?" said Terry Myerson, executive vice president for Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, in a blog post Tuesday. "These hardware-based security vulnerabilities are a new challenge for all of us."

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Windows Analytics is used to monitor device health, detect problems and fix issues that arise on Windows Devices. The new updates are available in Windows Analytics for Windows 10, as well as Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows 8.1.

Newly added capabilities in Windows Analytics include the ability to determine whether anti-virus software is compatible with required Windows operating system updates, as well as to determine the Windows security update version that's running on a device. Windows Analytics will also be able to indicate if any Windows security updates have been disabled.

Additionally, Windows Analytics will now report details about which firmware version is installed on a device, and show whether the installed firmware version has the necessary security protections. The status will initially be limited to the list of "approved and available" firmware security updates from Intel, Myerson noted in his blog. "We will be adding other CPU (chipset) partners’ data as it becomes available to Microsoft," he said.

Ric Opal, vice president at Oak Brook, Ill.-based SWC Technology Partners, said that Microsoft's updates to Windows Analytics are "putting a lot of visibility and power into the hands of customers to reduce their risk exposure."

"Anything that Microsoft can do to provide wide-scale visibility to information that is relevant, to protect customers, is important," Opal said. "And the more seamless that they make that, especially between different applications and solutions on their platform, the more value customers are going to receive."

Partners, meanwhile, should be able to "build some very interesting and creative managed services around that capability," he said.

"I applaud [Microsoft] for pushing the envelope here," Opal said. "It's good news for customers, it's good news for partners."

The Spectre and Meltdown processor exploits were revealed at the beginning of January. The vulnerabilities affect chips from multiple vendors, including Intel, AMD and ARM.

The flaws account for three variants of a side-channel analysis security issue in server and PC processors, and could potentially enable hackers to access protected data.

While Intel continues to work on software mitigations for the vulnerabilities, the company has acknowledged that it will take a hardware fix to fully solve the issue for its processors, which is expected to be available toward the end of 2018.