US DoD targets 4m Windows 10 upgrades by 2017 to boost security

  • Liam Tung (CSO Online)
  • 18 February, 2016 08:02

Why should enterprise move to Windows 10? Because it will help fend off hackers, according to the US Department of Defense (DoD).

The department has ordered all DoD agencies on legacy Windows migrate to Windows 10 due to threats from hackers, aiming to move four million machines to Windows 10 within the next year, beginning immediately.

The upgrade will be one of the largest Windows migrations in history and could shape up to be one of the swiftest for a department on that scale.

“This is an unprecedented move for the DoD and the largest enterprise deployment of Windows 10 to date,” said Susie Adams, Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Federal.

The US DoD is a massive organisation, supporting one of the largest IT operations on earth. Given that it is tasked with protecting the US, it is also a prime target for the most sophisticated attackers in the world and threats that are both external and internal, as demonstrated by former CIA contractor, Edward Snowden.

The announcement may help Microsoft’s push for consumers and business to upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft today said that 76 percent of its enterprise and education customers are running active Windows 10 pilots.

The DoD’s aggressive timeline may set an example for other government agencies in the US and around the world. Federal agencies from the US, UK and Australia paid tens of millions to Microsoft last year to support versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer provides security updates to the general public.

To date, 200 million machines have been upgraded to Windows 10, representing 20 percent of the one billion devices Microsoft hopes its OS will be deployed on desktops, tablets and smartphones.

The one-year deadline for the Windows 10 upgrade is a new order handed down from US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, however the directive was flagged to DoD agencies in memo from DoD CIO Terry Halvorsen in November, which told Combatant Commands, Services Agencies and Field Activities to “rapidly deploy the Windows 10 operating system throughout their respective organizations starting in January 2016”.

Halvorsen said those agencies should complete deployment by January 2017 for all systems running legacy Windows.

Microsoft has touted baked-in security in Windows 10 as major advantage over its legacy platforms. It recently boasted that features such as Device Guard, Control Flow Guard, and App Locker meant its enterprise zero-day fall back tool EMET or Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit was largely unnecessary for devices running Windows 10.

Other features include Windows Hello biometric authentication and Microsoft’s anti-malware program, Windows Defender.

DoD may enable these features however the department has its own framework for the secure deployment of Windows in the organisation.

Now that Carter has issued an execution order, each agency in its scope will be responsible for deploying Windows 10 consistent with a secure host baseline that guides that standard desktop framework. The baseline was developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency and the National Security Agency.

DoD agencies within scope will have some flexibility in deploying Windows 10 however the emphasis is on rapid deployment.

According to Halvorsen’s memo, CIOs from these agencies will have the authority to waiver implementations of Windows 10 for up to one year and after that any deviations from the plan will need to be approved by the DoD CIO.

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