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By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft open sources CodeQL queries used in Solorigate investigation
by Usama Jawad
Last week, Microsoft finally completed its Solorigate investigation, concluding that while some code files for Azure, Intune, and Exchange were accessed, no customer data was compromised. The cyberattack had caused major concern around the globe because it targeted the United States' federal departments, the UK, the European Parliament, and thousands of other organizations. Supply chain attacks were executed on SolarWinds, Microsoft, and VMware, with Microsoft President Brad Smith calling it "a moment of reckoning".
Now, Microsoft has open sourced the CodeQL queries that it utilized in the Solorigate investigation.
Image via Kevin Ku from Pexels For those unaware, CodeQL is code analysis engine which depends upon code semantics and syntax. It develops a database built around the model of the compiling code, which can then be queried just like a regular database. It can be used both for static analysis and retroactive inspection of code.
CodeQL queries were used by Microsoft in its Solorigate investigation in order to analyze its code in a scalable manner and pinpoint indicators of compromise (IoCs) and other coding patterns used by Solorigate attackers directly on a code-level.
Microsoft essentially built multiple CodeQL databases from various build pipelines, and then aggregated them in a single infrastructure to enable system-wide querying capabilities. This enabled the firm to detect malicious activity in code within hours of a coding pattern being described.
Given that this is more of a syntactic and semantic technique that depends upon identifying similarities in coding patterns such as the variable names used, Microsoft has emphasized that if you find the same patterns in your own code base, that does not necessarily mean that it's compromised. Multiple programmers can of course have the same coding style.
At the same time, it is also important to remember that a malicious actor is not constrained to a single coding style. Essentially, if the attacker deviates significantly from their usual implant pattern, they would be able to circumvent Microsoft's CodeQL queries. Regarding the syntactic and semantic code pattern identification capabilities of the CodeQL engine, the Redmond tech giant notes that:
More information about using Microsoft's CodeQL queries is available here. You can find out more about how to deploy queries here.
Microsoft Teams will soon use AI to suggest polls to users based on meeting purpose
by Anmol Mehrotra
Microsoft is working on a bunch of new features that will allow users to create polls quickly for Teams meetings based on the purpose of the calls. The Redmond giant plans to use an AI to suggest polls based on the purpose of the meeting. In case you don't remember, Microsoft added support for polls to Teams back in November 2020.
A set of new features were added to Microsoft 365 Roadmap yesterday that will use Forms intelligence service to suggest polls to the users. The company also plans to use historical polls data to improve suggestions for future polls. Not only that, but Microsoft also plans to use Forms intelligence service to make suggestions for the poll options. This should further help users create polls on the go during Teams meetings. Lastly, Microsoft will also allow the poll creator to choose a correct answer for multiple-choice type polls. The correct answer could be a single option or multiple options and will be displayed to the participants after they have cast their votes.
The Redmond giant is also working on helping users manage the polls data. The company will soon add a feature that will create a summary of all the polls used in a meeting and send the report to the organiser and the participants. On the other hand, if a teacher is using the polls feature, the report will be generated after the call and will be shared with the teacher.
All the aforementioned features are currently under development and will roll out in March 2021, with the exception of the ability to define a correct answer(s) which will roll out to Teams users in April 2021.
The Framework Laptop is a modular and upgradable laptop coming this summer
by João Carrasqueira
Most laptops released nowadays, especially ultrabooks and lightweight form factors in general, tend to be hard to repair or upgrade for the consumer. Not only that but once you buy a laptop, it's very likely you're stuck with the ports and components you got at the start.
A San Francisco-based startup called Framework is looking to change that with its announcement of the Framework Laptop (via The Verge). This laptop promises to be not only easily repairable and upgradable, but it's also a fairly high-end machine at that. It's also relatively lightweight, weighing 1.3kg and measuring 15.85mm in thickness.
Out of the box, the Framework Laptop has a 13.5-inch display with 2256x1504 resolution, meaning it has the same 3:2 aspect ratio as Surface devices do. The specs also look promising with Intel's 11th-generation Core processors, along with options for up to 64GB of RAM and 4TB of NVMe storage. There's also a 55Wh battery, a 1080p 60fps webcam with physical switches, Wi-Fi 6E support, and a keyboard with 1.5mm of key travel.
What makes it stand out, though, is its modularity. Framework designed an "Expansion Card" system, where multiple ports on the laptop can be swapped out for something else. There are four bays for these expansion cards, and users can choose to have a USB Type-C port, USB Type-A, an "ultra-fast" storage drive, HDMI, and so on. These expansions can be swapped out to suit the user's preferences.
On top of that, most of the internals are also easily replaceable. Storage, RAM, and the Wi-Fi card are all socketed so they can be replaced, but the entire mainboard of the laptop can also be swapped out as new models come out with newer processors for increased performance. Not only that but parts that are heavily used, like the screen and keyboard, are magnetically attached and can be easily replaced by ordering new ones from Framework's website. Each component will have a QR code that lets users order new parts quickly. To cap it all off, Framework says it will provide an open ecosystem so other companies can create their own modules for the laptop and sell them through the Framework Marketplace.
Customers will have the chance to buy the Framework Laptop as assembled by the company running Windows 10 Home or Pro, or they can order a DIY kit so they can assemble it themselves and install their operating system of choice. In both cases, the laptop will ship with a screwdriver so users can always tinker with it later.
The goal is ultimately to extend the lifespan of consumer electronics by making it so that whole devices aren't thrown away when only a single component is no longer working well. The concept is generally very similar to the Fairphone 3+ we reviewed last year, but that was a phone, and it was a mid-range device at that, while this seems to be a product anyone might actually want to use.
The Framework Laptop is promised for release in the summer, and those interested can sign up to learn more as soon as more information is revealed.
By Abhay V
Microsoft To Do now lets you share lists between personal and work accounts
by Abhay Venkatesh
Microsoft To Do users with personal accounts will now be able to share their lists with enterprise and education accounts, as the Redmond firm today announced that support for external sharing is being made generally available. Interestingly, the Microsoft 365 Roadmap listing notes that the capability to share lists with work accounts was slated to arrive in October last year. However, it is possible that the rollout was a staggered one and is only now available to all users.
The To Do app has for long let users share lists between their personal Microsoft accounts or accounts in the same organization. With this newly added capability, personal account holders will be able to share lists with organizational accounts – considering that the organization’s admin has enabled this feature – which the firm says was a highly requested addition. However, lists cannot be shared the other way around, meaning that work account users will be unable to share their lists with personal accounts.
The feature allows for some interesting use cases, such as when users want to share a quick list that they created on-the-go on their personal device with their work account and want to avoid re-doing the list at work. Additionally, it also opens up the ability for enterprises to allow third parties to share lists with them and keep them updated, reducing the need to follow up via email. With To Do also powering the Tasks experience in Teams, it's also possible that the capability also extends to Teams.
While not explicitly mentioned in the announcement, the feature should be available for users across all platforms – including on the web.
By Rich Woods
Windows 10 is getting rid of the 3D Objects folder soon
by Rich Woods
One of the really big pushes around Windows 10 has been mixed reality. It started six months ahead of the release of the OS, when Microsoft announced HoloLens and a special version of Windows 10 called Windows Holographic. But that wasn't the end of the company's 3D ambitions, because a couple of years later, it actually added the Windows Mixed Reality shell into the OS.
Prior to that, the firm introduced an array of VR headsets that would start at $299, a very low price for the time. And around the same time, Microsoft introduced Paint 3D to Windows 10, and at the time, Paint 3D was actually planned to replace Paint.
Around this time, a folder called 3D Objects was added to the OS, because Microsoft truly believed that consumers would be interested in this stuff. And now, that folder is going away, signaling an end to the giant mixed reality push. The change showed up in yesterday's Windows 10 Insider Preview build (via Windows Latest), which was build 21322.
Sadly, Microsoft's mixed reality plans never took off, at least from a consumer perspective. In the enterprise, customers have found some important use cases for it, as we've seen from products like HoloLens 2 and newer Windows Mixed Reality headsets that are aimed squarely at businesses. But for things like Paint 3D and using the Windows Mixed Reality shell in Windows 10, it turned out that it didn't have the future with consumers that Microsoft thought it would.