Blunder burns unicorn attack that exploited Windows and Reader

It’s not every day someone develops a malware attack that, with one click, exploits separate zero-day vulnerabilities in two widely different pieces of software. It’s even rarer that a careless mistake burns such a unicorn before it can be used. Researchers say that’s precisely happened to malicious PDF document designed to target unpatched vulnerabilities in both Adobe Reader and older versions of Microsoft Windows.

Modern applications typically contain “sandboxes” and other defenses that make it much harder for exploits to successfully execute malicious code on computers. When these protections work as intended, attacks that exploit buffer overflows and other common software vulnerabilities result in a simple application crash rather than a potentially catastrophic security event. The defenses require attackers to chain together two or more exploits: one executes malicious code, and a separate exploit allows the code to break out of the sandbox.

A security researcher from antivirus provider Eset recently found a PDF document that bypassed these protections when Reader ran on older Windows versions. It exploited a then-unpatched memory corruption vulnerability, known as a double free, in Reader that made it possible to gain a limited ability to read and write to memory. But to install programs, the PDF still needed a way to bypass the sandbox so that the code could run in more sensitive parts of the OS.

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Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.

The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.

It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.

I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.

I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

In the lab with Xbox’s new Adaptive Controller, which may change gaming forever

A look inside the Xbox Inclusive Tech Lab as they reveal their new controller with improved accessibility. (Captions available.)

REDMOND, Washington—The Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC), slated to launch “later this year,” looks almost incomplete at first glance. The clean, confusing-looking slab, nearly the length and width of an Xbox One S, has no joysticks. The usual selection of Xbox inputs has been reduced down to a few menu buttons, a D-pad, and two black, hand-sized pads.

Don’t let the pared-down design fool you. The XAC is one of the most unique and widely useful control tools Microsoft has ever designed, and it seems poised to change the way many players interact with the games they love.

Sam Machkovech

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Report: Microsoft is going to try to make a cheap Surface tablet… again

Bloomberg reports that Microsoft is going to release a $400, 10-inch, Intel-powered Surface tablet in the second half of the year, in a renewed effort to take on the iPad.

This represents a return to a strategy the company has tried before. The original ARM Surface RT and Surface 2 and the Intel-equipped Surface 3 were all attempts to offer a low(ish) priced tablet operating in the same approximate market as the iPad. None saw any great success, however, and the Surface 3 was discontinued in late 2016. The winner in the Surface line has been the more expensive Surface Pro series: Microsoft found a formula that worked with the Surface Pro 3 and has seen steady sales and a proliferation of copycat devices.

The problem with Surface Pro is the price: the current-generation Surface Pro starts at $799. This makes it a hard sell for markets such as education, where it’s going up against systems such as Apple’s new $329 iPad (sold to schools for $299), and various Chromebooks running Google’s Chrome OS.

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Microsoft Planning Low-Cost Surface Line to Compete With Apple’s $329 iPad

As Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface continue to compete in the tablet market, a new report out today by Bloomberg claims that Microsoft is planning its next tablet line to be lower-cost in an effort to attract people to Surface products who aren’t interested in the more expensive Surface Pro. The move is directly aimed at competing with Apple’s recently launched $329 iPad, and could see Microsoft debut the devices as soon as the second half of 2018.

According to people familiar with the company’s plans, the tablets will be priced at around $400, so they would still be more expensive than Apple’s cheapest options. They will be the first Surface devices to adopt USB-C and rounded edges “like an iPad,” instead of the square corners of the current devices. Storage tiers will include 64GB and 128GB, as well as LTE options, and the devices will feature 10-inch screens.

The Surface Pro


In an effort to make the tablets 20 percent lighter than the high-end $799 Surface Pro, Microsoft is believed to sacrifice battery life by as much as “four hours fewer” than the current generation (13.5 hours for Surface Pro). Not much is known about the insides of the upcoming tablets, but the people said that Intel will supply the main processor and graphics chips.

The devices will continue to have the kickstand for upright typing and video watching seen in current Surface models, and they will run Windows 10 Pro. Ultimately, the company is trying to enter the low-cost market again after previous attempts with the Surface RT in 2012 and the Surface 3 in 2015, which both started at $499 and performed poorly in comparison to the growing Surface Pro line.

Microsoft has struggled to find a high-volume hit with the Surface devices as well as to introduce a flow of new choices to keep growth steady. In the fiscal year that ended last June, Surface revenue declined 2 percent as the company faced lower volume sales owing to an aging Surface Pro line. Revenue rose 32 percent in the most recent quarter, indicating new interest in Microsoft’s hardware.

Apple sold about 44 million iPads that generated almost $20 billion in revenue during the past four quarters. Microsoft’s entire Surface hardware business produced $4.4 billion for the same period.

Microsoft is believed to be looking at Apple’s education-focused iPad launch from earlier in 2018, and the new Surface models “could likewise appeal to students and teachers,” as well as schools that look into buying cheap tablets in bulk. With the cheaper Surface, the company is planning low-cost updates to its keyboard cover, stylus, and mouse. Prices haven’t yet been pinpointed, but as a comparison the current keyboard cover runs for $160.

Apple’s low-cost iPad includes Apple Pencil support, an A10 Fusion chip with 64-bit desktop-class architecture, a Retina display, enhanced cameras, and advanced sensors with a gyroscope and accelerometer, which fuel powerful augmented reality apps through ARKit. Although the iPad is normally $329 for consumers when not on sale, Apple sells it at $299 to schools and says that the tablet was built for mobility and durability for students, sporting an aluminum unibody construction.

Related Roundup: iPad
Buyer’s Guide: iPad (Buy Now)

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Microsoft blocks Windows 10 April 2018 update to some Intel SSDs

The April 2018 update for Windows 10 is now being blocked from installing on systems with certain Intel SSDs.

With the update installed, systems with the Intel SSD 600p Series and Intel SSD Pro 6000p Series devices seem to crash repeatedly during startup. The problem appears to be recoverable insofar as you can hold down F8 and roll back the update. But that’s the only known solution at the time of writing. The issue appears to be unique to Intel’s firmware on the SSD; other devices with the same controllers (but different firmware) do not seem to be having any problems.

Microsoft is now blocking the update from affected systems until a solution is devised.

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Surface Hub 2 coming in 2019, looks amazing

Surface Hub 2 Intro video.

Microsoft gave an early look at its next-generation Surface Hub 2 today. It will go on sale next year, with certain selected customers testing it this year.

Microsoft’s Surface Hub, its conference room computer, was something of a surprise hit. The system has been in short supply since its launch about three years ago, especially in its 84-inch version: its combination of video conferencing and whiteboarding makes it a collaborative tool with few direct competitors.

The central feature of the new system is that it’s a 50.5-inch 4K display with a rotating mount. Instead of the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, the Surface Hub 2 has the same 3:2 ratio of Microsoft’s other Surface systems. Need a larger screen? Up to four Surface Hub 2s can be tiled together in either portrait or landscape mode. The bezels are much narrower to enable this kind of tiling. Even with this much sleeker look, it still contains speakers, a far-field microphone array, and a camera.

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Download and play these Xbox Games Pass titles while you still can

Microsoft’s $10 per month Xbox Games Pass subscription service will be seeing the first significant reduction in its game library at the end of May. That’s when 21 available titles—primarily backward-compatible Xbox 360 games—will be rotating out of the service.

Microsoft has been adding seven to ten games to Games Pass every month since its launch last June, bringing the total number of Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles subscribers can download to over 170. Only a small handful of previously available titles have been removed during that run, including WWE 2K17, NBA 2K17, and Metal Gear Solid V.

Industry watchers (including yours truly) have been referring to Games Pass as a “Netflix for Games” since before its launch. But this is the first real sign that the service will mimic Netflix’s practice of regularly cycling movies and TV shows in and out of its selection month to month. The end of May will represent exactly one year since Games Pass’ full launch, suggesting that expiring year-long licensing agreements with third-party publishers could be behind the latest reductions.

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