by Shane O'Neill

Windows 7 Challenge: Secure an Insecure Mobile Workforce

Apr 21, 20093 mins
Data Center

Most of the Windows 7 talk lately has been about the upcoming release candidate and how Windows 7 will run on netbooks.

But with RSA beginning this week in San Francisco, Microsoft has been beating the drum about Windows 7 and security and how the OS was designed to protect a workplace that bears little resemblance to the one during which Windows XP debuted in 2001.

The big difference now is that a business has to protect more mobile and remote workers because so many employees now travel with laptops or work at home or in branch offices. At the same time, IT managers need to easily manage and set policies for these devices.

During its Windows 7 research, Microsoft surveyed 4,000 customers and, not surprisingly, their top concerns were risk management, compliance and mobility.

“Securing an enterprise now is a whole new ballgame,” said Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Windows Product Management, in a recent interview.

In Windows XP’s early days, mobile and wireless workers were in the minority and did not have an impact on IT decision-making. Now, according to Microsoft, mobile and remote workers make up a 26.8 percent of total workforce and IDC predicts this will increase to 30.4 percent by 2011.

Also, portable laptops are now in the majority. In 2008, laptops made up 55 percent of all devices purchased in the enterprise. “When laptops are the prevalent computing device, there is more risk to loss of corporate data,” says Schuster, adding that Microsoft research has estimated that 12,000 work laptops are lost or stolen each week in U.S. airports.

“Using an older OS in this state of security is like trying to keep a bear out with a picket fence,” says Schuster in a not so subtle reference to Windows XP.

And since 2001, cybercrime has become an even darker science. In 2008, $264 billion was lost by American businesses in Internet scams such as spyware rootkits, denial of service attacks and phishing attacks, according to Microsoft.

With all this in mind, the software giant has a big challenge with Windows 7: create an OS for a workplace that is spreading far beyond corporate headquarters and is also increasingly vulnerable to data breaches.

The features in Windows 7 that Microsoft hopes will meet this challenge include DirectAccess for connection to corporate networks without a VPN, BitLocker and BitLocker To Go for encryption, BranchCache to speed up networks in remote offices and AppLocker to protect users from running unauthorized software. All of these features, available only in Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate versions, have been covered previously by

With RSA as the backdrop, Microsoft has published two new blog posts: one outlining how Microsoft is securing the enterprise with Windows 7 and another that covers how Windows 7 is making mobile workers more secure.

Both posts cover some of the same Windows 7 features such as DirectAccess and BitLocker To Go, but both offer enough new details for IT professionals to judge whether or not Microsoft has truly rethought security for Windows 7.

Let me know what you think?