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TechEd 2012: Windows 8 tablets can be for the enterprise, too, Microsoft says

Microsoft says Windows RT tablets have management, security businesses need

By , Network World
June 13, 2012 09:39 AM ET

Network World - ORLANDO -- Low-power Windows 8 tablets will have features consumers want, and with a little effort can be adapted to use in corporate networks, too, IT pros were told at a TechEd 2012 educational session.

These Windows RT devices that run on ARM processors boast long battery life, suitability for cloud applications, and playing games and music, says Hiroshi Sakakibara, a senior product marketing manager for Microsoft who addressed the session, making them attractive to consumers.

But convincing IT staff that they're a good idea isn't that easy. "Whenever we talk to the IT department we get a mixed response," he says.

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That's because corporate decision makers are worried about securing and managing the devices in a business setting. But there are enough tools available to make Windows RT useful for some corporate work, he says.

Windows RT is a bundle of hardware and software that lacks some of the features of full Windows 8 devices, notably the ability to run traditional x86 applications - in other words traditional business applications. But they can still serve useful business functions, he says.

Despite their potential usefulness, IT may have restricted access to them given that the devices may be owned by employees who want to use them for work. That makes it challenging to secure them and manage them to a degree that makes them safe to connect with corporate networks.

First, security. Windows RT can connect to corporate networks via secure, built-in VPNs that support L2TP, PPTP, SSP and IPSec protocols. These VPNs can be configured manually or using Windows PowerShell scripts to automate the process, a good option when configuring more complex features such as multifactor authentication, multi-server VPNs or network access protection, Sakakibara says. Cloud-based tools could also push VPN connections to the devices.

Windows RT supports virtual smart cards, he says, which perform the function of two-factor authentication using the trusted platform module (TPM) chips that will be installed in Windows RT tablets as a stand-in for traditional RSA-style authentication tokens. The TPM holds a credential that Windows recognizes as if it were an authentication token. So if someone steals a password, they still can't gain access to the network unless they possess the machine it is paired with.

Booting Windows RT tablets includes two kinds of protection against malware, secure boot and trusted boot. Secure boot uses the standardized unified extensible firmware interface to ensure the operating system being booted hasn't been corrupted. Trusted boot is a process that loads anti-malware before the operating system boots in order to head off malware that might try to disable it.

Data stored on the devices is encrypted by default.

The operating system supports picture passwords in which users are presented with a picture and have to touch certain areas in certain ways in a certain sequence in order to unlock the machine. Microsoft claims this is more secure than username and password.

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