Windows Vista’s Full Volume Encryption & TPM, part 3: links & background reading

Paul Thurrott indicates that FVE will appear in Enterprise & Ultimate editions of Vista:

Bart DeSmet digs in deep on EFS, TPM, Secure Startup and more:

David Berlind speculates on possible incompatibility between Vista/TPM & virtual machine technology:

George Ou shines light on a potential key export “backdoor” for FVE, and his ideas on why smartcards would be an ideal FVE key storage mechanism:

William Knight vaguely alludes to some proprietary algorithms used in FVE that could lead to “a possibility of in-memory attacks for keys.”

David Berlind speculates again on a possible use of the TPM by Windows Product Activation (totally unconfirmed at this point):

An out-of-date but still “best there is” collection of TPM-related hardware, software and integration information:

And last but not least, Microsoft’s Technical Overview of FVE:

Windows Vista’s Full Volume Encryption & TPM, part 2: FVE on Tablet PC?

OK, so where was I when I last left the TPM topic? Oh yeah

Frankly I don’t know what to think about the state of TPM-backed data encryption. I really *want* to be able to say “yeah baby – your best bet for securing data on a laptop will be Vista’s FVE” (or any other OS-level TPM-backed file encryption option). For a few hours, I actually believed it could be true – not just for an individual, but for any really big organization as well.

However, the past couple of months’ effort has me pretty much convinced otherwise. I’m not exactly optimistic for the prospect of widespread TPM-secured data protection in the near future.

It looks to me like Full Volume Encryption (FVE) in Windows Vista won’t be a viable option for anyone who isn’t prepared to drop a bundle on new computing hardware at the same time. That’s because there’s almost no computers – especially mobile computers – on the market that have a v1.2 TPM.

While I realize that there are other IHV- and ISV-supplied TSS packages to support TPM-backed file encryption, I am mostly focused on Vista FVE for a couple of reasons:

  1. Until a service is provide in-the-box with the OS, my experience with customers is that integrating vendor-specific security software is a huge hassle, and not supportable at scale over shorter periods of time (e.g. 2-3 years).
  2. There’ll often be more than one TPM-enabled package to support – generally, it looks like an organization will have multiple packages, one for every desktop/notebook/tablet/server vendor that integrates a different TPM module.
  3. It’s not clear at this time how the TSS packages are licensed, but I’ll take a SWAG and assume that you’re only licensed to use the TSS package on the system with which it was shipped, and that you’ll have to pay extra to use that package on PCs that were shipped with a different TSS package.
  4. An organization could scrap the bundled software packages entirely and just license a third-party product across the board (e.g. Wave), but the choices are pretty limited from what I’ve seen, and personally (without having had any hands-on experience to support my gut feeling) I don’t know how much confidence I’d have locking my organization’s most prized data up under this – e.g. what’s the enterprise management (archival & recovery, configuration management, identity management) story like?
  5. [Disclosure: I’m a former Microsoft employee, security consultant and spent most of my tenure consulting on EFS, RMS and other security technologies.]

I’ve been in the market for a new laptop for a while, and one of the reasons for my recent obsession with TPM is that (a) any purchase I make now will have to last well beyond the release data of Vista, (b) since I intend to continue to leverage my Windows security expertise, I should really get a computer that supports FVE so I get first-hand knowledge of how it works, and (c) you generally can’t add a TPM chip to a computer after you’ve purchased it (with at least one known exception).

Oh, and I’ve committed myself to the Tablet PC variant, since I am a committed “whiteboard zealot” and I expect to use the freehand drawing capability quite a bit.

So my mission is to find a Tablet PC that meets my “requirements”:

  • TPM v1.2 chip
  • max RAM > 1 GB
  • dedicated video RAM > 32 MB (to support the lunatic Vista graphical improvements)
  • can run from battery for at least three hours a day (e.g. bus rides to and from work, meetings away from my desk)
  • won’t break my wrist if I use it standing up (e.g. weight under 5 lbs)
  • will withstand dropping it once in a while – I’m more than a bit clumsy

I have spent countless hours scouring the Internet for TPM-enabled Tablets. After my intial survey of the PC vendors’ offerings, I figured there’d be at least a couple of options from which to choose. However, the longer I looked, the more bleak it became. Of the major vendors of Tablet PCs (Acer, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Motion and Toshiba), I have so far found exactly ONE Tablet on the market with a v1.2 TPM chip.


And not exactly the industry standard for large enterprise deployment – Gateway!

Did I mention that Windows Vista will require the v1.2 chip to support Secure Startup and Full Volume Encryption?

Oh, and did you hear that Microsoft is trying like h*** to get Tablet PCs in the hands of as many users as possible?

Geez Louise, I even went so far as to contact Fujitsu (who have a really fantastic Tablet with a v1.1 TPM chip) to see if they were sitting on any about-to-be-released v1.2-enabled Tablets, asking them the following:

Could you give me some idea of the following:
– whether Fujitsu is committed to integrating v1.2 TPM chips in their computing products?
– when we can expect to see Tablet PCs with v1.2 TPM chips integrated into them?
– Any planned model or series of Tablets that the v1.2 TPM chips will be used in e.g. Lifebook 4000 series, Slate vs. Convertible, etc.?

And this is the response I got:

We fully intend to continue our support of TPM and transition to v1.2.

However, at this time we can not provide a date as to when this will be available. Fujitsu company policy and NDA agreements with suppliers do not allow us to publicly disclose future plans prior to product launch.

So what’s a guy to think? Right now we’ve got exactly one FVE-ready Tablet on the market, and according to this guy, the big wave of computer upgrades in the business sector may already be passing by. [Let me ignore the fact that I haven’t looked into notebooks yet, and assume that TPM v1.2-equipped notebooks are just as scarce. I’ll check into this further and report back.]

Between now and the shipment of Vista (perhaps October 2006, if you can believe these rumours), less than a year away, am I to believe that hordes of TPM v1.2-equipped PCs will show up on people’s desks? If so, then perhaps there might be a minority of organizations who would consider testing the Vista FVE technology (though I doubt they’d be ready to standardize on it, assuming – rightly – that they’ll have less than a majority of Vista FVE-ready PCs in their organization).

But even if TPM v1.2-equipped PCs were to quickly dominate these organizations, would I feel comfortable urging such organizations to adopt Vista to enable use of FVE to protect their data? I honestly don’t know – I don’t feel a resounding “YES” coming on, but neither do I feel a “NO” building in my gut. Perhaps it’s because I feel like this question won’t be practical for a number of years yet.

By requiring the v1.2 TPM chip for FVE & Secure Startup, I believe that:

  • Third-party TSS packages will get a lot of leeway to take the “organizational standard” position – especially for those TSS packages that also support v1.2 TPM chips
  • Most mid-sized to large organizations won’t be in a position to adopt FVE & SS as their data protection standard until say 2008 or later.

This leaves me wondering what data will be left to protect by then? Given the fact that most organizations are being forced through one regulation or another to encrypt customer-sensitive data, I believe that the next couple of years will be the final window for unencrypted user data to reside on client PCs.

Put another way: if you’re the InfoSec officer in charge of recommended strategies for regulatory compliance & avoiding liability, wouldn’t you rather just encrypt every disk on every “physically insecure” PC throughout the organization? That’s one sure-fire way to know that users haven’t accidentally stored a sensitive file in an unencrypted volume, folder or file. Only then would the organization be able to claim that a lost or stolen PC did not contain unencrypted customer data.

[Now, sure, in 3-5 years there’ll be room to re-evaluate the technology used to maintain protected data on hard drives, and it’s quite possible that by then Vista’s SS & FVE will get the nod from many organizations. Migrating from one highly-technical solution to another is never easy in large orgs, and is pretty scary for small outfits or self-supporting end users, but I’m leaving the door open for the landscape to change beyond my wildest imaginings in the 3-5 year timeframe…]

Does anyone see things differently? Does Vista FVE look like it’ll capture a significant portion of the “data protection” market? I’d really like to be wrong about this – it would suck if the best “free” on-disk data protection technology to come out of Microsoft won’t be practical for the majority until long after they had to commit to another on-disk encryption solution.

Email users getting more Paranoid?

I read an article today about email & phishing, and I’m actually heartened by the same news that the reporter seems to take as pessimistic:
Is it ‘lights out’ for e-mail?

It says that, according to the MailFrontier Phishing IQ Test, email users can correctly identify phishing attempts 82% of the time. They also report that users falsely identify “legitimate” email as a phishing attempt 48% of the time. [Note that this is based on a set of “test” emails, not on the test subjects’ own email inboxes.]

While the writer (Anne Bonaparte, CEO of MailFrontier) seems to believe this means that people’s use of email may be on the decline, I think this is a sign that people are finally treating email as they should: not unlike other forms of spontaneous contact from the outside world.

My wife even forwarded me an email yesterday that looked pretty phishy – an invitation to join a market research survey group, sent by some third party on behalf of Microsoft. Having worked there, my read of it is that it actually *was* legit – I’ve seen plenty of feedback over the years on these marketing-driven email campaigns that – despite all of the good security practices being preached inside Microsoft – still end up looking like they’re a security threat/spam/phishing attempt (when really they’re just poorly-thought-out third-party mass-mailings]. No harm done, just a little twinge on the Paranoid-o-meter, and I really think that’s a good thing.

If someone came up to your door that you’d never met and claimed to be from the IRS and wanted to come in and see your house, would you immediately believe them? What if you got a piece of mail that said it was your bank and that you had to leave your ATM card and PIN # in a mailslot at some odd address?

I for one am glad that people are getting more skeptical about the stuff that floods their inboxes. I live a great deal of my time in my inbox, and I have gotten pretty good at sniffing out illegitimate contact among the hundreds of messages I receive every week. [Fifteen years of jealously guarding my online privacy and trust will do that to a fellow I guess.] I’m glad that others are taking a healthier attitude towards unsolicited email, and I hope this means that they’re wising up that just because someone says something doesn’t immediately make it true.

Personally, I think that people are a little too trusting of people in positions (or illusions) of authority – often believing outright the claims of news reporters, people in uniform, political figures and other “strangers” just because they have the look and mannerisms (or the claimed position) of authority. I will defer to legitimate authority as much as is wise in this day and age (I am a Canadian living in the US, after all), but it disturbs me to think that people around me would have believed any claim that winds up in their inbox.

I think it had to do with the magical nature of computers (for most people) – they don’t know how they work, they don’t understand how fallible the people are that create the hardware & software, and just how riddled with flaws and humanity these whirring beasts really are. It’s like when I tell people about how insecure all the banks are for whom I’ve worked – it shocked me at the first one, and became expected by the third, and now I understand just how thin the ice is on which our finances skate.

Same with email, and thankfully as people have more exposure to it, and see more and more what the latest news report says about what you can and can’t trust, they are starting to see through to the other side of that thin ice, and are treading more carefully.

So what if you delete a few legitimate emails? Your life will rarely end if you don’t get that message – most people, next time they meet up, will nearly always say “Did you get my email?” anyway. Or they’ll re-send the email if they haven’t heard back. Or they too will forget about what they sent, as there’ve been another 200 emails (spam, phishing, and real communications) since the time they sent that email you might’ve inadvertently (or intentionally?) deleted.

It’s a big world, and no email is an island. Especially the ones that promise you a free vacation on one.

P.S. I scored 60% on the Phishing IQ Test II, so what do I know?

I should’ve known I’d be the loner…

You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight. As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.

Batman, the Dark Knight


Neo, the “One”


Captain Jack Sparrow


The Amazing Spider-Man


The Terminator


Indiana Jones




Lara Croft


El Zorro


William Wallace


James Bond, Agent 007


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

VB Express – holy crap, I can successfully code!

I’ve been toying with the notion of learning some “real” coding for years now. No matter how good I get at my expertise(s), and no matter how much demand for infrastructure geeks like me there is, I’ve felt a growing pressure to get some “chops”. Yeah, I can read an API, I can sometimes *follow* a codepath (almost easy in VBScript by now, still brutally hard in a C++ fragment), and I feel comfortable in using tools like Depends.exe, ProcExp.exe. Hell, I even have gotten to *almost* understand what I’m doing when I run a debugger like windbg.exe.

I took a great introductory college course on ASP.NET development from a really good friend a couple of years ago, but didn’t quite finish it (i.e. I didn’t write the final). I’ve had an IDE installed on most of my computers for years now, but didn’t hardly do much more than fire up a sample and feel inadequate.

So a few months back I spotted the Visual Studio Express betas – stripped-down IDEs that are targeted at folks just like me. At first I felt just as inadequate with them as with the full-fledged beasties – I still didn’t really know where to start, and without a good sense of the “vocabulary” of a coding language, I always felt like I was crippled from doing something practical with it. [Sorry, but I’m one of those guys that doesn’t really *learn* the lesson by using artificial dev scenarios that don’t do much more than “Hello World” crap. Maybe that works for a lot of folks, and I’m just broken, I dunno.]

Then I started seeing some really encouraging signs:

  • free training videos targeted at the Absolute Beginner
  • learn-to-code books (e.g. 1, 2) that specifically aim for the Express IDE
  • free online training courses (not just Express-oriented, but they’re there if you want ’em)

And so I took more and more steps to get closer. I got a couple of books out from the library that would give me some fun, easy, quick stuff to play with:

  • Learn Microsoft Visual Basic .NET in a Weekend
  • Visual Basic .NET Weekend Crash Course

And most importantly, I sketched out a design idea for a simple application that I would actually use. [More on that later, when I get some of the cool features working.]

But here’s the kicker: not only was it fairly easy to stumble across the basic code fragments that I would need to make the basics of my app work. Not only did I find that things like the “Me” object were damned intuitive, and some of the new controls (like the Menu Bar Toolstrip) were brilliant for quickly whipping up the stuff I *never* want to have to write from scratch. No, the bit that finally got me to blog about this “dirty secret” of mine was this:

[hmm, uploading the screenshot doesn’t seem to be working.]

I’ve run across an error like this before: “NullReferenceException was unhandled” – “Object reference not set to an instance of an object”. Seen it tons of times, and never knew what to do with it.

So when did they finally know how to translate these errors into English? Now there’s a dialog that includes

Troubleshooting tips:

Use the “new” keyword to create an object instance.

Check to determine if the object is null before calling the method.

Get general help for this exception.

*I* can actually do something with that information. OK, so hell, if I can get past this kind of vague-as-everything error message, I’m figuring this is do-able, and I’ll keep pounding away at this code.

Then I check back to Microsoft’s web site to see the current offerings, and was surprised to be able to download the released version of the Express editions directly off the web. !!!

Well holy freak, this is a pretty good deal – download any one of the Express Edition dev tools and use it free for a YEAR. What? Are you guys nuts? What happened to the 60/90/120-day evals? Won’t this eat into a giant sales opportunity? Must be giving some Marketing guy chills just considering this approach…

Well, call me crazy but I think this is great – give guys like me enough time to actually start using the stuff – long enough that I can actually justify to a manager the cost of buying one of these things.

No, wait – WHAT? [OK, I’m done after this] Seems that if you download ’em before 2006-11-07 (i.e. next year), they’re free to use forever. [which means they’re free from now on, because you *know* that you’ll always be able to dig up a download of them somewhere on the ‘net once they’re out like this.]