Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Cumulative Updates KB4049370, KB4052231, KB4052232

Microsoft has just released a new batch of cumulative updates for Windows 10, and they include only bug fixes and improvements, with no security patches as it’s typically the case with those published on Patch Tuesday.

While the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (version 1709) isn’t getting any cumulative update this time, three of its predecessors do receive such updates, as it follows: Windows 10 Creators Update (version 1703) – KB4049370, Windows 10 Anniversary Update (version 1607) – KB4052231, and Windows 10 November Update (version 1511) – KB4052232.

First and foremost, each of these updates bumps the version number of the operating system to 15063.675, 14393.1797, and 10586.1177, respectively.

The number of improvements isn’t quite overwhelming, as KB4049370 includes just a bug fix for an issue caused by a previous cumulative update for Windows 10, namely KB4038788. Microsoft says that it was aware the Surface Laptop booted to a black screen after installing this cumulative update and users had to press the power button for a long time to recover, but with this patch, everything should return to normal.

Several known issues

Both KB4052231 and KB4052232 cumulative updates introduce just one fix, as Microsoft describes below:

“Addressed issue where applications based on the Microsoft JET Database Engine (Microsoft Access 2007 and older or non-Microsoft applications) fail when creating or opening Microsoft Excel .xls files. The error message is, ‘Unexpected error from external database driver (1). (Microsoft JET Database Engine).’”

There are known issues with each of the three updates, and in the case of KB4049370, Microsoft says Czech and Arabic languages might be changed to English for Edge browser and other apps. Furthermore, UWP apps with JavaScript and asm.js may stop working, and some users could see a message “Update needs a restart” even after installing the update successfully.

The software giant explains that it’s working on a fix for all known issues, so future cumulative updates should be the one addressing all of the aforementioned problems.

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Google is locking people out of documents, and you should be worried

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2017%2f09%2f12%2f45%2fimageedit 1 4215941138.c3b26By Monica Chin2 hours ago

It turns out that even your private documents can be censored online. This morning, a ton of users reported being locked out of completely innocuous Google Docs for “inappropriate content.”

SEE ALSO: Why Twitter’s 30 million bots are here to stay

Google’s abuse policy prohibits the posting of serious threats, needlessly graphic or violent content, hate speech, harassment, confidential information, pornography, and anything illegal including child exploitation and copyrighted content.

Today, however, multiple users believe that the content they were locked out of did not contain prohibited material. National Geographic reporter Rachael Bale, who was locked out of a draft of a story about wildlife crime, claims that nothing in her document violated Google’s policies. “It’s about legal, but ethically dubious activity,” she tweeted.

A Google spokesperson claims that the lockouts were an error, and that the company has fixed the problem.

“This morning, we made a code push that incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked,” the company told Mashable. “A fix is in place and all users should have access to their docs.”

Google added, “We apologize for the disruption and will put processes in place to prevent this from happening again.”

Still, the incident raises important questions about the control Google Docs users have over their own content. The potential to lose access to an important document because it hasn’t yet been polished to remove certain references or sensitive material has concrete implications for the way Google Docs is used.

For many who work in media and communications, Google Docs serves as a drafting tool, allowing writers and editors to collaborate. And, of course, it’s necessary and important for writers to retain ownership of documents that are early versions of their final product — no matter how raw — so as to put a complete draft through the editorial process.

Nobody should be writing hate speech or death threats in their Google docs — or anywhere.

But if Google’s flagging system is so glitchy as to incorrectly target other content, a Google Docs user on a deadline needs to be on their toes. Bale tweeted that she no longer plans to write in Google Docs. Until Google fully resolves this issue, perhaps other journalists should follow her lead.

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Microsoft to add free premium features to Outlook.com for Office 365 consumer subscribers

Microsoft is adding to Outlook.com for free new ad-free inbox, enhanced malware and phishing protection and larger mailbox sizes. The catch: Users must be Office 365 Home/Premium users to qualify.

Microsoft is starting to roll out to Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal subscribers some premium capabilities for their Outlook.com accounts for free.

outlookcompremiumbenefitsforo365consumers.jpg

Among the features that these users of Microsoft’s consumer-focused Office 365 users are getting right off the bat are ad-free Outlook.com inboxes, enhanced malware and phishing protection for Outlook.com, larger Outlook.com mailbox sizes and free premium customer support.

In order to qualify for these new benefits, Outlook.com users must also be subscribers to either Office 365 Home or Personal. The rollout already has begun but may take about a month for everyone who qualifies to get the new features, according to Microsoft.

For those Outlook.com users who also are Office 365 Home/Personal subscribers, Outlook.com will now be free of banner ads, as well as ads in the message list (a k a “native ads”).

Office 365 Home and Personal subscribers also will automatically will have their Outlook.com attachments scanned for potential malware threats, as well as links checked to try to head off fake sites downloading viruses or malware. One caveat: Users with Connected Accounts that add access to an @gmail.com, @yahoo.com or other third-party account from Outlook.com won’t have these advanced security features applied to these additional accounts.

In terms of mailbox storage limits, Outlook.com users currently get 15 GB of email storage; Office 365 Home and Personal users get 50 GB. Now storage limits will go up to 50 GB for Outlook.com users with mailbox sizes of 12 GB or larger, according to Microsoft’s October 30 blog post announcing all these changes.

Outlook.com users also will get free technical support if they also are Office 365 Home/Personal users.

There’s an accompanying article about these changes with some frequently asked questions (FAQs). Among those questions is a note that anyone who cancels or lets expire an Office 365 Home/Personal subscription will cease getting these premium benefits for their Outlook.com accounts.

Also: These new premium features will not be added to users’ Outlook.com accounts if they are Office 365 business subscribers. This is for Outlook.com users who are Office 365 Personal and Home users only. (Microsoft officials said last week there are currently 28 million active monthly users of Outlook 365 Home and Personal combined.) Office 365 Home, which is for households with one to five usrs, costs $100 per year; Office 365 Personal (for one user) costs $70 per year.

On a related note, the Outlook.com Premium subscription offer is currently closed to new subscribers, but current subscribers are eligible to renew their subscriptions. Microsoft officials don’t say Outlook.com Premium is being killed off, but there are no refunds for those who bought Outlook.com Premium and who now feel like they don’t need it because many of the features in it are now free to them. Once Microsoft figures out a solution for transferring personalized e-mail domains to third-party providers — something it mentions in the FAQ — maybe the company will actually drop Outlook.com Premium. But, again, for now, it’s still a supported service.

Update: I asked Microsoft if the company is killing Outlook.com Premium. And the official answer, from a spokesperson: “Microsoft has no plans to discontinue the standalone subscription for existing subscribers at this time.” No word re: the future.

These new free Outlook.com services will be made automatically for anyone who signed up for Office 365 Personal Home using addresses ending in @outlook.com, @hotmail.com, @live.com and/or @msn.com. More, unspecified premium features are coming to this group of Outlook.com users in the future, officials said.

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Meet Bad Rabbit, the new ransomware that used an NSA exploit to wreak havoc

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Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

2016%2f09%2f16%2f9c%2fhttpsd2mhye01h4nj2n.cloudfront.netmediazgkymde1lzaz.ce8caBy Colin Daileda1 day ago

New week, new ransomware.

A new form of ransomware surfaced in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere this week. Known as Bad Rabbit, it’s employed a leaked NSA exploit to do some of its damage.

SEE ALSO: Paying for antivirus software is mostly BS

Ransomware works by freezing up a computer in an attempt to force the user to pay a fee if they want their machine to be normal again.

The trick for hackers, of course, is how to get the malicious agent onto machines in the first place.

Bad Rabbit does this in a few steps. Here’s how the cybersecurity firm Symantec described it in a post analyzing the ransomware:

“The initial infection method is through drive-by downloads on compromised websites. The malware is disguised as a fake update to Adobe Flash Player. The download originates from a domain named 1dnscontrol[dot]com, although visitors may have been redirected there from another compromised website.”

After the malware’s been installed, according to cybersecurity firm Cisco Talos, “there is an SMB component used for lateral movement and further infection.”

SMB refers to Server Message Block, which is a means by which networked Windows machines share information. Bad Rabbit attacks SMB in several ways, according to Symantec, looking to spread to other vulnerable Windows machines in the same network as the computer on which it was first installed. One of the ways is through an SMB exploit known as EternalRomance, according to Talos and Symantec.

This takes us back to April, when a group of hackers known as the Shadow Brokers dumped a trove of NSA exploits on the internet for anyone to use them, assuming they have the knowledge required. Those exploits pertained to computers running Windows, putting millions of Windows users at risk of ransomware broadsides. Microsoft had actually released patches to ameliorate this and other exploits in March, but folks have to update their computers in order for those patches to take effect, and people looking to use this ransomware surely know that many folks simply never hit update (if you’re running Windows and reading this, make sure to patch up your system if you haven’t already).

“Ransomware is the threat of choice for both its monetary gain as well as destructive nature”

“The distribution of BadRabbit was massive,” a threat intelligence expert at the cybersecurity firm Group-IB wrote on the company’s website, though he noted that the distribution resulted in “much fewer victims” than another recent ransomware attack. The “primary” victims of the attack included “several Ukrainian strategic enterprises” including Odessa International Airport and the metro in Kiev, as well as “federal mass media” in Russia.

Wrapping up its Bad Rabbit analysis, Talos concluded that the world can expect more fast-spreading attacks that strike quickly and are designed “to inflict maximum damage.”

“Ransomware is the threat of choice for both its monetary gain as well as destructive nature,” they wrote. “As long as there is money to be made or destruction to be had these threats are going to continue.”

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Backwards Compatibility On Xbox One Is One Of Microsoft’s Best Ideas, And It Keeps Getting Better

Credit: Microsoft via @h0x0d on Twitter

The original Xbox titles available for Microsoft’s backwards compatibility program.

You’d have a hard time believing them if someone told you about it back in 2013. But here we are, four years into the lifespan of the Xbox One, and Microsoft’s console just got a bunch of new games. Well not new, per se — today is the day that the console gets backwards compatibility for the original Xbox, adding 13 games to a sizeable library of Xbox 360 games. The old Xbox games will come with a higher pixel count, ideally preventing us from ruining our childhood’s too quickly. Ninja Gaiden Black should be able to handle that on its own anyhow.

It’s a bold continuation of one of Microsoft’s best ideas for the Xbox platform, announced like a surprise bombshell at E3 a few years ago and slowly built into a wide library of titles excellent, mediocre and pretty much everything else: it’s a broad-based effort to turn the Xbox 360, Xbox One and now original Xbox libraries into a cross-generational Xbox library that knows no technological bounds. And like Microsoft’s recent efforts to expand crossplay between Xbox, PC and the Nintendo Switch, it feels like one of those straightforward gamer-friendly business decisions that the company didn’t have a great reputation for around the launch of the Xbox One.

But what’s really interesting and instructive about Microsoft’s backwards compatibility program is how the company has gone about selling it. Nostalgia is, of course, big these days: witness the success of Nintendo’s mini SNES and NES Classic Editions. But Microsoft isn’t just capitalizing on nostalgia here. The messaging surrounding these games doesn’t really even try to evoke it, unlike Nintendo’s neon-drenched advertisements for the Classic line. By and large, Microsoft’s message seems to be much simpler: these are your games, these are good games, and now you can play these games on the Xbox One. It makes sense from the company that also owns Windows, where games have been backwards compatible for decades. People don’t necessarily accuse those playing the original StarCraft as being blinded by nostalgia, they acknowledge that people sometimes just want to play games that may have been released a while ago.

Microsoft is slowly building a platform that feels wholly distinct from — and in some way superior to — Sony’s PS4. On the surface, the two machines are nearly the same: they play mostly the same games at nearly the same graphical specifications, and they both have more powerful counterparts designed to handle 4K. But a combination of backwards compatibility and an increasingly robust crossplay concept are really distinguishing the Xbox brand now in some smart ways. It’s unlikely to effect the PS4’s dominance in the short term, but it could slowly change the conversation surrounding video game consoles from something Sony is comfortable with to something that Microsoft is comfortable with, and that could have big implications for how things evolve three or four years from now.

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Smartphones are killing Americans, but nobody’s counting

Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold

a row of wooden benches sitting on top of a bench© Provided by The Next Web

Jennifer Smith doesn’t like the term “accident.” It implies too much chance and too little culpability.

A “crash” killed her mother in 2008, she insists, when her car was broadsided by another vehicle while on her way to pick up cat food. The other driver, a 20-year-old college student, ran a red light while talking on his mobile phone, a distraction that he immediately admitted and cited as the catalyst of the fatal event.

“He was remorseful,” Smith, now 43, said. “He never changed his story.”

Yet in federal records, the death isn’t attributed to distraction or mobile-phone use. It’s just another line item on the grim annual toll taken by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration [NHTSA]—one of 37,262 that year. Three months later, Smith quit her job as a realtor and formed Stopdistractions.org, a nonprofit lobbying and support group. Her intent was to make the tragic loss of her mother an anomaly.

To that end, she has been wildly unsuccessful. Nine years later, the problem of death-by-distraction has gotten much worse.

a screenshot of a cell phone© Provided by The Next Web

Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don’t explain the surge in road deaths.

There are however three big clues, and they don’t rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive. From 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned an iPhone, Android phone, or something comparable rose from 75 percent to 81 percent.

a screenshot of a cell phone© Provided by The Next Web

The second is the changing way in which Americans use their phones while they drive. These days, we’re pretty much done talking. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the order of the day—all activities that require far more attention than simply holding a gadget to your ear or responding to a disembodied voice. By 2015, almost 70 percent of Americans were using their phones to share photos and follow news events via social media. In just two additional years, that figure has jumped to 80 percent.

Finally, the increase in fatalities has been largely among bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians—all of whom are easier to miss from the driver’s seat than, say, a 4,000-pound SUV—especially if you’re glancing up from your phone rather than concentrating on the road. Last year, 5,987 pedestrians were killed by cars in the U.S., almost 1,100 more than in 2014—that’s a 22 percent increase in just two years.

Safety regulators and law enforcement officials certainly understand the danger of taking—or making—a phone call while operating a piece of heavy machinery. They still, however, have no idea just how dangerous it is, because the data just isn’t easily obtained. And as mobile phone traffic continues to shift away from simple voice calls and texts to encrypted social networks, officials increasingly have less of a clue than ever before.

a screenshot of a cell phone© Provided by The Next Web  Out of NHTSA’s full 2015 dataset, only 448 deaths were linked to mobile phones—that’s just 1.4 percent of all traffic fatalities. By that measure, drunk driving is 23 times more deadly than using a phone while driving, though studies have shown that both activities behind the wheel constitute (on average) a similar level of impairment. NHTSA has yet to fully crunch its 2016 data, but the agency said deaths tied to distraction actually declined last year.

There are many reasons to believe mobile phones are far deadlier than NHTSA spreadsheets suggest. Some of the biggest indicators are within the data itself. In more than half of 2015 fatal crashes, motorists were simply going straight down the road—no crossing traffic, rainstorms, or blowouts. Meanwhile, drivers involved in accidents increasingly mowed down things smaller than a Honda Accord, such as pedestrians or cyclists, many of whom occupy the side of the road or the sidewalk next to it. Fatalities increased inordinately among motorcyclists (up 6.2 percent in 2016) and pedestrians (up 9 percent).

“Honestly, I think the real number of fatalities tied to cell phones is at least three times the federal figure,” Jennifer Smith said. “We’re all addicted and the scale of this is unheard of.”

In a recent study (PDF), the nonprofit National Safety Council found only about half of fatal crashes tied to known mobile phone use were coded as such in NHTSA databases. In other words, according to the NSC, NHTSA’s figures for distraction-related death are too low.

Perhaps more telling are the findings of Zendrive Inc., a San Francisco startup that analyzes smartphone data to help insurers of commercial fleets assess safety risks. In a study of 3 million people, it found drivers using their mobile phone during 88 percent of trips. The true number is probably even higher because Zendrive didn’t capture instances when phones were mounted in a fixed position—so-called hands free technology, which is also considered dangerous.

“It’s definitely frightening,” said Jonathan Matus, Zendrive’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “Pretty much everybody is using their phone while driving.”

a screenshot of a cell phone© Provided by The Next Web

There are, by now, myriad technological nannies that freeze smartphone activity. Most notably, a recent version of Apple’s iOS operating system can be configured to keep a phone asleep when its owner is driving and to send an automated text response to incoming messages. However, the “Do Not Disturb” function can be overridden by the person trying to get in touch. More critically, safety advocates note that such systems require an opt-in from the same users who have difficulty ignoring their phones in the first place.

In NHTSA’s defense, its tally of mobile phone-related deaths is only as good as the data it gets from individual states, each of which has its own methods for diagnosing and detailing the cause of a crash. Each state in turn relies on its various municipalities to compile crash metrics—and they often do things differently, too.

The data from each state is compiled from accident reports filed by local police, most of which don’t prompt officers to consider mobile phone distraction as an underlying cause. Only 11 states use reporting forms that contain a field for police to tick-off mobile-phone distraction, while 27 have a space to note distraction in general as a potential cause of the accident.

The fine print seems to make a difference. Tennessee, for example, has one of the most thorough accident report forms in the country, a document that asks police to evaluate both distractions in general and mobile phones in particular. Of the 448 accidents involving a phone in 2015 as reported by NHTSA, 84 occurred in Tennessee. That means, a state with 2 percent of the country’s population accounted for 19 percent of its phone-related driving deaths. As in polling, it really depends on how you ask the question.

Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Christopher Sanchez, a national expert on distracted driving, said many police departments still focus on drinking or drug use when investigating a crash. Also, figuring out whether a mobile phone was in use at the time of a crash is usually is getting trickier every day—proving that it precipitated the event can be even harder to do.

Prosecutors have a similar bias. Currently, it’s illegal for drivers to use a handheld phone at all in 15 states, and texting while driving is specifically barred in 47 states. But getting mobile phone records after a crash typically involves a court order and, and even then, the records may not show much activity beyond a call or text. If police provide solid evidence of speeding, drinking, drugs or some other violation, lawyers won’t bother pursuing distraction as a cause.

“Crash investigators are told to catch up with this technology phenomenon—and it’s hard,” Sanchez said. “Every year new apps are developed that make it even more difficult.” Officers in Arizona and Montana, meanwhile, don’t have to bother, since they allow mobile phone use while you drive. And in Missouri, police only have to monitor drivers under age 21 who pick up their phone while driving.

Like Smith, Emily Stein, 36, lost a parent to the streets. Ever since her father was killed by a distracted driver in 2011, she sometimes finds herself doing unscientific surveys. She’ll sit in front of her home in the suburbs west of Boston and watch how many passing drivers glance down at their phones.

“I tell my local police department: ‘If you come here, sit on my stoop and hand out tickets. You’d generate a lot of revenue,’” she said.

Since forming the Safe Roads Alliance five years ago, Stein talks to the police regularly. “A lot of them say it surpasses drunk driving at this point,” she said. Meanwhile, grieving families and safety advocates such as her are still struggling to pass legislation mandating hands-free-only use of phones while driving—Iowa and Texas just got around to banning texting behind the wheel.

“The argument is always that it’s big government,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “The other issue is that … it’s hard to ban something that we all do, and we know that we want to do.”

“We all know what’s going on, but we don’t have a breathalyzer for a phone”

a man standing in front of a building© Provided by The Next Web

Safety advocates such as Smith say lawmakers, investigators and prosecutors won’t prioritize the danger of mobile phones in vehicles until they are seen as a sizable problem—as big as drinking, say. Yet, it won’t be measured as such until it’s a priority for lawmakers, investigators and prosecutors.

“That’s the catch-22 here,” Smith said. “We all know what’s going on, but we don’t have a breathalyzer for a phone.”

Perhaps the lawmakers who vote against curbing phone use in cars should watch the heart-wrenching 36-minute documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog made on the subject. Laudably, the piece, From One Second to the Next, was bankrolled by the country’s major cellular companies. “It’s not just an accident,” Herzog said of the fatalities. “It’s a new form of culture coming at us, and it’s coming with great vehemence.”

Adkins has watched smartphone culture overtake much of his work in 10 years at the helm of the GHSA, growing increasingly frustrated with the mounting death toll and what he calls clear underreporting of mobile phone fatalities. But he doesn’t think the numbers will come down until a backlash takes hold, one where it’s viewed as shameful to drive while using a phone. Herzog’s documentary, it appears, has had little effect in its four years on YouTube.com. At this point, Adkins is simply holding out for gains in autonomous driving technology.

“I use the cocktail party example,” he explained. “If you’re at a cocktail party and say, ‘I was so hammered the other day, and I got behind the wheel,’ people will be outraged. But if you say the same thing about using a cell phone, it won’t be a big deal. It is still acceptable, and that’s the problem.”


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Microsoft: Windows 10 Fall Creators Update being offered to more users

Microsoft rolls out two Windows 10 feature updates a year. In April, the Creators Update arrived, followed by the Fall Creators Update this month. In order to reduce the number of problems big updates like this can cause users, Microsoft staggers the rollout.

Fans and early adopters get it first, then comes the initial phase, where the update is made available for newer systems, followed by full availability. This, in theory, is a smart move. Microsoft can monitor the rollout, and if things are going smoothly, make the update available to more users. The problem is, with the Creators Update the rollout took forever.

Thankfully, Microsoft appears to have learned its lessons, and is making the latest feature update available to a greater number of users from the get-go.

According to Microsoft’s John Cable, Director of Program Management, Windows Servicing and Delivery, “With this feature update we’ve increased the number of Windows 10 devices we’ve tested in advance with our OEM device and ISV app partners.”

The goal, Cable explains, is “to deliver feature updates to you as quickly as possible, while providing you with the best possible update experience.” He doesn’t reveal how many more users are being offered the upgrade in the initial phase, but one of my computers which took months to get the Creators Update was offered the Fall Creators Update last week (and it’s running fine).

In addition, the download size for feature updates has been reduced. If you upgrade the Creators Update to the Fall Creators Update, differential downloads mean the update will be approximately 25 percent smaller.

The rollout rate will be based on how well the Fall Creators Update performs on those systems which get it. If too many issues get reported, Microsoft will throttle the speed until the problems are fixed, and it’s safe to make it available to more users.

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