Microsoft Chrom... Edge hits beta as new browser prepped for biz testing

Where will you stand now that Redmond has raised the web-surfing stakes?


Microsoft has rolled out the first beta version of its Chromium-based Edge web browser.

The pace of development has been quick: Microsoft signalled its intent to rebuild Edge using the Google-sponsored Chromium browser engine in December 2018. In April 2019 preview versions were released, including a Dev channel updated weekly, and a Canary channel updated daily. By May, a download for Mac was added and in June a preview for Windows 7 and 8.

Now the Edge Beta channel has gone live, described by Microsoft Windows Experiences corporate veep Joe Belfiore as "the third and final preview channel which will come online before launch". The Beta release will be updated around every six weeks until general availability.

When will Edge Chromium be generally available? Microsoft insists that it is not date-driven but indicated the team would be pleased with a stable release early in 2020.

The big unknown is whether Chromium-based Edge will be more successful than the current Edge, which has just 2.09 per cent global market share according to Statcounter. Google Chrome stands at 61.88 per cent and Apple's Safari accounts 15.09 per cent. Firefox has just 4.82 per cent, though still well ahead of Edge.

The current Edge has a market share just over 2%

The current Edge has a market share just over 2%

Microsoft believes the new Edge has better chances.

A key reason for the small take-up of the current Edge is incompatibility, giving users a poor experience when they encounter sites which either do not work, or deliver a version of the site designed for legacy browsers. In many cases it would not be difficult for sites to adapt their code for Edge, but they have little incentive to do so, because of the small user base and the ease of directing them to Chrome.

Basing Edge on Chromium should go a long way to solving the problem. Further, availability across a wide range of devices and operating systems means that Edge will at least have the potential to win more market share – though persuading Android users away from Chrome, or Mac and iOS users away from Safari, will be an uphill battle.

Windows 7, though, which still accounts for a large chunk of users especially in business, is a different case, especially when combined with IE Mode, which can open a site in Internet Explorer in an Edge tab.

Chromium-based Edge will let enterprises opt to use Edge across all versions of Windows for the first time, while retaining support for legacy applications that require IE or the Silverlight plug-in. Microsoft argues that IE Mode is better for users than making them use two browsers, and perhaps forgetting to switch at the right moments.

Microsoft is well placed to make Edge the browser that integrates best with Windows, not only with IE Mode, but also with features like Application Guard, which lets you browse in an isolated Hyper-V container for better security on untrusted sites.

Next, Microsoft is aiming to differentiate its browser in a couple of areas. Microsoft is not innocent when it comes to grabbing unnecessary data, but unlike Google its business model is not dependent on advertising. Tracking protection is built in and can be set to Strict, explained as "Blocks the majority of third-party trackers, some sites might break." This is a hard problem, though, and not one that can be solved by browser settings alone.

Privacy options in Chromium Edge

Privacy options in Chromium Edge

Third, the company is hyping productivity features in Edge, like Collections, now publicly available for the first time if you have the Canary channel installed. Collections is an extension that lets you add web pages to a group which appears in a side panel, and then export the data to Word or Excel.

Collections, a productivity feature in the new Edge

Collections, a productivity feature in the new Edge

Why is Microsoft bothering with Edge? It is a good question. The official answer here is to "serve Microsoft's customers well and ... provide mutual benefit for the larger web community while maintaining the marketplace benefits of competitive diversity in the browser ecosystem". You could translate this as not wanting to cede control of the browser entirely to Google, even though it can be argued that using Chromium is already a step in that direction.

This competitive element makes Microsoft's relationship with Google interesting. Belfiore said in today's announcement that "we've contributed more than 1,000 commits to the Chromium project" and insists that it has a healthy collaboration with Google engineers. It remains likely that Google will find ways to give Chrome users the best experience when using Google services. ®


Intel CPU interconnects can be exploited by malware to leak encryption keys and other info, academic study finds

Side-channel ring race 'hard to mitigate with existing defenses'

Chip-busting boffins in America have devised yet another way to filch sensitive data by exploiting Intel's processor design choices.

Doctoral student Riccardo Paccagnella, master's student Licheng Luo, and assistant professor Christopher Fletcher, all from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, delved into the way CPU ring interconnects work, and found they can be abused for side-channel attacks. The upshot is that one application can infer another application's private memory and snoop on the user's key presses.

"It is the first attack to exploit contention on the cross-core interconnect of Intel CPUs," Paccagnella told The Register. "The attack does not rely on sharing memory, cache sets, core-private resources or any specific uncore structures. As a consequence, it is hard to mitigate with existing side channel defenses."

Side-channel attacks, like the 2018 Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, exploit characteristics of modern chip microarchitecture to expose or infer secrets through interaction with a shared computing component or resource.

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SolarWinds just keeps getting worse: New strain of backdoor malware found in probe

Plus: McAfee's in serious trouble over claimed cryptocurrency scam

In brief Another form of malware has been spotted on servers backdoored in the SolarWinds' Orion fiasco.

The strain, identified as SUNSHUTTLE by FireEye, is a second-stage backdoor written in Go which uses HTTPS to communicate with a command-and-control server for data exfiltration, adding new code as needed. Someone based in the US, perhaps at an infected organization, uploaded the malware to a public malware repository in August last year for analysis, well before the cyber-spying campaign became public.

Brandon Wales, acting director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, warned it could take 18 months to clean up this mess, and that's looking increasingly likely.

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Linus Torvalds issues early Linux Kernel update to fix swapfile SNAFU

‘Subtle and very nasty bug’ meant 5.12 rc1 could trash entire filesystems

Linux overlord Linus Torvalds has rushed out a new release candidate of Linux 5.12 after the first in the new series was found to include a ‘subtle and very nasty bug’ that was so serious he marked rc1 as unsuitable for use.

“We had a very innocuous code cleanup and simplification that raised no red flags at all, but had a subtle and very nasty bug in it: swap files stopped working right. And they stopped working in a particularly bad way: the offset of the start of the swap file was lost,” Torvalds wrote in a March 3rd post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List.

“Swapping still happened, but it happened to the wrong part of the filesystem, with the obvious catastrophic end results.”

So catastrophic that, as Torvalds explained, “you can end up with a filesystem that is essentially overwritten by random swap data.”

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Remember that day in March 2020 when you were asked to get the business working from home – tomorrow, if possible? Here's how that worked out

IT pros from orgs large and small tell The Reg the tech delivered, mostly, but couriers and home Wi-Fi suddenly became your problem

Covid Logfile Brianna Haley was given one day to be ready to roll out Zoom for 13,000 users at over 1,000 sites.

Haley* is a project analyst for a large healthcare provider that, as COVID-19 marched across the world in March 2020, realised imminent lockdowns meant it would soon be unable to consult with patients.

And no consultations meant no revenue.

"I got called into a meeting at 7:30 or 8:30 on Monday morning and was told we had to get Zoom done by tomorrow," Haley recalls.

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The torture garden of Microsoft Exchange: Grant us the serenity to accept what they cannot EOL

Time to fix those legacy evils, though.... right?

Column It is the monster which corrupts all it touches. It is an energy-sucking vampire that thrives on the pain it promotes. It cannot be killed, but grows afresh as each manifestation outdoes the last in awfulness and horror. It is Microsoft Exchange and its drooling minion, Outlook.

Let us start with the most numerous of its victims, the end users. Chances are, you are one. You may be numbed by lifelong exposure, your pain receptors and critical faculties burned out though years of corrosion. You might be like me, an habitual avoider whose work requirements periodically force its tentacles back in through the orifices.

I have recently started to use it through its web interface, where it doesn’t update the unread flags, hides attachments, multiplies browser instances, leaves temp files all over my download directory, tangles threads, botches searchers and so on.

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Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a beer: Beware the downloaded patch applied in haste

Let us tell you a tale of the Mailman's Apprentice

Who, Me? The weekend is over and Monday is here. Celebrate your IT prowess with another there-but-for-the-grace confession from the Who, Me? archives.

Our tale, from a reader the Regomiser has elected to dub "Simon", takes us back to the early part of this century and to an anonymous antipodean institution of learning.

Simon was working at the local Student Union (or "guild" as the locals called it), which was having problems with uppity education staff censoring the emissions of students. Simon was therefore commissioned to set up a fully independent newsletter.

"We had scored access to the Oracle user database," he said, "but only via the awful Filemaker Mac database. So I built a bridge to export it out to MySQL.

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US National Security Council urges review of Exchange Servers in wake of Hafnium attack

Don't just patch, check for p0wnage, says top natsec team

The Biden administration has urged users of Microsoft's Exchange mail and messaging server to ensure they have not fallen victim to the recently-detected "Hafnium" attack on Exchange Server that Microsoft says originated in China.

Microsoft revealed the attack last week and released Exchange security updates.

The Biden administration’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) followed up with a March 5 general advisory encouraging upgrades to on-premises Exchange environments. Another advisory on 6 March upped the ante as follows:

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Delayed, overbudget and broken. Of course Microsoft's finest would be found in NASA's Orion

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream (as Windows crashes again)

BORK!BORK!BORK! Getting astronauts to the Moon or Mars is the least of NASA's problems. Persuading Microsoft Windows not to fall over along the way is apparently a far greater challenge.

Spotted by Register reader Scott during a visit to the otherwise excellent Space Center Houston, there is something all too real lurking within the mock-up of the Orion capsule in which NASA hopes to send its astronauts for jaunts beyond low Earth orbit.

Clutched in the hand of a mannequin posed in the capsule's hatch is a reminder of both how old space tech tends to be and a warning for space-farers intending to take Microsoft's finest out for a spin.

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NASA shows Mars that humans can drive a remote control space tank at .01 km/h

Perseverance takes first drive around landing spot named in honor of seminal sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler

NASA’s Perseverance rover trekked across Mars for the first time last Thursday, March 4, 2021.

The vehicle went four whole meters forward, turned 150 degrees to the left, then moved another two-and-a-half meters. The entire drive covered a whopping 6.5 m (21.3 feet) across Martian terrain. The journey took about 33 minutes.

The Register ran that through a calculator and deduces the nuclear powered laser-equipped space tank, aka Perseverance, sped along at the astounding velocity of .01km/h, quite a comedown from the 19,310 km/h at which it entered the red planet’s atmosphere.

In a press release, NASA said:

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University of the Highlands and Islands shuts down campuses as it deals with 'ongoing cyber incident'

Ten letters, starts with R, ends with E, three syllables

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in Scotland is fending off "an ongoing cyber incident" that has shut down its campuses.

In a message to students and staff yesterday afternoon, the institution, which spans 13 locations across the northernmost part of the UK, warned that "most services" – including its Brightspace virtual learning environment – were affected.

"We are currently working to isolate and minimise impact from this incident with assistance from external partners. We do not believe personal data has been affected," said the university, adding: "The source of the incident is not yet known."

An email sent to students and published on UHI's website said that its Office 365, Cisco Webex, OneDrive, Teams, and email services, among others, were not affected by the apparent intrusion. Administrators reiterated they didn't believe personal data had been affected.

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