Why the Department of Defense just started deploying Windows 10

The agency will deploy the OS to 4M devices by early next year, the largest enterprise roll-out ever for Windows 10.

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Credit: DobaKung
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Starting this month, the U.S. Department of Defense will start deploying Windows 10 to about 4M devices within the next year. It’s the largest Windows 10 deployment ever, and involves upgrading every laptop and Surface tablet in use at the federal agency. It’s a vote of confidence for an operating system that is already running on 200M devices worldwide, with plans to reach 1B in the next few years.

There are some sobering statistics that are motivating the agency to make the upgrades on such a robust schedule. According to a memo released last November and Microsoft’s own statements, there were an astounding 10 million cyber-attacks on a daily basis in 2012 (the year used for reporting). The DoD spends about $44B each year on cybersecurity and IT to fend off the attacks.

Last week, President Obama announced a comprehensive Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP) to help combat the onslaught. Microsoft is one of the partners the White House announced would help modernize government agencies like the DoD.

So, why Windows 10? As explained in a blog post, the OS has security features that we have not seen before in previous releases. Microsoft Hello and Microsoft Passport both use biometrics like facial recognition to add another security layer for authentication. Enterprise Data Protection works a bit like the Blackberry Balance or Silent Circle Blackphone in that there’s a separation between encrypted business files locked down to meet enterprise security measures and the personal files used by an employee. (This feature is in a testing phase.) Windows 10 has a Secure Boot feature at the chip level that makes sure malware and other agents can’t load before the operating system boots up. Windows Defender is used for anti-virus protection.

It’s an important milestone. The DoD rollout starts this month and will be completed by January of 2017. In my discussions with IT analysts and Windows experts, many large enterprises are currently evaluating Windows 10 as part of their normal deployment cycles, but upgrading 4M devices in one year is a great undertaking even for the government. It might even help IT directors decide to move forward.

What it means for the rest of us is that the OS meets the strictest guidelines possible for a government agency related to encryption, a topic that has only become even more critical given the number of cyberattacks expected this year and the recent news about Apple refusing to help the FBI unlock the iPhone used by the terrorists in San Bernardino. There’s an even greater need for stronger security for authentication and disk encryption. Now, we'll see if the DoD's massive deployment runs smooth.

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