Windows Subsystem for Linux adds pop to release, SAC-T sacked, crypto-jacking apps: It's Microsoft's week

Monero? When is this – 2017?

Roundup Yet more Linux love seeped into Windows 10 over the past week, while admins buffed their rings in readiness for servicing changes and miscreants crept around the Microsoft Store.

Linux files in Windows Explorer? What wizardry is this?

As if to further demonstrate that Mr Elbow was having difficulty talking to a more sensitive part of the anatomy, an announcement of 2020's Windows 10 got a tweak that turned a bit of a "meh" skip-ahead build into something altogether more interesting.

If you're a fan of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), that is.

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The update, which is very much preview quality right now, deals with one of the major irritants reported by users of the tool – getting files in and out. Fiddling with files in WSL from Windows carries a risk of corruption and data loss, so Windows-based penguinistas have had to resort to some occasionally convoluted means.

It's something the team behind the OpsView monitor tool for WSL told us they were considering back in 2018.

Instead, the functionality has now turned up in Windows 10 (or the Skip-Ahead 18836 build, at least). After firing up one's distro of choice and entering explorer.exe into the command line, a standard Windows File Explorer window appears, with the distro looking for all the world like a network share.

And – while not mentioned in the announcement and hidden from view in the screenshots – Tux is now present and correct in File Explorer, alongside This PC or Network.

While the code is currently part of the skip-ahead 20H1 branch, Microsoft Program Manager for the thing Craig Loewen assured excited WSL fans that it will crop up in 19H1, due for release in April, if past performance is anything to go by.

Quaintly, he still referred to the next release as 1903, doubtless attracting the ire of Microsoft's version numbering trolls.

Windows Update for Business gets a bit simpler. No, really

Also referring to the upcoming Windows 10 19H1 release as "1903" was Microsoft's John Wilcox in a blog post explaining that the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) – aka SAC-T – of Windows 10 was for the high jump.

It's a refreshing step back from acronym proliferation and a simplification for admins tasked with tracking updates of the OS.

Microsoft has been fiddling with its terminology for the business release process over the years, starting with the Current Branch (CB) and Current Branch for Business (CBB) arrangement back in 2015, which were often interpreted as two separate releases (rather than a statement in time).

The software giant tried to deal with this by creating the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) and Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) with the "Targeted" tag aimed at allowing enterprises to specify devices for validation of a new release before rolling it out more widely.

So far, so confusing.

With the next release of Windows 10, things are getting tidied up, and SAC-T is going away. There will be one SAC to rule them all and admins will simply need to decide how long to defer the release for various devices in the enterprise.

From an end user perspective, things won't change much. Devices that were originally on SAC-T (which was the original release date) will be offered the update once whatever the admin has configured as the deferral period has passed. As a one-time special for 1903/19H1/whatever-they-are-calling-it-today, Microsoft is also slapping on an additional 60 days on top of whatever the deferral was configured as to simulate the delay before the SAC milestone was declared.

In the post-1903 world, admins will need to set up a range of deployment deferral values if they wish to recreate the deployment rings of SAC and SAC-T.

This, of course, only applies to users of Windows Update for Business. Home users are unaffected and will receive updates as and when they are emitted from Redmond. However, from the next version of Windows 10, home users will be given the opportunity to set their own deferral value to up to seven days.

Since the Windows 10 October 2018 Update was pulled less than a week after release, that could turn out to be a lifesaver for some.

Cryptomining in the Microsoft Store

It would seem that obscurity is no defence, as even the little-used Microsoft Store has found itself the subject of attention from miscreants.

Security app vendor Symantec found eight cryptojacking apps in the Microsoft Store that mine the Monero cryptocurrency in the background while users wonder why their CPU usage is mysteriously high.

The free apps, which feature diverse functionality such as downloading YouTube videos or tutorials on efficient use of batteries, run on Windows 10 and the supposedly super-locked-down Windows 10 S Mode.

Of course, the apps don't actually contain the naughty mining code. Instead they grab a coin-mining JavaScript library on launch and get to munching the users' CPU cycles to mine that lovely Monero. The JavaScript itself is injected into the app via Google Tag Manager (GTM) – a legitimate tool, but sadly open to abuse.

And yes, the script itself was a variant of our old friend CoinHive.

Naturally, none of the Progressive Web Applications (PWA) list "Coin Mining" in their descriptions.

Microsoft has yanked the apps from its Store, and Google has pulled the mining JavaScript from GTM. It is unclear how many users were affected since Microsoft doesn't publish installation figures. While there were almost 1,900 ratings for the apps, those can easily be inflated to send the titles up the charts.

Symantec naturally recommended a suitable security app to detect and destroy the nasties, although users would have been swiftly alerted to their presence since a lack of throttling meant they consumed "the majority of the computer's CPU cycles". ®

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