Microsoft has finally announced that Windows 11 is now available as a beta version for the first time. Previously, it was only officially available as a relatively buggy developer build from the Windows Insider Program Dev channel. Not that this has prevented it from being an incredibly popular download: Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has said, “more people have downloaded our early builds than any other Windows release or update in the history of our insider program.” With the release of the Windows 11 beta, that popularity looks set to reach new heights. However, there is a downside. That appetite for getting a pre-launch look at the latest Windows operating system release has prompted security researchers at Kaspersky to issue a vital security warning.
Kaspersky security researchers issue fake Windows 11 downloads warning
Not everyone, however, is taking the official route to a Windows 11 preview. For whatever reason, some people don’t want to sign up as a Windows Insider and are instead downloading Windows 11 installers from alternative sources such as torrent sites and dodgy forums. While there’s nothing new in such sites being distribution channels for malware, security researchers at Kaspersky have found some particularly nasty problems with fake Windows 11 installers. In the case of the Windows 11 installers that the Kaspersky researchers looked at, the malicious payloads varied from adware serving at one end of the spectrum to password-stealers and Trojans at the other.
One particular installer was found to open what appeared to be a standard Windows installation wizard when in reality, it was only present to download another installer. The secondary installer, while labelled as a Windows 11 download manager and requiring the user to accept a so-called license agreement, actually dropped a malware bomb: a whole bunch of malware bombs, in fact. The researchers stated that “several hundred infection attempts that used similar Windows 11-related schemes” have already been defeated by Kaspersky products.
How to download the Windows 11 beta
If you want to grab a look at an early version of Windows 11, then you can do so safely thanks to the Windows Insider Program operated by Microsoft. The pre-release testing builds were, until this week, only available for Windows Insiders signed up to the Dev (developer) channel. That changed July 29 when Microsoft released the first beta build of Windows 11. So now you can get hold of what will, hopefully, be a slightly less buggy version through the Windows Insider Beta channel.
MORE FOR YOU
To sign up, all you need to do is head for the update and security section of your Windows settings, where you’ll find the Windows Insider Program registration options. Of course, you will need to be signed in as an administrator to see this, but assuming you are, then hitting the get started button will hand-hold you through the very straightforward process. If you have already joined the Dev channel, Microsoft has confirmed you can, for a short period at least, swap to the Beta channel without requiring a clean install of Windows. You will, however, need to have the proper hardware to install this.
Windows 11 malware risk mitigation
“People don’t have to resign themselves to not getting hold of the pre-release build for fear of falling victim to malware,” Sean Wright, Immersive Labs’ SME application security lead, says. “The easiest thing they can do to protect themselves is to only ever download software from trusted and vetted sources, usually directly from the vendor or official application stores,” he advises. Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist at ESET, goes further and says, “before a genuine release date, it is advised to only play with new software on air-gapped devices with little or no data held on them to mitigate any attached risk.”
For most technically minded people, the testing out of early operating system builds is done using a virtual machine (VM) rather than a system required for day-to-day usage. I’ve had people asking me for hand-holding help in setting up VMs so they can run a Windows 11 build but, with the best will in the world, if you are having trouble with getting your head around a VM, then maybe previewing early OS builds isn’t really for you.
Instead, my advice tends to be to wait a few months more and grab the final preview release, just before Microsoft goes public, from the Windows Insider ‘Release Preview’ channel. That’s the least risky option for most folk who really can’t wait until the proper release, which is due before the end of the year. After all, if the risk of something going wrong is an issue, then grabbing a download from an unofficial source raises that bar significantly. As Moore concludes, “when the beta version of Windows 11 has been acquired from outside the Windows Insider Program, it increases risk dramatically even if the target machine is not connected to anything sensitive.”