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Leaking Windows 8: The Story Behind the ‘Security’ Wallpaper

Posted April 24, 2018 | Security | Windows | Windows 8 | Windows 8.1


Today, we live in the golden age of receiving builds of Windows before they are released to the general public. But not that long ago, trading builds was a form of currency that helped establish the underground scene of Windows betas with the darkest days being that of Windows 8.

Why Windows 8? Because Microsoft attempted to keep everything behind closed doors to keep leaks from spoiling their announcements. The holy grail, back in those days, was uncovering the modern-UI or what was later known as the Start screen.

While Microsoft did release a few public betas of Windows 8, it pales in comparison to Windows 10 development where several builds can be released in a single week. But just because there were few public releases of Windows 8 doesn’t mean iterations didn’t find there way outside the walls of Redmond.

The builds, which came from a wide variety of sources, including former employees and a French blogger who coined the term ‘joke on legs’, all had one thing in common, a cryptographic looking wallpaper. For those who were around at the time, it became a bit of a meme of ‘Shh, let’s not leak our hard work’ as each new build found its way to the web.

But one thing remained constant, everyone thought that the wallpaper contained some sort of tracking mechanism to help identify where the builds were coming from and to identify a potential source. The reality, as is often the case, is far more humorous than reality.

In a thread posted on Twitter, Jensen Harris details the story behind this legendary wallpaper and the short version is that ‘fractured Wordoku’ is actually a puzzle and when solved, says ‘Start Me Up‘. This is a reference to the advertising slogan to Windows 95 which introduced the new Start button in Windows.

Even Microsoft employees thought it was a security feature which sent them down their own paths of creating hidden strings to identify leaks. Employees working on the NXE/Kinect experience found a way to embed your console ID in the rings of an Xbox logo to track which consoles were leaking insider information.

For those that were around during this timeline of Windows development, this is a neat bit of info about how a simple wallpaper sent many of us down the wrong rabbit hole to avoid revealing our sources of insider info.

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