In an unlikely turn of events, Microsoft unwittingly provided its Insider resters with a host of new features following a leak of an internal tool for Windows 11 – the StagingTool. The StagingTool, conceived as a staged development application, was purposed to enable Microsoft to activate specific features selectively in Windows 11.
Often used in covert circumstances, this tool plays a crucial role, empowering Microsoft to conduct A/B tests of new features and components with its pool of volunteer testers. However, during one of the Bug Bash events – where Microsoft prompts its Insiders to test particular features to highlight potential bugs – a peculiar piece of software was detected by the user, XenoPanther.
Some quests include a valid link to a staging tool that appears to be like vivetool pic.twitter.com/MUXPzQlbsy
— Xeno (@XenoPanther) August 2, 2023
After a series of investigative ventures, it emerged that this unusual tool was none other than the StagingTool. Particularly fascinating is the fact that this configuration manager allows users to not only analyze a comprehensive list of enabled or disabled hidden features but also offers them the power to activate or deactivate these features.
However, not so long after this discovery, XenoPanther reported that both the Bug Bash and the StagingTool link had been removed from the Internet. Thus, those hoping to get hold of the tool, unfortunately, missed their chance.
Despite this incident likely inducing some blushing amongst Microsoft’s developer troops, it is by no means a catastrophe for the corporation nor a revelation to users. It has long been possible for those keen to enable hidden Insider build features to do so via a third-party app, namely the ViVeTool.
Nonetheless, this occurrence serves as a compelling reminder for both vendors and independent developers to keep a keen eye on what is being released during the testing phase. Even test builds with small groups of users can pave the way to the exposure of unintended data accidentally.
In the case of Microsoft, while seen as minor, it is technically a data leak nonetheless. This incident carries with it potential implications, with the likelihood of much more valuable, or indeed damaging, information falling into the hands of those who perhaps would not have proven so generous with their findings.