Some additional questions have been raised regarding Windows 8 SAS support, and a later deleted by owner separate question was posted about it, too. Since I've already started writing my answer to that question, and Windows 8 has also been mentioned in this thread, I'm thus posting it here. If that deleted question reappears, I'll move my answer there. Hopefully, it will help those that were wondering where SAS went on Windows 8 phones and tablets.
According to Windows 8 Hardware Certification Requirements as mandated by Microsoft:
For Windows 8, the SAS signal is sent when the combination of the
Windows Key button and the Power Button is pressed.
So this is not a case of Secure Attention Key disappearing altogether (on keyboardless devices, others can still use SAS as before), and a combination of two standard hardware buttons Win+Pwr was merely added to the still exisiting Ctrl+Alt+Del combination to better support devices without a hardware keyboard, which is what Windows 8 was also designed for.
Of course, since it's not merely an operating system for portable devices without a physical keyboard, but also desktop computers that wouldn't have these Win+Pwr physical buttons (but they do have a keyboard), the old SAS method was still kept. If, for whatever reasons, you'd like to disable/re-enable this support, this blog (or this) explains how you could achieve that in a few simple steps.
Another related question (or more of a request really) was raised by @Iszi in the Requests for Question of The Week blog posts discussion on IT Security Meta: "I find it especially interesting to discover that Windows & Linux don't necessarily use the same Secure Attention Key. It would be nice if someone could expand a little upon that.". Since I'm already a late-to-the-party bottom feeder on this question here, and nobody can really accuse me of hijacking the rep train  it turned up to be - well, here it goes:
Main difference between the two implementations that I could find is, that the Linux SAK (yes, this is the acronym used in Linux in contrast to the SAS (Secure Attention Sequence) used in Windows) is that the Linux SAK never earned the National Computer Security Center's (NCSC) C2 security rating. Windows NT has:
When NT earned its C2 security rating, NCSC also recognized NT as
meeting two requirements of B-level security: Trusted Path
functionality and Trusted Facility Management functionality. Trusted
Path functionality prevents Trojan horse programs from intercepting a
user's name and password as the user logs on. NT's Trusted Path
functionality exists in the form of its Ctrl+Alt+Del logon-attention
sequence. This sequence of keystrokes, the Secure Attention Sequence
(SAS), causes an NT logon dialog box to pop up, which initializes a
process that helps NT recognize would-be Trojan horses. NT bypasses
any Trojan horse that presents a fake logon dialog when a user enters
the attention sequence.
NT meets the Trusted Facility Management requirement by supporting
separate account roles for administrative functions. For instance, NT
provides separate accounts for administration (Administrators), user
accounts charged with backing up the computer (Backup Operators), and
standard users (Users). Microsoft is reportedly working on a B-level
version of NT, but the company has not made a public statement about
when it might release this version.
But this still doesn't really explain why
SAS. OK, lets dig a little deeper. From Linux 2.4.2 Secure Attention Key (SAK) handling by Andrew Morton we get the following:
From the PC keyboard, Linux has two similar but different ways of
providing SAK. One is the Alt+SysRq+K sequence. You shouldn't use
this sequence. It is only available if the kernel was compiled with
The proper way of generating a SAK is to define the key sequence using
loadkeys. This will work whether or not
sysrq support is compiled
into the kernel.
SAK works correctly when the keyboard is in raw mode. This means that
once defined, SAK will kill a running
X server. If the system is in
run level 5, the
X server will restart. This is what you want to
What key sequence should you use? Well, Ctrl+Alt+Del is used to reboot
the machine. Ctrl+Alt+Backspace is magical to the
It goes on explaining how to create a custom SAK handler, but the main takeaway is that the implementation differs greatly from what can be found in Windows as SAS, and that they might not be implemented at the kernel level, depending on what whether
sysrq support was enabled for the build.
Does this explain the differences in Windows and Linux handling of SAS/SAK? I would say that it does. User tialaramex from LWN.net explains it neatly:
Linux has some rudimentary low-level support for this capability but
it never seems to have ascended into an end user feature of any
consequence. No application can trap the SAK combination because long
before any code runs that lets userspace applications fiddle with the
key presses, the kernel has noticed that the SAK has been pressed and
short-circuited to a path that just handles this special case.
In Windows when you press the SAK it forcibly summons a separate
desktop, which you can think of as being kind of like a separate X
server process. This desktop is "owned" by the System user, roughly
equivalent to Unix root, so anyone with permission to tamper with it
could just have replaced the entire OS kernel or whatever they wanted.
Does it explain why different keyboard sequences were chosen? I'm not sure. It shows why there is more than a single such keyboard sequence in Linux and what the differences between them are (see Andrew Morton's explanation), but I couldn't find a clear answer on why was one chosen over the other and why different kernel builds might use different SAK combinations. I can only suspect that it boils down to personal preference of their respected authors.