Windows 10 Just Made Life Easier for Hackers

laptop-0-WorkingI was actually looking forward to Windows 10. My laptop has 8.1, and my reasons for disliking that operating system are many and varied, so when I heard that Windows 10 was more like Windows 7, I was pretty excited about upgrading. And for free – wow, what a deal! However, the moment my computer did its final boot and I had access to the new operating system, I was extremely angry. Let me explain why.

One of the features I hated most about Windows 8 and 8.1 was the whole OneDrive/SkyDrive thing. Maybe there are some people in the world that are comfortable with having their files floating around in cloud storage. I’m not one of them, personally or professionally. I’m a very private person in my home life, and part of that is because I share a lot of myself publicly through my writing. I want my personal space to be just that…personal. I do not like people or companies having access to information that I have not chosen to give them. Professionally I have a legal obligation to protect the data on my computers. I’ve done corporate taxes for people other than myself, as well as personal taxes, and that information is required (by law no less) to remain confidential. I cannot allow anyone access to that information who does not have a legal right to it, and that means three entities only – myself, my client, and the Canada Revenue Agency. That’s it.

So, here comes Windows 10. Not only does it still have those so-called features, but they are by default turned on. You have to be aware of them. You have to know that they’re turned on. Then you have to go and turn them off manually. The Express Install skips right past all those pesky little details that Microsoft seems to think you shouldn’t worry your pretty little head about. Anyone who doesn’t know a lot about computers, and has installed the update to 10, has probably uploaded all of their files to cloud storage.

You may be thinking that Microsoft is safe. Well, it only took them ten years to admit that there was a major security flaw in Internet Explorer. A couple of years ago there was a big stink in the news when Microsoft finally told people that it had been an ongoing problem and that people should stop using the browser. Just ten years, huh? In the technology world that’s an eon or two. Microsoft is also the company that releases software that has so many flaws that it must constantly be updated for security risks – and those are only the ones they’re aware of. Why do you think your computer has to do updates so often? It’s not to bring you a present. It’s a big old, “Oops, we didn’t notice that was a problem before we released the software.” If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford Apple products, this issue will be mostly unfamiliar to you.

Just recently there was a giant hack and release of information. You’ve probably heard about it, even if it didn’t affect you personally. The whole Ashley Madison fiasco outed a lot of people, including their personal information and credit card data, even with the extra security measures the company charged people to delete their data permanently. Obviously that didn’t work, because those accounts had information released to the public as well. Once something is online, it’s completely vulnerable, no matter what they tell you. In order for you to access your files for backup purposes, they have to remain online 24/7. That means that it’s vulnerable. Not only vulnerable, but all that information (millions of users’ information) is kept in a limited number of places. The hackers know exactly where to look for it, rather than trying to hack individual people’s computers – they can simply focus on Microsoft’s notoriously insecure software.

Any doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist or accountant needs to make sure that there is no information currently on their computer that is protected by law, before they upgrade to Windows 10. By the time you figure out all the settings to turn that stuff off, your files may have already synchronized with the cloud. Once that happens you’ve most likely violated the client confidentiality you’re legally required to uphold.

Now as much as all that might be a serious pain, and a potential legal nightmare, there are settings to turn all of it off. There’s some debate about whether or not that actually works, because apparently personally identifiable information is still being transmitted to Microsoft, even after you’ve turned off all the features that send information to them. Or maybe I should say, “After you think you’ve turned them all off.”

There are some features that people might have some fun playing with. Things like Cortana and Live Tiles that are supposed to analyze things you do, and learn how to help you better…according to Microsoft. What they don’t say is that the information is then fed to Microsoft for targeted advertising. Yup, you read that right. Now you don’t even have to be browsing online to see ads. You can get them right on your regular computer screens. They’re nosy ones, too. They know what you’ve been doing on your computer. They know what you want to buy, and the fact that you might like online porn. They know you’re looking for a car or a microwave. Maybe some people will think this is helpful. In a short-sighted sense it might be. You might find just what you’re looking for with a targeted ad.

Of course, all of that information is gathered into a limited number of places as well, making it much easier for hackers to find and use. With the exception of maintaining client confidentiality, I don’t have a lot to fear from that. Even having my identity stolen wouldn’t do much damage, and I’m pretty careful about that stuff anyway. It would cost someone a lot of money to ruin my life, and I’m not really worth it. I don’t have anything anyone wants badly enough. Still, for me it’s a matter of principle, and a matter of privacy which I value quite highly. For anyone who might be into some unusual stuff, or just stuff they don’t want their neighbour to know about – or their spouse – I’d be hard pressed to recommend Windows 10 as an operating system.

According to the European digital rights organization (EDRi), the terms and conditions for Windows 10 is very loosely-written, with broad language, and it’s about 45 pages long. It takes thirteen different Settings windows to get to all the things you need to turn off to afford you the most privacy, and even that isn’t as effective as it should be.

I honestly tried to give it a chance. I’d been having an issue with Firefox, so I even gave the new browser (Edge) a chance. I was suddenly bombarded with a zillion ads that I’d been able to avoid through the use of AdBlock Plus. Edge doesn’t have extensions capability yet, and there’s no ETA on it, either. That means you can’t install any add-ons like ad-blocking programs. I suddenly lost my citation software (I was using Zotero), and Avast couldn’t monitor my online activities for viruses. Wouldn’t you know it? My browser was hijacked by malware. It would be blatant sarcasm if I told you I was surprised by this. I have both MalwareBytes and Avast running malware protection. I had even turned on the feature within Edge, called SmartScreen. I had every protection enabled on my computer, and redundancies in some cases. Yet somehow a virus snuck through.

Suddenly my computer was yelling at me that I had a virus (yes, in audio), and it would not stop. I couldn’t close the browser without resorting to using the task manager and ending the process. The next time I opened the browser the audio loop began all over again. So, yes, I think having extensions is necessary, particularly in the case of virus protection.

There were quite a few other things that irritated me about the new operating system, too. For one thing, you can’t turn off the updates. You’re forced the get them. The whole offer for Windows 10, where people got the little icon advertising the free update, came through in an update. If you take a moment to consider what that means, you’ll realize that they can do whatever they want to your computer, whenever they choose, just through the update functionality. The problem with that should be obvious. First, it is your computer. It does not belong to Microsoft. Second, it has the potential to actually harm your computer. You might find one day that it isn’t working properly because there’s a software conflict, or maybe it’s forcing the internal hardware to overclock, running at speeds that will burn it out. Suddenly you might find yourself looking for a new computer. No longer having a choice with updates means that you can’t monitor them to make sure they’re going to work on your hardware.

For a lot of people the forced updates might be a good thing, in the sense that they might end up with all kinds of security risks because they don’t know enough to install them. However, there are many people, like myself, who have a background in programming or have been using computers for decades. I really, really do not want Microsoft babysitting me on my own computer. My most recent programming education came from MIT, so to have Microsoft tell me I’m stuck taking whatever they give me, well, that’s a really hard pill to swallow.

I’m sure most people reading this would be unsurprised to know that I’ve since rolled back to Windows 8.1, or that I’ve run multiple virus and malware scans since then to be sure the problem didn’t stay with me. I’m not impressed. Microsoft has done nothing but degrade since the big boss left. They peaked at Windows 7. What makes it worse is that I’ve spent far too many hours trying to fix computer issues I would never have had, if I’d just left my computer well enough alone. Sure, I would still have needed to change my browser to Chrome, now that Firefox has been so glitchy for me, but other than that my computer was doing what it was supposed to do.

What it all boils down to is that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” One day I’ll roll back to Windows 7 probably. Either that or I’ll finally learn to use Ubuntu and steer myself into open-source waters. There are fewer viruses swimming in there, too. Microsoft isn’t the only company heading toward targeted advertising, obviously. Google has been doing it for years. Having online activities monitored just doesn’t seem as bad as having your entire computer monitored. There are no private spaces that way, and I’m starting to feel really crowded.

Rain Stickland
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Rain Stickland

Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer and producer, who is overly fond of ferrets and other furry creatures.
Rain Stickland
Follow Rain
Rain Stickland

About Rain Stickland

Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer and producer, who is overly fond of ferrets and other furry creatures.
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2 Responses to Windows 10 Just Made Life Easier for Hackers

  1. Blaine says:

    Downgrading wont protect you against it all, M$ is pushing the data collection parts down to 7 & 8 http://www.ghacks.net/2015/08/28/microsoft-intensifies-data-collection-on-windows-7-and-8-systems/

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