If you’re the sort of person who isn’t entirely happy about the idea of Microsoft claiming the right to copy your personal files, photos, emails, chat logs, diary entries, medical records, etc over to their own servers to sell to whoever they want for whatever they can get for your personal data – into markets that already exist for insurance companies to deny you insurance based on algorithmic analysis of your habits or your friends habits or for financial institutions to set your interest rates based on similar criterion, or perhaps even for law enforcement to investigate you without a warrant, then OBVIOUSLY you would never, ever install Windows 10 under any circumstances.
Well, Microsoft seems to have fully jumped on the Google/Facebook gravy train and is now completely invested in stealing your data and selling it to the highest bidder (Apple has been exfiltrating your data for a long time, but so far for internal use). I’ve become more suspect of Microsoft’s updates since they made the Windows 10 advertisement an important (not optional) update (important for what? their bottom line, obviously). Turns out that the latest updates to Windows 7 are pushing Microsoft’s new business model of stealing your data for profit to Windows 7 and 8.
Staying safe is going to require ever more vigilance. It may be possible to block windows components from reaching out to microsoft’s servers at the personal firewall level and certainly it can be done at the corporate firewall level (and should be), but blocking Microsoft is a somewhat complex issue. You can’t run Windows safely without installing security patches because the underlying OS is so completely insecure that new, critical, exploitable flaws are discovered every single week. If you don’t constantly patch these security failures, you will be hacked by people other than microsoft. If you install the wrong microsoft patch, you will be hacked by microsoft. Debian anyone? Also, software developers developing enterprise software, please, please, please stop developing for that horrible, insecure, performance hobbling abomination of a tarted-up single-user OS “Server” and focus on a secure, stable server OS like FreeBSD. Please. I hate, hate having to fork over $1k to microsoft for each box to run their horrible OS just so I can run your software. Why do you support that extortion? Do you despise your customers that much? Stop.
If you care about corporate governance and data security or HIPAA compliance, you are probably violating some critical requirements by installing windows 10 or these new updates to your existing Win7/8 base if you do not block data exfiltration to Microsoft’s servers. This is spyware. These updates are stealing your data and sending it to Microsoft. If your business is subject to data privacy laws, these updates put you in violation of those laws. Microsoft is doing something that is extremely significant and extremely evil and completely wrong. Take action or you may very well be facing personal or corporate consequences. srsly.
I am a strong believer in data privacy and extremely suspect of what I consider highly disingenuous business practices like Google’s but I recognize that there are reasonable people out there who think Google isn’t evil. However, this windows 10 issue, now being pushed to windows 7, goes well beyond Google taking advantage of people’s historical assumptions about the security of email to offer them a free look-alike honey trap to gather their data. Windows 10 and these Win 7 updates are intrusive, not merely misleading. Do not update. Srsly. Do not update. Block the spyware “hotfixes.”
- Russia considers banning windows 10
- Bit torrent trackers ban Windows 10 users
- Windows 10 steals so much data it breaks your data plan and costs you money
- Windows 10 is spyware, plain and simple, including a keylogger.
Stop Gap Fixes
In researching these updates, I came across this article on techworm that has a nice summary of the Malware updates Microsoft is pushing out (with some additional amendments I found):
- KB2952664 (this one reappears no matter how often you unselect it or hide it – so memorize it as evil)
- KB3123862 (new)
- KB3173040 NEW – “final” full screen nag advertisement for Win10 malware
With a whiff of irony, this google search “telemetry site:https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb” shows these patches and many more…
Do not automatically install Microsoft updates. You must turn that feature off or you will keep getting additional spyware installed. Go to windows update and verify your settings. I have mine set so windows downloads the updates (so the updates are waiting locally), but I don’t let windows install them automatically. That gives me a chance to review the updates and look for spyware.
When you get updates, you now have to check each one of them to find out if it is spyware or not. The list above is current as far as I know, but clicking on the “more information” link to the right of the updates list will get you microsoft’s marketing speak obfuscation of the true purpose. Any update that “adds telemetry points” or something like that is spyware. Uncheck the install and hide the update. Note that some of these were moved from “optional” to “important.” Microsoft is absolutely intent on stealing your data and is taking some pretty underhanded steps to make it difficult for you to avoid it.
If updates get past you or it turns out later that a seemingly important or innocuous update was spyware (the fun part is that you now have to be vigilant and look all this stuff up), then you can uninstall them from the “installed updates” control panel.
Work to be done
I’ll start looking into firewall settings to block communication to microsoft’s servers. This is a standard anti-malware technique and should work here, except that microsoft has so many servers it is more challenging to block them than your typical malware botnet.
We need something like a variant of Peer Guardian to block microsoft’s servers using the standard P2P crowd-sourcing model to keep the list up to date. I’m not aware of anything like this yet, but I’m looking. Microsoft has become more of an enemy to privacy than the RIAA ever was.
This shift in business focus by Microsoft from providing a product people are willing to pay for to stealing data from people to sell on the commercial market has some significant lessons for the entire software model.
It isn’t just that Microsoft is now adopting Google’s business model of giving away “free” goodies as traps to collect product (you) to sell to the highest bidder, but that the model of corporate trust that underpins most of the security assumptions the internet is built on is manifestly false and unsustainable. If any hacker tried to create these spyware updates, locked-down computers that only install signed code would refuse to install them. Ignoring for the moment that the signed code model is idiotically flawed as signing keys are stolen all the time, this microsoft spyware is properly signed with legitimate keys. It will be installed on locked down computers without complaint and will not show up in commercial anti-virus software. But it is spyware. It contains keyloggers and extremely productive data exfiltration code that is currently copying wholesale data dumps from unfortunate victims to Microsoft’s servers in such volume that their data caps are being hit.
If a non-commercial third party (e.g. “hacker”) did this, they’d be prosecuted. It makes no difference to you that your data is being stolen by Microsoft rather than by some clever teenager in a former eastern block country: your data is being stolen. But the model that has been promoted, a model of centralized corporate trust to validate the “security” of your system has been utterly and irrevocably shattered. This isn’t an accident, isn’t something that better data management might have prevented, this is an intentional ex post facto rewrite of the usual, customary, and regular assumptions we have about the privacy of our computer systems and one that significantly impacts the security of almost everyone in the world: military, medical, legal, fiduciary, as well as personal.
And even if you trust Microsoft (for whatever bizarre, irrational reason), Microsoft is creating a whole series of security holes in their already crappy and insecure operating system that will be exploited by third parties. By adding keyloggers and data exfiltration tools to the core OS, they’re making it even easier for non-corporate hackers to jump on the data theft gravy train. Everyone profits but you. You lose.
Why would Microsoft, a company whose revenue comes entirely from sales of Windows and Office, start giving Windows 10 away – not just giving it away, but foisting it on users with unbelievably annoying integrated advertisements in the menu of Win 7/8 that pop up endlessly and are tedious to remove and reinstall themselves constantly?
Have they just gone altruistic? Decided that while they won’t make software free like speech, they’ll make it free like beer? Or is there something more nefarious going on? Something truly horrible, something that will basically screw over the entire windows-using population and sell them off like chattel to any bidder without consent or knowledge?
Of course, it is the latter.
Microsoft is a for-profit company and while their star has been waning lately and they’ve basically ceded the evil empire mantle to Apple, they desperately want to get into the game of stealing your private information and selling it to whoever is willing to pay.
So that’s what Windows 10 does. It enables Microsoft to steal all of your information, every email, photo, or document you have on your computer and exfiltrate it silently to Microsoft’s servers, and to make it legal they have reserved the right to give it to whoever they want. This isn’t just the information you stupidly gifted to Google by being dumb enough to use Gmail or ignorantly gifted to Apple by being idiotic enough to load into the iButt, but the files you think are private, on your computer, the ones you don’t upload. Microsoft gets those.
Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.
They’ll “access” your data and “disclose” it (meaning to a third party) whenever they have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary. No warrant needed. It is necessary for Microsoft to make a buck, so if a buck is offered for your data, they’re gonna sell it.
If you install Windows 10, you lose. So don’t. If you need to upgrade your operating system, it is time to switch to something that preserves Free like speech: Linux Mint is probably the best choice.
If you’re forced to run Windows 10 for some reason and can’t upgrade to windows 7, then follow these instructions (and these) and remain vigilant, Microsoft’s new strategy is to steal your data and sell it via any backdoor they can sneak past you. Locking them down is going to be a lot of work and might not be possible so keep an eye out for your selfies showing up on pr0n sites: they pay for pix and once you install Windows 10, Microsoft has every right to sell yours.
Update: you can’t stop windows 10 from stealing your private data
That’s not quite true – if you never connect your computer to a network, it is very unlikely that Microsoft will be able to secretly exfiltrate your private data through the Windows 10 trojan. However, it turns out that while the privacy settings do reduce the amount of data that gets sent back to Microsoft, they continue to steal your data even though you’ve told them not to.
Windows 10 is spyware. It is not an operating system, it is Trojan malware masquerading as an operating system that’s true purpose is to steal your data so Microsoft can sell it without your consent. If you install Windows 10, you are installing spyware.
Win 10 has apparently been installed 65 million times. That’s more than 3x as many users’ most intimate, most private data stolen as by the Ashley Madison attack. If you value privacy, if the idea that you might be denied a loan or insurance because of secret data stolen from your computer without your consent bothers you, if the idea of having evidence of your potential crimes shared with law enforcement without your knowledge and without a warrant worries you then do not install windows 10. Ever.
Some of the summaries of the Sony attacks are a little despairing of the viability of internet security, for example Schneier:
This could be any of us. We have no choice but to entrust companies with our intimate conversations: on email, on Facebook, by text and so on. We have no choice but to entrust the retailers that we use with our financial details. And we have little choice but to use butt services such as iButt and Google Docs.
I respectfully disagree with some of the nihilism here: you do not need to put your data in the butt. Butt services are “free,” but only because you’re the product. If you think you have nothing to hide and privacy is dead and irrelevant, you are both failing to keep up with the news and extremely unimaginative. You think you have no enemies? Nobody would do you wrong for the lulz? Nobody who would exploit information leaks for social engineering to rip you off?
Use butt services only when the function the service provides is predicated on a network effect (like Facebook) or simply can’t be replicated with individual scale resources (Google Search). Individuals can reduce the risk of being a collateral target by setting up their own services like an email server, web server, chat server, file server, drop-box style server, etc. on their own hardware with minimal expertise (and the internet is actually full of really good and expert help if you make an honest attempt to try), or use a local ISP instead of relying on a global giant that is a global target.
Email Can be Both Secure AND Convenient:
But there’s something this Sony attack has made even more plain: eMail security is bad. Not every company uses the least insecure email system possible and basically invites hackers to a data smorgasborg like Sony did by using outlook (I mean seriously, they can’t afford an IT guy who’s expertise extends beyond point-n-click? Though frankly the most disappointing deployment of outlook is by MIT’s IT staff. WTF?).
As lame as that is, email systems in general suffer from an easily remediated flaw: email is stored on the server in plain text which means that as soon as someone gets access to the email server, which is by necessity of function always globally network accessible, all historical mail is there for the taking.
Companies institute deletion policies where exposed correspondence is minimized by auto-deleting mail after a relatively short period, typically about as short as possible while still, more or less, enabling people to do their jobs. This forced amnesia is a somewhat pathetic and destructive solution to what is otherwise an excellent historical resource: it is as useful to the employees as to hackers to have access to historical records and forced deletion is no more than self-mutilation to become a less attractive target.
It is trivial to create a much more secure environment with no meaningful loss of utility with just a few simple steps.
Proposal to Encrypt eMail at Rest:
I wrote in detail about this recently. I realize it is a TLDR article, but as everyone’s wound up about Sony, a summary might serve as a lead-in for the more actively procrastinating. With a few very simple fixes to email clients (which could be implemented with a plug-in) and to email servers (which can be implemented via mail scripting like procmail or amavis), email servers can be genuinely secure against data theft. These fixes don’t exist yet, but the two critical but trivial changes are:
Step One: Server Fix
- Your mail server will have your public key on it (which is not a security risk) and use it to encrypt every message before delivering it to your mailbox if it didn’t come in already encrypted.
This means all the mail on the sever is encrypted as soon as it arrives and if someone hacks in, the store of messages is unreadable. Maybe a clever hacker can install a program to exfiltrate incoming messages before they get encrypted, but doing this without being detected is very difficult and time consuming. Grabbing an .ost file off some lame Windows server is trivial. I don’t mean to engage in victim blaming, but seriously, if you don’t want to get hacked, don’t go out wearing Microsoft.
Encrypting all mail on arrival is great security, but it also means that your inbox is encrypted and as current email clients decrypt your mail for viewing, but then “forget” the decrypted contents, encrypted messages are slower to view than unencrypted ones and, most crippling of all, you can’t search your encrypted mail. This makes encrypted mail unusable, which is why nobody uses it after decades. This unusability is a tragic and pointless design flaw that originated to mitigate what was then, apparently, a sore spot with one of Phil’s friends who’s wife had read his correspondence with another woman and divorce ensued; protecting the contents of email from client-side snooping has ever since been perceived as critical.1I remember this anecdote from an early 1990’s version of PGP. I may be mis-remembering it as the closest reference I can find is this FAQ:
It was a well-intentioned design constraint and has become a core canon of the GPG community, but is wrong-headed on multiple counts:
- An intimate partner is unlikely to need the contents of the messages to reach sufficient confidence in distrust: the presence of encrypted messages from a suspected paramour would be more than sufficient cause for a confrontation.
- It breaks far more frequent use such as business correspondence where operational efficiency is entirely predicated on content search which doesn’t work when the contents are encrypted.
- Most email compromises happen at the server, not at the client.
- Everyone seems to trust butt companies to keep their affairs private, much to the never-ending lulz of such companies.
- Substantive classes of client compromises, particularly targeted ones, capture keystrokes from the client, meaning if the legitimate user has access to the content of the messages, so too does the hacker, so the inconvenience of locally encrypted mail stores gains almost nothing.
- Server attacks are invisible to most users and most users can’t do anything about them. Users, like Sony’s employees, are passive victims of sysadmin failures. Client security failures are the user’s own damn fault and the user can do something about them like encrypting the local storage of their device which protects their email and all their other sensitive and critical selfies, sexts, purchase records, and business correspondence at the same time.
- If you’re personally targeted at the client side, that some of your messages are encrypted provides very little additional security: the attacker will merely force you to reveal the keys.
Step Two: Client Fix
- Your mail clients will decrypt your mail automatically and create local stores of unencrypted messages on your local devices.
If you’ve used GPG, you probably can’t access any mail you got more than a few days ago; it is dead to you because it is encrypted. I’ve said before this makes it as useless as an ephemeral key encrypted chat but without the security of an ephemeral key in the event somebody is willing to force you to reveal your key and is interested enough to go through your encrypted data looking for something. They’ll get it if they want it that bad, but you won’t be bothered.
But by storing mail decrypted locally and by decrypting mail as it is downloaded from the server, the user gets the benefit of “end-to-end encryption” without any of the hassles.
GPG-encrypted mail would work a lot more like an OTR encrypted chat. You don’t get a message from OTR that reads “This chat message is encrypted, do you want to decrypt it? Enter your password” every time you get a new chat, nor does the thread get re-encrypted as soon as you type something, requiring you to reenter your key to review any previous chat message. That’d be idiotic. But that’s what email does now.
These two simple changes would mean that server-side mail stores are secure, but just as easy to use and as accessible to clients as they are now. Your local device security, as it is now, would be up to you. You should encrypt your hard disk and use strong passwords because sooner or later your personal device will be lost or stolen and you don’t want all that stuff published all over the internet, whether it comes from your mail folder or your DCIM folder.
It doesn’t solve a targeted attack against your local device, but you’ll always be vulnerable to that and pretending that storing your encrypted email on your encrypted device in an encrypted form adds security is false security that has the unfortunate side effect of reducing usability and thus retarding adoption of real security.
If we did this, all of our email will be encrypted, which means there’s no additional hassle to getting mail that was encrypted with your GPG key by the sender (rather than on the server). The way it works now, GPG is annoying enough to warrant asking people not to send encrypted mail unless they have to, which tags that mail as worth encrypting to anyone who cares. By eliminating the disincentive, universally end-to-end encrypted email would become possible.
A few other minor enhancements that would help to really make end-to-end, universally encrypted email the norm include:
- Update mail clients to prompt for key generation along with any new account (the only required option would be a password, which should be different from the server-log-in password since a hash of that has to be on the server and a hash crack of the account password would then permit decryption of the mail there, so UX programmers take note!)
- Update address books, vcard, and LDAP servers so they expect a public key for each correspondent and complain if one isn’t provided or can’t be found. An email address without a corresponding key should be flagged as problematic.
- Corporate and hierarchical organizations should use a certificate authority-based key certification system, everyone else should use web-of-trust/perspectives style key verification, which can be easily automated to significantly reduce the risk of MitM attacks.
This is easy. It should have been done a long time ago.
I’m using an Ubuntu VM for private browsing, and like many people, I’m stuck using a mainstream OS for much of my work (Win7) due to software availability constraints. But some software works much better in a linux environment and Ubuntu is as pretty as OSX, free, and installs easily on generic x86 hardware.
It is also pretty straightforward to install an isolated and secure browsing instance using VirtualBox. It takes about 20G of hard disk and will use up at least 512K (better 1G) of your system RAM. If you want to run this sort of config, your laptop should have more than enough disk space and RAM to support the extra load without bogging, but it is a very solid solution.
Installing Ubuntu is easy – even easier with an application like VirtualBox – just install virtualbox, download the latest ubuntu ISO, and install from there. If you’re on bare metal, the easiest thing to do is burn a CD and install off that.
Ubuntu desktop comes with Firefox in the tool bar. Customizing for private browsing is a bit more involved.
My first steps are to install:
- noscript to create your own whitelist of sites allowed to run scripts,
- better privacy to apply rules for deleting flash cookies,
- TACO to control tracking cookies,
- UserAgentSwitcher to make your ubuntu/firefox rig generic looking,
- Tor Button to browse without leaving a trail of your IP address.
NoScript is an easy win. It is a bit of a pain to set up at first, but soon you add exceptions for all your favorite sites and while that isn’t great security practice, it is essential for sane browsing. NoScript is particularly helpful when browsing the wacky parts of the net and not getting exotic browsing diseases: it is your default dental dam. Be careful of allowing domains you don’t recognize – Google them first and make sure you understand why they need to run a script on your computer and that it is safe. A lot of sites use partners for things like video feeds, so if some function seems broken, you probably need to allow that particular domain. On the other hand, most of the off-site scripts are tracking or stats and you really don’t need to play along with them.
BetterPrivacy is a new one for me. I am very impressed that it found approximately 1.3 zillion (OK 266) different company flash cookies AFTER I had installed TACO and noscript etc. You bastards. I’m sure I can enjoy hulu without making my play history shared-available to every flash site I might visit. Always Sunny in Philadelphia marks me as a miscreant. I flush the flash cookies on starting silently (preferences).
TACO is a bit intrusive, but it seems to work to selectively block tracking and advertising cookies. At least the pop up is comforting. For private browsing, I’d set it to reject all classes of tracking cookies (change the preferences from default).
User Agent Switcher is useful when you’re deviating from the mainstream. Running Ubuntu pretty much flags you as a trouble maker or at least a dissident. Firefox maybe a bit less so, but you are indicating to advertisers that you don’t respect the expertise of those people far smarter than you who pre-installed IE (or Safari) to make your life easier. Set your user agent to IE 8 because the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.
Torbutton needs Tor to work. Tor provides really good privacy, but is a bit involved. The Tor Button Plugin for firefox makes it seem easier than it really is: you install it and click “use tor” and it looks like it is working but the first site you visit you get an proxy error because Tor isn’t actually running (DOH!).
To get Tor to work, you will have to open a terminal and do some command line fu before it will actually let you browse. Tor is also easier to install on Ubuntu than on Windows (at least for me, but as my browser history indicates I’m a bit of a miscreant dissident, so your mileage may vary).
Starting with these fine instructions.
sudu gedit /etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://deb.torproject.org/torproject.org lucid main
deb-src http://deb.torproject.org/torproject.org lucid main
gpg --keyserver keys.gnupg.net --recv 886DDD89
gpg --export A3C4F0F979CAA22CDBA8F512EE8CBC9E886DDD89 | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install tor tor-geoipdb
Install vidalia with the graphical ubuntu software center or with
sudo apt-get install vidalia
Tor expects Polipo. And vidalia makes launching and checking on Tor easier, so remove the startup scripts. (If Tor is running and you try to start it from vidalia, you get an uninformative error, vidalia has a “launch at startup” option, so let it run things.) Vidalia appears under the Applications->Network.
sudo update-rc.d -f tor remove
Polipo was installed with Tor, so configure it:
sudo gedit /etc/polipo/config
Clear the file (ctrl-a, delete)
paste in the contents of this file:
(if the link above fails, search for “polipo.conf” to find the latest version)
I added the binary for polipo in Vidalia’s control panel, but that may be redundant (it lives in /usr/bin/polipo).
I had to reboot to get everything started.
There’s a great story at the wall street journal describing some of the techniques that are being used to track people on line that I found informative (as are the other articles listed in the series in the box below). EFF is doing some good work on this; your browser configuration probably uniquely identifies you and thus every site you’ve ever visited (via data exchanges). Unique information about you is worth about $0.00_1. Collecting a few hundred million 1/10ths of a cent starts to add up and may end up raising your insurance premiums.
One of the more entertaining/disturbing tricks is to use “click jacking” to remotely enable a person’s webcam or microphone. Is your computer or network running slowly? Maybe it is the video you’re inadvertently streaming back (and maybe you just have way too many tabs open…)
A few things you can do to improve your privacy include:
- Opt out of Rapleaf. Rapleaf collects user information about you and ties it to your email address. You have to opt out with each email address individually, which almost certainly confirms to them that all your email addresses belong to the same person. You might want to use unique Tor sessions for each opt out if you don’t want them to get more information than they already have via the process.
- Use Tor for anything sensitive. If you care about privacy, learn about Tor. It does slow browsing so you have to be very committed to use it for everything. But the browser plug in makes it pretty easy to turn it on for easy browsing.
- Don’t use IE for anything personal or important.
- Run SpyBot Search and Destory regularly. Spybot helps block BHOs and toolbars that seem to proliferate automagically and helps remove tracking cookies. You’ll be amazed at how many are installed on your system. I have used or not used TeaTimer. I’m less excited about having a lot of background tools, even helpful ones than I used to be. Spybot currently starts out looking for 1,359,854 different known spywares. Yikes.
- Check what people know about you: Google will tell you, so will Yahoo. Spooky.
- Use firefox. If for no other reason than the following plugins (personally, it is my favorite, but I know people who favor chrome or even rockmelt, but talk about tracking!) Just don’t use IE.
- Use the private browsing mode in your browser (CTRL-SHIFT-P in FireFox). It’d be nice if you could enable non-private browsing on a whitelist basis for sites you either trust or have to trust. We’ll get there eventually…
- TACO should help block flash cookies.
- Install noscript to block scripts by default. You can add all your favorite sites as you go so things work. It is a pain in the ass for a while, but security requires vigilance.
- Install adblock plus. It helps keep the cookies away. It also reduces ad annoyance. You can enable ads for your favorite sites so they can pay their colo fees.
- Add HTTPS Everywhere from EFF. The more your connections to sites are encrypted, the less your ISP (and others) can see about what you’re doing while you’re there. Your ISP still knows every site you visit, and probably sells that information, but if your sessions are encrypted they don’t see the actual text you type. It also makes it harder for script kiddies to grab your passwords at the cafe.
- South Lake Tahoe Caldor Fire Timelapse
- Save your email! Avoid the Thunderbird 78 update
- Compile and install Digikam on Ubuntu 20.04 Focal
- Tagging MP3 Files with Puddletag on Linux Mint
- Never put important data on anyone else’s hardware. Ever.
- EZ rsync cheat sheet
- Favicon generation script
- CoreELEC/Kodi on a Cheap S905x Box
- WebP and SVG
- Dealing with Apple Branded HEIF .HEIC files on Linux
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