Windows 10’s Privacy Settings

Ever since it was released last month, Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 10, has been drawing scrutiny for some of its security features. Many users surprisingly have apparently been startled to learn, for example, that the operating system records and stores what they type on their computers and periodically uploads the keystrokes to Microsoft. For the most part this does not bother me, although the recording of “keystrokes” makes me just a wee bit nervous.

Microsoft has stated that it does indeed collect data from Windows 10 user interaction, including typing, using spoken commands or using a stylus or touchscreen. Microsoft has further stated that it records and stores keystrokes to improve character recognition, user dictionary and autocomplete technology. Again this part makes me a little uneasy.

Windows 10 also collects data about how users deploy its Contacts and Calendar programs to help smooth interactions with its Cortana virtual assistant, according to Microsoft. Here I am not so concerned and in fact in order for these services to provide benefits to the user there needs to be some interaction and recording by the operating system.

Adjusting the Settings

It if you do not want Windows eavesdropping on your computer use? I do give Microsoft some props for this because at least there are way to customer these settings.

There are some ways around it. Users who chose the Express settings when they originally set up the OS, probably turned on most of the data-sharing permissions by default. They can go back and change those settings, but it might limit the usability of some Windows 10 apps and services.

To adjust Windows 10 privacy controls, users should go to the Start menu and select Settings. Once at the Settings screen, users should choose Privacy and go through the several categories of listed permissions until they have selected the settings they want.

By doing this, users can opt out of letting apps use their advertising IDs across apps; having local ad content pushed to their computers; submitting keystrokes to Microsoft’s servers; and other features.

 

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Microsoft Happy Windows 10 Adoption

Yesterday we learned via a tweet storm from Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s CVP for Marketing in the Windows and Devices group, that Windows 10 is now installed on over 75 million devices in its first month of availability.

That is an overall average of 2.5 million upgrades per day since its release on 29 July.

windows10

These numbers allow us to compare the progress of Windows 10 against its predecessors which is fine however, we must keep in mind that the last major Windows OS releases were all not free upgrades.

The only one that came close was Windows 8 when it was offered to new PC buyers at a price of $14.99.

Users who had Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 prior to that new PC offer still got a good discounted price of $39 to purchase the Windows 8 upgrade. Even those deals did not help Windows 8 much in the long run.

Windows 8.1 was a free upgrade for users on Windows 8.1 but it was not a major release like Windows 10.

So with those numbers let’s compare the Windows 10 roll out to past major Windows releases.

Windows 95 – 40 million in first year (*)

Windows 98 – 530,000 boxed copies in first four days (retail) (*)

Windows ME – 200,000 boxed copies in first three days (US retail) (*)

Windows XP – 300,000 boxed copies in first three days (US retail) and 17 million in two months (*)

Windows Vista – 20 million in first month (*)

Windows 7 – 100 million in first six months; 450 million in less than two years (*)

Windows 8 – 60 million in just over two months and 100 million in first six months (*)

Windows 10 – 14 million upgrades in first 24 hours and 75 million in first month (via Microsoft)

*Sales numbers from A brief History of Windows Sales Figures, 1985-Present published on 07 May 13 by Harry McCracken in the Technoligizer column at Time.com

It is clear Microsoft has learned a lot over the previous few operating system releases along with there desire to not repeat the entrenchment there was was with many Windows XP users in respect in enticing people to move to theire newest OS. It also does not hurt that Windows 10 is a really huge improvement over the previous one.

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Happy Birthday Windows 95

Twenty years ago, Microsoft changed our world. On August 24, 1995, Windows 95 was released to the public, beginning a revolution that has helped shape the technology world for the next two decades.

Of course it was not the first version of Windows. Home computing had been around for more than a decade with 95 was launched, but none before had the same impact. As well as being a technological breakthrough, introducing features that still define Microsoft’s operating system today, Windows 95 was an unprecedented cultural phenomenon.

Bill Gates and Jay Leno at the Microsoft Windows 95 opening at Microsoft Place on Aug. 24, 1995.

For possibly the first time, a software launch became a massive global event. Enthusiasts queued around the block on Windows 95’s release day to pick up a copy, a sight now more commonly associated with the release of a new iPhone.

If Windows 95 was only about glitz we wouldn’t be remembering it so fondly today. It was also a pivotal moment, not only in the history of Microsoft, but in personal computing as well.

Introducing features such as the Start Menu, which became so popular that Microsoft was forced to reinstate it in the latest version of Windows after removing it in 2012. The taskbar also set the tone for how a computer in the internet age should work.

Microsoft’s software was a leap forward in graphic design, and worked with almost all the hardware on the market, as well as being released with perfect timing. Not only were home computers becoming rapidly more affordable, consumers were beginning to realize that there was more to PCs than spreadsheets.

Windows 95 was followed a week later by Internet Explorer, which became many people’s first web browser. Consumers also began to accept that computers could be used to find a wealth of information and communicate with long-lost friends, and for entertainment.

PC sales subsequently boomed.

Microsoft and their chief executive Bill Gates, was the face of this revolution. In 1998, it became the world’s biggest company.

Last month, just in time for Windows 95’s 20th birthday, Microsoft launched Windows 10, the first overhaul of the software in three years.

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The War Against Bloatware

When you buy a new Windows PC, you expect it to be clean and lean, starting up fast and speeding through your work as quickly as you need it to.

The truth is, most Windows PCs start off slower than they should be, clogged with unnecessary preloaded software. Known as bloatware this software comes in many different forms. While most bloatware is not dangerous it can slow down your system and take up space on your hard drive.

How much does bloatware actually slow down your PC? It’s hard to say, but there are some indications that it can have a considerable effect. Microsoft sells a line of what it calls Signature PCs, computers that are free of third-party software. For example the Surface Pro 3 I am using to write this article is one of them. According to the product page, on average, the Signature PCs start up 104% faster, shut down 35% faster and have 28 minutes more battery life than the same laptops with bloatware. These are truly impressive figures.

In this article we will discuss the most common types of bloatware you’ll encounter, how to uninstall it and how to buy bloatware-free PCs.

Why Bloatware Me Man?

Why do PC vendors put additional software on new machines in the first place? Sometimes it’s simply in order to offer tools that will add functionality to their systems. But most often, it’s because including third-party applications are an additional source of revenue.

Generally, on Windows machines, you encounter two kinds of preinstalled software: The applications that run on the more old-fashioned desktop interface and apps that run on the touch-oriented tablet mode. I find the latter to be less intrusive because they’re visible as tiles — so it doesn’t take a lot of deep digging to find and uninstall them. Desktop applications that have been preinstalled can be a lot harder to find, especially for less techie users, who may not even realize they have unwanted software until it activates and pops up on their screen.

Within those two categories, there are a number of different types.

Trialware

Trialware is software that you get to use for free for a certain amount of time, but that you have to pay for if you want to use it after that — for, say, 30 days or six months. Among the most common kind of trialware is security software made by companies such as McAfee and Norton.

An advantage to this type of software is that it’s up-front — in fact, it has to be, because the software company wants you to use it and then, hopefully, buy it. In fact, It’s not uncommon for PC makers to publicize the trialware that comes with their computers, assuming that many people will consider that a benefit. Another advantage is that this type of add-on is usually easily uninstalled.

Utilities & Apps

Manufacturers frequently include their own software on PCs they sell. For example, Lenovo often includes its Lenovo Solution Center, a maintenance application that does things such as checking your hardware for problems, and making sure you update software.

PC vendors often also pre-install full versions of specialized third-party software. For example, Cyberlink Media Suite, a common add-on, has a set of tools for creating videos, editing photos, playing DVDs and other media, burning media and more. Cyberlink also makes the PowerDVD software that you’ll sometimes find on Dell PCs. Nero, a tool for burning CDs and DVDs, is another popular one.

In some instances you can uninstall the software, and in other instances you can’t. Whether you consider such add-ons to be a bonus or needless bloat depends on how likely you are to use them. Note that in many cases, these utilities duplicate functionality that’s already present in the Windows OS.

Adware

Finally, there’s adware, a particularly nasty form of bloatware that exists solely to pump ads to the user, either via websites or via popups that come up directly on your computer screen. Adware can do worse than irritate you and/or slow your PC down — it can spy on you as well, or expose your system to other dangers.


PART 2


Uninstalling Bloatware

So what to do about bloatware on your PC?

In some cases you can remove it simply by uninstalling it. A good strategy when you get a new system is to check it for software before you install any applications of your own and uninstall any programs you know you won’t want. (If you’re not sure whether you want it or not — even after doing a bit of research — then simply note its existence so that you can go back and remove it later if you want to.)

On the other hand, there are preinstalled programs that most users can’t do anything about. For example, Samsung was, for a while, selling its systems with preinstalled software called SW Update that was designed to handle updates for Windows, drivers and associated software. However, a small program inside SW Update called Disable_Windowsupdate.exe blocked Windows Update from working properly — and could not be removed. On June 26, 2015, Samsung changed the software to allow Windows Update to work correctly.

If you’ve got bloatware on your system that can’t be easily uninstalled — or if you suspect there is bloatware on your system that isn’t immediately obvious — there are a number of tools that might be able to remove it for you. The following are the ones I’ve found to be most useful.

The PC Decrapifier 

This free application is designed to find common bloatware installed on systems. It runs as a single executable file, so you can run it from a USB drive if you’d like.

pc decrapifier

The PC Decrapifier reports its results using three categories: Recommended, Questionable and Everything Else.

The software first takes several minutes to analyze your system. After that, it categorizes what it finds into three categories: Recommended, Questionable and Everything Else. Recommended lists software that it recommends you uninstall; Questionable lists software you might want to uninstall; Everything Else lists software about which it has little or no information.

Each lists the name of the file, the type (Application or Startup) and the percentage of PC Decrapifier users who end up uninstalling it. So in essence, The PC Decrapifier relies on the wisdom of its users to determine what is bloatware and what isn’t. You then check the box next to each application you want to uninstall and the application does the rest.

Unfortunately, the program doesn’t really provide you enough information to decide on your own whether to uninstall a piece of software. For example, when I ran it on my four-year-old Dell PC, it recommended uninstalling startup software it only identified as ehTray.exe and NvCplDaemon. Clicking the small question mark next to each launched a new browser instance, but with no useful information. I had to do a Web search to identify and decide about any pieces of software I didn’t immediately recognize.

The upshot? PC Decrapifier is a useful tool, but be prepared to do a bit of research on your own if you want to be safe.

Should I Remove It?

Like PC Decrapifier, the free program Should I Remove It? uses crowdsourcing to determine which software should be removed and which shouldn’t. For each program it finds, it shows not only the percentage of other users who removed it, but also the rating they gave to the program itself, which is more helpful than the simpler data that The PC Decrapifier offers.

should i remove it

Should I Remove It? recommends what to get rid of and what to keep — in this case, on a Dell PC.

Should I Remove It? displays all the programs it finds on your PC and color-codes them according to the removal rates — red for most removed, orange for moderate removal rates, green for low. On my old system, it found no reds, and only two orange: Dell System Customization Wizard and Dell Documentation Launcher. It rated the Google Updater and a Nook PC app as green. It didn’t find or list any startup programs such as ehTray.exe andNvCplDaemon.

What’s truly exceptional about Should I Remove It, though, is not the program itself, but the accompanying website, which has a tremendous amount of detail about bloatware. Use it as your go-to source. The site has capsule descriptions of each piece of software to help you decide whether you think that application belongs on your system. Unfortunately, though, unlike The PC Decrapifier, Should I Remove It? doesn’t report on startup items.

Slim Computer

The free Slim Computer, like The PC Decrapifier and Should I Remove It?, uses crowdsourcing to determine which software on your PC is bloatware, and then lets you decide which to remove and which to leave. Unlike the other two, however, it also looks at browser extensions, plugins, ActiveX objects and other add-ins that might be considered bloat.

Before you run a scan, it’s a good idea to go to Settings –> Advanced and change the Scanner Threshhold mode from Default to Aggressive. Default mode is designed for computer novices who might not be able to understand which software to remove and which to keep — it’s safer, but doesn’t find all potential problematic programs. Aggressive finds more and is your best bet.

slim computer

Sim Coputer offers recommendations on which software to remove from a Dell PC.

To start the process, click Scan, and after a few minutes, items that you might want to remove will appear in four categories: Applications, Browsers, Startup Items and Shortcuts. The list in each category includes the name of each program, the publisher (if available) and recommendations as to whether to remove it based on what other Slim Computer users have done.

Where Slim Computer shines is in the information it provides about each item. Click a More Info link and you’ll get a description of the software and what it does, the number of people who have recommended removing or keeping it, and individual comments that people have made about it. It’s a great way to help you decide whether to keep the software or remove it.

For information about browser extensions, plugins, ActiveX and other browser additions you might want to remove, you click Browsers in the left-hand column and then click the icon for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari. You’ll then see a list of the add-ins for each browser, along with ratings and the More Info button. And near the top of the screen you’ll see the default search engine for the browser you’re currently looking at — just in case something changed your default search engine without your say-so.

ADW Cleaner

Slim Computer should remove all toolbars and similar browser bloatware, but if you want to make sure it’s all gone, give the free AdwCleaner a try. Run it, click Scan, and after it finishes its work, click the listings it generates for each of your browsers to see what kinds of toolbars and bloatware it found. It also looks through your Registry, scheduled tasks and services.

adwcleaner

AdwCleaner, after scanning a newly-bought Lenovo PC.

Uncheck the boxes next to the items you don’t want cleaned, then tell the software to clean out everything else. Before doing that, make sure to close all your programs, because otherwise AdwCleaner will do it for you and you might lose data. It will also restart after it does its cleaning, and create a text file that contains a summary of everything it found, and everything you had it clean.

Other Tools

It’s also not a bad idea to install at least one anti-adware tool, which will look for all kinds of adware, not just ones preloaded on PCs.

Examples include Ultra Adware Killer, which is efficient — but be sure that you carefully check what it identifies as adware before telling it to remove it. For example, it considers the AVG Security Toolbar as adware, which you may or may not want to get rid of.

Two freeware applications that handle both malware and spyware are Spybotand Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

Buy Bloat Free PCs

The best thing, of course, is to buy a clean Windows computer. That’s easier said than done — you can’t just walk into a Best Buy or order a PC online and expect it to be bloatware-free.

However, there are places to turn for bloatware-free PCs. For example, Microsoft has its previously mentioned Signature Edition PCs. However, keep in mind that you may end up paying more — for example, as I write this, a Samsung ATIV Book 9 laptop with 256GB of storage costs $1,199 as aSignature Edition on the Microsoft site, but sells for $1,100 online from Newegg.

Lenovo has pledged that its Windows 10-loaded PCs will be free from bloatware.

If Lenovo truly does eliminate bloatware on its PCs as the company promises, it may well be that other vendors will eventually follow suit.

Until then, though, most of us who use Windows PCs will have to live with bloatware as an accepted industry practice. So go back through the advice in this article to make sure your new PC is as free of bloatware as possible and then use the right tools to get rid of whatever rode in that you don’t want.

Much of this content originated at Computerworld

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Microsoft Releases Emergency IE Patch

Microsoft just released MS15-093, an emergency out-of-band patch for Internet Explorer (IE) that affects all versions of Windows. The security update fixes a memory corruption vulnerability, known as CVE-2015-2502, in IE versions 7 to 11.

How bad is it? According to Microsoft, pretty bad, hence the critical out-of-band patch.

“The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted Web page using Internet Explorer,” according to a Microsoft security bulletin. “An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could gain the same user rights as the current user. Customers whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than those who operate with administrative user rights.”

mond has just released MS15-093, an emergency out-of-band patch for Internet Explorer (IE) that affects all versions of Windows. The security update fixes a memory corruption vulnerability, known as CVE-2015-2502, in IE versions 7 to 11.

How bad is it? According to Microsoft, pretty bad, hence the critical out-of-band patch.

This particular vulnerability takes advantage of an issue involving object storage in memory, resulting in a corruption that could allow remote code execution. Some of the attack  vectors include Web sites and HTML e-mails and worse, it’s being actively exploited in the wild.

Beyond its critical rating for IE, the vulnerability is also rated moderate for Windows Server platforms including Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2, It should be noted that the new Edge browser is not affected by this emergency security bulletin. With that in mind, you may want to download the new browser and ditch IE for good.

Just a thought.

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Web.com Hacked Exposing 93,000 Accounts

In the latest report of cybercriminals hacking computers and obtaining large amounts of customer information we have learned that Internet services provider Web.com Group was breached exposing the credit card information of 93,000 customers.

According to a website set up by the company to share information about the incident, Web.com discovered the security breach on Aug. 13 as part of its ongoing security monitoring.

Attackers compromised credit card information for around 93,000 accounts, as well as the names and addresses associated with them. No other customer information like social security numbers was affected, the company said.

According to the company, the verification codes for the exposed credit cards were not leaked. However, there are websites on the Internet that don’t require such codes for purchases.

Web.com has notified affected customers via email and will also follow up with letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service. Those users can sign up for a one-year free credit monitoring service.

The company did not specify how the intruders gained access to its systems, but has hired a “nationally recognized” IT security firm to conduct an investigation.

Web.com provides a variety of online services, including website and Facebook page design, e-commerce and marketing solutions, domain registration and Web hosting. The company claims to have over 3.3 million customers and owns two other well known Web services companies: Register.com and Network Solutions.

Register.com and Network Solutions customers were not impacted by this breach unless they also purchased services directly from Web.com.

As always you should keep a close eye for any suspicious or unusual activity on any credit/debit cards that you may have used with Web.com. This is yet another example of why good password management is necessary if you truly want o protect yourself.

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Microsoft Releases New Preview Update

Microsoft is continuing to preview new features for Windows 10 before they’re rolled out to the public. Microsoft today launched build 10525, its first desktop Insider build since the official launch of the operating system on Jully 29.

Screenshot (11)

There is not too much in the way of new features, but two changes are notable. First up you now have a bit more flexibility in choosing a UI (user interface) color: Windows 10’s ‘accent’ color will now apply to an app’s title bar as well.

To change your look, simply go Settings>Personalization>Colors , and select the ‘Show color on Start, task bar, and action center’ toggle. While there’s no mention of your title bar, you should see it colorized now as well (though strangely, not in the Settings app itself).

Unfortunately, there’s no way to mix and match colors, but hopefully that’s something we’ll see in a future build.

Microsoft’s also improving performance in the background with a new memory compression feature. When the OS’ Memory Manager is running low, it will compress unused space instead of writing it to the disk.

This means Windows uses less memory per process, keeping more programs in your physical memory instead of writing it to your storage disk as backup, and should lead to overall quicker performance.

Though small updates, it’s notable that Microsoft is continuing to  introduce new Windows 10 features so soon after the OS’ final launch.

Usually we’d have to wait for a new Service Pack or enter an invite-only testing program to see what the company is cooking up behind the scenes, but Microsoft instead is keeping its opt-in Insider program indefinitely so anyone can contribute to the development of the operating system.

To show a renewed focus on user input, Microsoft has kept the feedback app in the public version of Windows 10, while providing special features only for Insiders:

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Amazon’s Dash Hacked

When Amazon debuted its Dash buttons earlier this year, I was actually a little excited about it. Amazon Dash lets you order common household products at the push of physical buttons. I was considering trying one or two of these out but never got around to ordering any. Thank goodness because reportedly it didn’t take long for a hacker to find a way to use Dash buttons to do more than order products.

Amazon, for example, rolled out a Tide-branded Dash button you can adhere to your washing machine. When the detergent is almost gone, you just hit the button and a new bottle is automatically delivered to your doorstep.

Ted Benson, co-founder and CTO of spreadsheet tool Cloudstitch has stated that he has hacked Amazon’s $5 Wi-Fi button to track baby data. Benson’s hack did not start with malicious intent. He and his wife tried a few baby-tracker apps but they didn’t meet the changing needs of parents with a growing baby. He was looking for a simple button he could stick to the wall and push to record data about poops today and wake-ups tomorrow.

Amazon unwittingly offered an “easy way” for Benson to write a program that sniffs his Wi-Fi network for evidence the button was pushed, then records the data point, he said.

“Dash buttons are turned off most of the time to preserve the battery inside. They only turn on when you push them,” Benson wrote in Medium.com. “And that means they have to re-connect to your Wi-Fi network every time they are pushed. That’s easy to detect.” He rigged his Dash button to send data to spreadsheet software.

“A lot of people made fun of Dash buttons when Amazon launched them on the day before April Fool’s Day,” Benson said. “But regardless of what you think about Dash as a consumer product, it’s an undeniably compelling prototype of what the Internet of Things is going to look like.”

The fear her is that while Benson was simply recording activity on his home network. someone else could do this for malicious purposes and others may be able to use that information in ways that are not exactly honest,

The lesson here is that companies may want to lock devices like this down so that what began as a nifty little idea does not turn dark and aid hackers with pre-made devices.

You can learn more about Dash here.

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Microsoft Tests a Mobile News Reader

Microsoft is testing an intriguing app that is designed for people who want help keeping up with today’s busy news cycle.

The app, called NewsCast, has not been officially announced, but it is available if you have an iPhone. NewsCast takes articles from around the Web and starts reading summaries of them to users in an ongoing playlist. Users can save articles for reading later and view the full text of any article NewsCast pulls in using a built-in browser or a distraction-free reading view.

It’s all designed to keep users up to date on the latest news while they’re commuting and don’t want to be staring at tiny text on their phone.

Surprisingly, NewsCast is only available for iOS right now which probably allows Microsoft to have a large number of live testers of the new app. This is not the first time Microsoft has built something specifically for Apple’s mobile platform before its own.

You can download the app from this website and install it on an iPhone, though it’s not clear how long it will be before Microsoft takes it down. Because it’s not being sent through the App Store, users will have to give it permission to run on their device.

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iCloud Restore Improves

One big feature iCloud has always been lacking is the ability to restore files, contacts or calendars in iCloud if they were lost.

A small feature quietly added to the service this past week, now allows you to easily restore items that were deleted or lost.

The option is hidden under ‘advanced’ in the settings area of iCloud.com. From there, you can restore files deleted from iCloud drive in the last 30 days, along with any deleted calendars or contacts.

It’s a small tweak, but a welcome one for anyone who’s been burned by accidentally deleting a contact or files disappearing.

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