Popularity Invites Vulnerability: Lack of Privacy in your default Windows installation is just amazing

Wobbly Foundation

Although it has been released ages ago, the sound of Windows 98 loading up still sends goose bumps down the spines of nostalgic early adopters of the operating system. You can hate it or love it, but Windows has been the bedrock of the computerization era.

The numbers showing just how dominant the operating system has become are staggering (see chart below). That is partly because most personal computers come with a pre-installed copy of Windows. Consequently, the vast majority of buyers don’t bother to shop around for alternatives. In addition, the numbers are not even entirely accurate, since the sales underestimate usage and fail to account for all the unauthorized copies of the famous operating system.

This popularity is both a source of joy for Microsoft, the creator of Windows, as well as a massive headache. Popularity brings profits for the developers, but it also means that this enormous pool of Windows’ users is always in the crosshairs of almost any cyberattack or digital exploitation.

Ransomware WannaCry that you’ve heard about last year was only the most reported instance when Microsoft products were specifically targeted.

Install Windows, they said. It will be fun, they said.

A five-year long Avecto report on Microsoft vulnerabilities spots a rise in security flaws. A total of 685 vulnerabilities were found for the year of 2017, a significant increase from the years before. There’s also a 54% increase in Critical Microsoft vulnerabilities since 2016. (See charts below).

If we dig deeper, we see that there’s an entire register of things that could be potentially exploited on Windows. Furthermore, it isn’t a soothing thought that Microsoft simply shrugged off a potentially devastating data leak of source code last year.

For a company which claims Windows 10 to be safer than ever, user safety, apparently, can be a tough feat to accomplish.

Playing Hide and Seek in a Panopticon

Privacy is high on the list of Microsoft’s priorities — just below the goal to promote more widespread use of MacOS and Linux.

But if we get a little bit more serious, there are concerns about the new philosophy Microsoft is employing on the privacy issue. Apple and Google couldn’t compete with Microsoft’s ominous privacy policy.

Windows 10 by default gives itself the permission to collect loads of personal data on you and profile the way you use Windows.

An excerpt from Microsoft’s privacy policy reads that:

“[W]e 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.”

Although this controversial line of text has already been employed to justify various spying conspiracy theories, some would be more inclined to write it off as sloppy writing. A worrying kind of sloppy nevertheless.

Perhaps more outrageous is the default setting that allows Windows to use your bandwidth for Microsoft’s own benefit. This is called Windows Update Delivery Optimization (WUDO), and by this process, Microsoft turns your personal computer into a peer-to-peer node which then helps with Windows 10 updates distribution to other users. This in turn saves Microsoft on its bandwidth costs, but it may slow your connection down and may cost you additional money.

How to protect yourself?

There are ways to limit the damage. If you’re not willing to take the leap of faith and change your operating system, you should disable the invasive settings embedded into the default (express) installation of Windows. Furthermore, disable WUDO and install reliable antivirus software.

Most data leaks, however, are still caused by genuine human mistakes. Thus, if you’re worried about the safety of your business data, you should follow the principles suggested here and here.

Furthermore, practice online browsing hygiene — use common sense when browsing in unexplored waters. To guard yourself against advertisers tracking you online, use browser add-ons like Ghostery, Privacy Badger, and HTTPS Everywhere.

And if you only have time for only one thing: get a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Not only does VPN offer secure connection if you browse through public Wi-Fi hotspots, it also makes it particularly tough for anyone to spy on your web-browsing activity. It also has the bonus effect of masking your location that could become a useful tool.

Mysterium Network has a vision for a decentralized VPN based on blockchain technologies. By using the open sourced network anyone will be able to rent their unused network traffic while providing a secure connection for those in need.

Reclaiming your privacy and protecting yourself online should be done easily. Sign up for free Windows VPN client pre-alpha testing here, so you don’t miss a chance to win back some security and privacy for yourself. This software will be available to download starting Wednesday August 8th to a limited number of registered testers.

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