Windows 8 Will Have a “Kill Switch”

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The very anticipated operating system Windows 8 will have a feature that was never found on PC’s before: A kill switch that can remotely delete software and edit code without the user’s permission. Although Microsoft claims the switch would only be used for software that is downloaded from its app store, no official policies clearly define the actual purpose of the kill switch. In other words, nothing is truly considered “illegal” and that includes issues regarding spying, censorship and free speech. Although the kill switch is promoted as a “tool against malware” it can potentially accomplish much, much more. In fact, it would not be impossible to have all smart-phones and Windows PC’s simultaneously shut down at any given time. The following article from Business Week also mentions the infamous case of Amazon that remotely deleted from user’s Kindle e-readers illegal copies of two books. Which ones? Prepare for intense irony…George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.

 

The Kill Switch Comes to the PC

A feature common in phones will let Microsoft remotely disable malware

Janne Kytömäki, a Finnish software developer, was cruising Google’s (GOOG) Android Market for smartphone apps last year when he noticed something strange. Dozens of best-selling applications suddenly listed the same wrong publisher. It was as if Stephen King’s name had vanished from the covers of his books, replaced by an unknown author. Kytömäki realized the culprit was a piece of malware that was spreading quickly, and he posted his findings online.

Google responded swiftly. It flipped a little-known kill switch, reaching into more than 250,000 infected Android smartphones and forcibly removing the malicious code. “It was sort of unreal, watching something like that unfold,” says Kytömäki, who makes dice simulator apps. Kill switches are a standard part of most smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. Google, Apple (AAPL), and Amazon (AMZN) all have the ability to reach into devices to delete illicit content or edit code without users’ permission. It’s a powerful way to stop threats that spread quickly, but it’s also a privacy and security land mine.

With the rollout of the Windows 8 operating system expected later this year, millions of desktop and laptop PCs will get kill switches for the first time. Microsoft (MSFT) hasn’t spoken publicly about its reasons for including this capability in Windows 8 beyond a cryptic warning that it might be compelled to use it for legal or security reasons. The feature was publicized in a widely cited Computerworld article in December when Microsoft posted the terms of use for its new application store, a feature in Windows 8 that will allow users to download software from a Microsoft-controlled portal. Windows smartphones, like those of its competitors, have included kill switches for several years, though software deletion “is a last resort, and it’s uncommon,” says Todd Biggs, director of product management for Windows Phone Marketplace.

Microsoft declined to answer questions about the kill switch in Windows 8 other than to say it will only be able to remove or change applications downloaded through the new app store. Any software loaded from a flash drive, DVD, or directly from the Web will remain outside Microsoft’s control. Still, the kill switch is a tool that could help Microsoft prevent mass malware infections. “For most users, the ability to remotely remove apps is a good thing,” says Charlie Miller, a researcher with the security company Accuvant.

The history of kill switches on smartphones and e-readers suggests they’re double-edged swords for the companies that wield them. In 2009, Amazon reached into users’ Kindles to delete e-book copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm that had been sold by a publisher without the necessary rights. The ensuing backlash caused Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos to call the move “stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles.”

The reluctance of tech companies to set explicit policies for when they will and will not use kill switches contributes to the fear they’ll be abused. Civil rights and free speech advocates worry that tech companies could be pressured by governments to delete software or data for political reasons. “You have someone who has absolute control over my hard drive in ways I may have never anticipated or consented to,” says Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University’s law school in California. “If they use that power wisely, they actually make my life better. We don’t know if they use the power wisely. In fact, we may never know when they use their power at all.”

Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s vice president of Android engineering, says the search company reserves the use of the kill switch for “really egregious, really obvious cases” of harmful content. Microsoft’s Biggs says the company has used the functionality in its smartphones only for “technical issues and content issues.” Apple declined to comment. Amazon did not respond to several messages.

Like many in his profession, Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder of the San Francisco startup Lookout, which makes security software for smartphones, expresses mixed emotions about the emergence of kill switches. “The remote removal tools are very much a response to the mistakes of the PC era,” he says. “Whether or not it’s an overcorrection, I think history will tell us. It can be done right, but we as an industry need to tread carefully. It’s easy to imagine several dystopian futures that can arise from this.”

One supporter is Janne Kytömäki, the Finn who discovered the Android malware outbreak. He says Google did the right thing by deleting the malware without users’ permission. “What was the alternative?” he says. “Leave those apps installed on 200,000 people’s mobiles? This is something that had to be done.”

– Source: Business Week

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122 Comments on "Windows 8 Will Have a “Kill Switch”"

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inishE8ed
3 years 1 month ago

It's NOT NWO, it is Old World Order re-establising itself. Conspiracy theories are self defeating because they often rely on wild and unsubstantiated or unverifiable claims. Where we have 'verification' of nefarious activity, we need to focus and expose. There is a great deal of effort and resources that are devoted to making Conspiracy Theorists impotent and ineffective by portraying them as paranoid and delusional. If you want to do something important, drop the crazy and fantastic ideas and focus on REAL and VERIFIABLE evidence of the coming ages. Peace and God bless.

nerfero
3 years 6 months ago

kill switch will be a nice backdoor for hackers to xploit, footshooting on high lvl

Meh
4 years 4 months ago

Simple answer screw Windows and install Linux problem solved.

Lets see Windows laundry list:

– Kill Switch

– DRM Protection

– Spyware

– Cloud

– Ugly UI and Metro crap

– Store Front

– Storage Space

– Virtualization

– Micro payments (wouldn't be surprised)

– Anything else I might have missed…

ADFENO
4 years 5 months ago
Dear reader, I do not like to join those popular social groups (in other words, Anonymous), I do not know how but they look too weird and their objectives are too perfect, and protests do not help if people do not know how to control themselves inside and outside. I am proud to say that I still like good hours at my personal small library, the school library, and the schoolbooks I received this year. And thanks for this habits I have ease to do synthesis about any given text, and my brain begun to evolve more faster since I… Read more »
Human
4 years 5 months ago
I read a tech article somewhere that Windows 8 is only an update of Windows 7 because of its version number and the only real difference will be in the graphic user interface (the windows screens), so Windows 7 will likely have the switch. Don't forget to look always of reducing your digital footprint and reduce information given to browsers etc (privacy/security on he web). The only way around the remote deletion is to possibly rename files along with different file extensions, encrypt files (tricky if the device is damaged), save to multiple formats such as CD/DVD/USB/SD Card in multiple… Read more »
back is getting tigh
4 years 5 months ago

"SO SHOULD I GET A MAC?"

MAC OS X is not open source.

Try Linux or BSD.

Check http://www.distrowatch.com and have fun.

ariana
4 years 5 months ago

SO SHOULD I GET A MAC?

Chez
4 years 5 months ago

The more things change

the more they stay the same

4 years 5 months ago

It was inevitable. I don't think it is scary. If there weren't unscrupulous individuals, there wouldn't be any need. If all the citizens and visitors in a country were upright and honest there would be no need for police.

4 years 5 months ago

this is scary! it's like they will be able to access not only phones and its messages, but also laptops/computers and its private documents! I am not buying a new laptop, nor am I upgrading my software. :)) This is truly informative. Thank you!

microphone test
4 years 5 months ago
"Well, if this is true or not, I cannot tell, because I use GNU/Linux," The same is true for *nix, you just have to have the right monitoring tools and know what to look for inside binaries which are easily messed with by injecting malware into them and tools used by "THEM" to obscure the code injected into the ELF binaries so as to avoid being picked up as malware. One simple command you can use to check for modifications to your files: sudo find /usr/bin -mtime -60 That will search /usr/bin for files modified within 60 minutes, adjust the… Read more »
Don't Kinect
4 years 5 months ago
Written by Alphonse: Microsoft Kinect Spy System "So you just got the Kinect/Xbox360 gaming system and you’re having fun, hanging out in your underwear, plopped down in your favorite lounge chair, and playing games with your buddies. Yeah, it’s great to have a microphone and camera in your game system so you can “Kinect” to your pals while you play, but did you read that Terms of Service Agreement that came with your Kinect thingy? No? Here, let me point out an important part of that service agreement. If you accept the agreement, you “expressly authorize and consent to us… Read more »
Timmy
4 years 5 months ago

Oh jeez this now..

Mike
4 years 5 months ago

Read the whole article just there. While the killswitch definitly has its uses, as with all technology it seems that it has the potential to be abused. In context of the recent passing of the cyber security act in my country (Ireland) by minister sherlock I do find this slightly concerning.

J.R.
4 years 5 months ago
Very good comments on here…and indeed this is an issue. However I will once again(unfortuantely) refer to "the Matrix" to reseolve this issure. People willonly accept this new system(ie; the kill switch) if they are given a choice, even if only at the subliminal level….lol seriously though the fix is simple DONT GO INTO PEOPLES stuff!!!! If they want to fix it, send the user a message saying "hey ___ is mseed up or not functioning, the system is requesting access to modify this file….do you agree?" We will probably say yes, but it is most importatnt that we HAD… Read more »
nizho grafx
4 years 5 months ago

LINUX LINUX LINUX DEBIAN DEBIAN DEBIAN!

The best investment that don't cost anything. ROCK SOLID!!! FAST AND FUN!!!!

TheForgottenAlchemis
4 years 5 months ago

Alright, that's why I like my current OS and (Vista) and there's always Linux. I don't care for touching my screen anyway, I like a keyboard.

ADFENO
4 years 5 months ago
@Transvestite Mummy Zombie, Well, if this is true or not, I cannot tell, because I use GNU/Linux, but I am worried about my parents, their notebook have Windows as operating system with VLC Media Player installed, we hate proprietary software (believe me, it was hard to make them feel confortable with Free or Open Source software, and they still look at GNU/Linux with an ugly face, although they accept it). Only one of my schoolfriends likes GNU/Linux and prefers it instead of Windows, and we are trying to convince one more to like it. 😀 And also, I am very… Read more »
transvestite mummy z
4 years 5 months ago
“but do you know how to check and is there any point checking when we already know NSA/KGB, etc etc have the globe encircled with satellites?” try lining your windows with tinfoil and check it after a few months. You’ll discover straight LINES and DOTS (tiny peep holes). This is with the tinfoil on the inside of the windows’ surface, in-house/apartment. What causes this? I believe most, if not all consumer computers and devices are, if not monitored, swept and mirrored by big bro using satellite technology. One anonymous poster to pastebin, claiming to be representitive of Mossad, fired a… Read more »
Sammy
4 years 5 months ago

And now technology is being influenced with the dark intentions of those who are the big bosses that can do whatever they want at the mercy of the people who are already suffering worse.

Killswitch Engage is definitely coming to destroy one's computer.

It seems that when everything is being controlled, I was never expecting "everything and all things" involved including this.

AlKHall
4 years 5 months ago
I did not read through all the comments, so please forgive me if this has already been mentioned. A 'kill switch' is all well and good to remove malicious code that is infecting users devices. However, I wonder why the potentially malicious software is not vetted before being allowed on the APP Store? Does Microsoft not have control over their own APP Store? Can anyone just upload malware with no oversight from Microsoft? If Microsoft et al really care about preventing the spread of malware, I believe the best solution is to prevent it from being installed in the first… Read more »
Anonymous
4 years 5 months ago

Just great. It's like microsoft's own SOPA. "Oh, were just trying to keep you safe while we just randomly delete your private files and modify your source code."

Jesse
4 years 5 months ago

So….They are going to release a kill switch….then bug fix all the backdoors they left open with it. THEN realise they stuffed up and not do it in windows 9? Silly concept, Silly solution to a problem that hasn't even arisen.

ADFENO
4 years 5 months ago
@Godozo Touching the subject about MP3 and MP4 files, I recommend OGG, although only a few devices plays them. For those worried PlayStation 3 users, there is PS3 Media Server, I have managed to play my OGG musics and my OGV videos on my father's PlayStation 3 using a wireless connection (it appears that the device did not handled the OGG video extension, so I changed it to OGV and it worked well, although the colors were a mess, anyway, the important for my were the musics). And how lucky I am, my mother's home theater, my parents' television, our… Read more »
Brasileiro
4 years 5 months ago

A reason more among thausand others to use Linux instead of windows.

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