Summary: Debates about the dangers of Skype focus on one of the least dangerous aspects of Skype
THE PROBLEM with Skype is not quite what The H focuses on. Microsoft claims to be scanning people’s conversations to mitigate the threat of phishing scams and such, but this doesn’t quite compute unless they only ever test for redirections in
HEAD. To say that Skype is tracking people’s conversations would not be shocking because even years ago (before Skype was taken up by Microsoft and the NSA) China was given access to text conversations for censorship purposes (similar to security purposes in the practical sense). This is well documented in news sites, especially in Western news sites that like to berate China over practices that the West too harbours, but always under plausible denial clauses.
For those who have not seen the widely-syndicated and discussed report from Heise (or The H), in English the summary says: “A Microsoft server accesses URLs sent in Skype chat messages, even if they are HTTPS URLs and contain account information. A reader of Heise publications notified Heise Security (link to German website, Google translation). They replicated the observation by sending links via Skype, including one to a private file storage account, and found that these URLs are shortly after accessed from a Microsoft IP address. When confronted, Microsoft claimed that this is part of an effort to detect and filter spam and phishing URLs.”
“The H and heise Security believe that, having consented to Microsoft using all data transmitted over the service pretty much however it likes, all Skype users should assume that this will actually happen and that the company is not going to reveal what exactly it gets up to with this data.”
–The HAs the article in The H puts it: “Anyone who uses Skype has consented to the company reading everything they write. The H’s associates in Germany at heise Security have now discovered that the Microsoft subsidiary does in fact make use of this privilege in practice. Shortly after sending HTTPS URLs over the instant messaging service, those URLs receive an unannounced visit from Microsoft HQ in Redmond.
“A reader informed heise Security that he had observed some unusual network traffic following a Skype instant messaging conversation. The server indicated a potential replay attack. It turned out that an IP address which traced back to Microsoft had accessed the HTTPS URLs previously transmitted over Skype. Heise Security then reproduced the events by sending two test HTTPS URLs, one containing login information and one pointing to a private cloud-based file-sharing service.”
Microsoft’s excuses didn’t pass muster (the security excuse for surveillance, where all they can really test for is a redirection). “In summary,” says the author, “The H and heise Security believe that, having consented to Microsoft using all data transmitted over the service pretty much however it likes, all Skype users should assume that this will actually happen and that the company is not going to reveal what exactly it gets up to with this data.”
And from the comments we learn it’s worse than The H originally put it: “We tested it at mooncascade.com. I can confirm there is correlation between URL-s in Skype chats and web server access logs with traces from Redmond. There are both https and http accesses.”
Another commenter says:
So much about the “AES encryption” Skype promisses:
> All Skype-to-Skype voice, video, and instant message conversations
> are encrypted. This protects you from potential eavesdropping by
> malicious users.
Aparently, this falls into the same category as “McDonalds food is
healty and tastes good”.
This whole debate, unfortunately, misses a key point; not just text conversations are being tracked but voice ones (relayed through US infrastructure) — the bread and butter of Skype — are also being tracked and Skype as a binary ensures not only that Windows is hijackable, as we showed before, but that all platforms are rendered hijackable when Skype is running in the background (Skype has no intention of addressing these issues). The debate should be altered to take account of these much greater threats. By the way, on Windows it doesn’t even take Skype to hijack a computer; Microsoft has just admitted that exploits in the wild exist that help hijack Windows through a built-in program and there is also software that lets people’s Facebook accounts get hijacked through Windows, including on Vista 8 (the operating system which hardly sells, leading Microsoft to lies and inexcusable disinformation).
“A much rarer event, however, is one of Redmond’s own unloading publicly on the faults of not only Windows, but Microsoft’s company culture.”
–GizmodoThe Free Software Foundation has long been campaigning against Skype, even before Microsoft took over. GNU/Linux with SKype binaries is just about as compromisable as other platforms. The weakest link counts. It is worth noting that even a Windows developer admits that Windows is inferior to Linux, stirring up further debate. As Gizmodo put it: “Right now, somewhere on the internet, there is a flame war occurring between devotees of Linux and Windows. It’s just the nature of passionate software evangelism. A much rarer event, however, is one of Redmond’s own unloading publicly on the faults of not only Windows, but Microsoft’s company culture.”
At Microsoft, backdoors are not a bug; sometimes they are a feature. Since nobody among the users can inspect the code or thoroughly interpret the binaries, it’s hard to remove the backdoors, let alone prove their existence. █
“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.” –Mahatma Gandhi
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Summary: Western Digital and other hardware companies help turn general-purpose machinery into Windows-expecting machinery
Our criticism of UEFI Restricted Boot is not just to do with GNU/Linux and BSD. It’s to do with a troubling trend where hardware gets closely tied to software. It’s an artificial limitation which is dangerous and costly. Tech tabloid ZDNet has this post which says “ARM now recommends UEFI as the preferred boot loader for its 64-bit processors that are based on the ARMv8 AArch64 architecture, silicon that is finding its way into all sorts of devices, from smartphones to servers and introduced a new raft of features, including a larger register file, enhanced addressing range and support for cryptography instructions.”
“With FAT preinstalled, Microsoft comes knocking to demand payments, even if support for FAT is implemented by Linux.”This is not good. And not just because of Microsoft. On devices there is no option for disabling Restricted Boot. Microsoft can exploit that for unfair advantage, or an antitrust violation. Moreover, says Claudio in D*, “First it was Winmodems, and now it’s Windrives? WTF?!? This is 2013, guys.”
To quote the article he references: “PC makers using the Black SSHD will be able to choose between WD’s proprietary driver and one provided by Intel. The drivers behave similarly, according to Rutledge, but they’re not identical. The WD driver was developed in-house and works with both Windows 7 and 8. In an interesting twist, that driver also employs system memory as part of the caching scheme. We’ll probably have to wait until the Haswell launch next month to find out exactly what Intel is bringing to the table.” (source)
As TomTom found out, there is another problem with storage devices. With FAT preinstalled, Microsoft comes knocking to demand payments, even if support for FAT is implemented by Linux. There is also preinstalled NTFS on Seagate, which makes it no better than Western Digital with built-in DRM (all magnetic drives seem to be Microsoft-infected). These are issues we need to protest against. It’s the beginning of the slippery slope. Hardware, unlike software. cannot be re-imaged (like replacing Windows with GNU/Linux). █
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Great example of Microsoft PR agencies distorting the news via moles
Summary: A timely look at how ‘former’ Microsoft writers — not just current ones — help manage perceptions at Microsoft’s behalf, infiltrating the media and even forums
AS WE last explained yesterday, there is some ugly pattern of deception emanating from Microsoft boosters. They try to shift liability for the failure of Vista 8 — a failure that not even they cannot deny any longer. There are ‘former’ Microsoft writers (as in, people who used to work for Microsoft) who continue to promote Vista 8 in various ways. This one, who works for CBS right now, does this trick by saying that low-cost gadgets are “to energize the PC market”. This may be true and Microsoft is totally out of this game, right? Well, not based on his framing. The article by this Microsoft booster mentions “touch-screen laptops” to give the illusion that Microsoft is still relevant in the future. This is how propaganda works. And by citing numbers from Microsoft’s partner Net Applications in the former article he also helps give the illusion that Vista 8 adoption is wonderful. Lies so big that they can make one vomit, eh? With Windows Blue (vapourware) being the focus of Microsoft right now, it is clear that Microsoft is already giving up on Vista 8 (retreat), but the boosters carry on with their deceptive ‘reports’. Well, there are more examples like that, involving many other writers, but we just focus on this one writer (formerly of Microsoft) with his two latest articles which are flawed in order to make the point. Vista 7 relied on similar tactics, including bribery of bloggers.
There is a fairly new article which covers this fascinating and troublesome phenomenon as a whole. Charlie Demerjian’s analysis is summarised as “Unleash the astroturfers to blacken the forums ASAP” (AstroTurfing is perpetually a strategy at Microsoft).
“Given the echo chamber effect of the internet where no one seems to think about the numbers they are reporting much less actually fact check them, it is really easy to manipulate the press and create “truth”. Microsoft is quite adept at this technique.”
–Charlie DemerjianTo quote: “So when Microsoft has good news, they shout it from the rooftops loudly. It is usually picked up by anyone that will listen and printed in just about every news outlet out there. Given the echo chamber effect of the internet where no one seems to think about the numbers they are reporting much less actually fact check them, it is really easy to manipulate the press and create “truth”. Microsoft is quite adept at this technique.”
Microsoft moles in the media are managed by Microsoft PR agencies which pass them material to publish in respective publications. That’s how it works. Demerjian continues as follows: “If change in PCs was needed to spur sales, that didn’t happen during the launches of Vista and 7. Sales rose. It did happen during the launch of Windows 8 and sales plummeted. Before you point out that change may be the actual cause of this plunge, think about one other little thing. You can still get Vista/7 form factor PCs now, you just can’t get them with those OSes. See the logical problem?
“Sadly though the damage control team, agency more likely, did their market research right. The whole fairy tale about PC makers being at fault seem to be getting some legs if not showing early signs of going viral. This is a really well thought out campaign given what they have to work with, cynical, unethical and anti-consumer though it is. Make no mistake though, it isn’t organic and is very manufactured. Things like this don’t go from nowhere to everywhere overnight without lots of backing and low wage forum drones to astroturf on your behalf. That said, it seems to be money well spent on Microsoft’s behalf.”
Be wary of the well-coordinated disinformation campaign, the deception centred around the idea that hardware companies — not Microsoft — are to blame for Vista 8′s poor adoption. Microsoft is trying to play with people’s minds, as always. █
“The first wave will attack the perception that Linux is free.”
–Brian Valentine, Microsoft
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Summary: Some data points which show how Windows, Microsoft’s common carrier, is declining on the desktop side and the server side
A lot has been written and said about the consequences of Windows XP coming to an end in the sense that it’s no longer fit for use in a regulated environment that demands patching of all software. Some computers store or process sensitive information not about the user, which makes the user or his/her employer ripe for lawsuits upon security compromises, where the plaintiff can allege neglect. This is why businesses and governments are slower to upgrade and need compelling technical reasons to upgrade, only after thorough testing. This is why many of them still use Windows XP. Vista 8 is not an upgrade, it’s a failed experiment.
In less than a year Microsoft will pull the plug on Windows XP, leaving many businesses and governments not in a dilemmas but under legal imperative to move to a newer operating system. It need not be Windows. Speaking very generally, Microsoft’s security failures gave it utterly bad reputation that, putting business abuses and crime aside, led few managers to putting Windows on Web-facing boxes. Web servers are one area where Microsoft is well behind and UNIX/Linux reign. Based on market share estimates from Netcraft, Microsoft continues its slide to the bottom. As Pogson put it: “In Netcraft’s latest survey, M$ is down to 11% of active sites surveyed and 12.3% of the million busiest sites. Interestingly, the former number is off 1% and the latter, off 1.3% in the last month.”
Moreover, notes Pogson, the government of Japan will retire many computers that run Windows XP, which is a malware magnet with or without patches. As this one report [via] puts it: “On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will end support for its XP operating system which is still installed on one-third of PCs in Japan. After that date, the company will no longer provide corrective updates should any security flaws be discovered, meaning users will be more susceptible to risks such as information theft and leakage. Though local governments are moving ahead with replacement plans, “cost concerns” and “worries about human error” are weighing heavily on some municipalities as talk of strategies including simply unplugging vulnerable machines and duct taping their ethernet ports becomes worryingly common.”
Windows-running desktops as well as desktops in general suffer a decline in relative importance. Legacy hardware that ran Windows XP sooner or later will rot. We are living through the age when Windows became unwanted not just on devices and the Web but also on workstations. █
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On to imaginary products
“In the face of strong competition, Evangelism’s focus may shift immediately to the next version of the same technology, however. Indeed, Phase 1 (Evangelism Starts) for version x+1 may start as soon as this Final Release of version X.”
–Microsoft, internal document
Summary: The sale of Dell turns out to have been initiated by Microsoft, whose leading product (common carrier) is already having obituaries written about it due to the messages which come out from Microsoft
The manager behind the product which we dubbed Vista 8 has already been fired. It is easy to see why now that we have preliminary market statistics, just over half a year after the official release. Vista 8 greatly harmed OEMs such as Dell (Dell too has complained) and this new report says that Microsoft is paying Dell [1, 2, 3] to encumber PCs with Vista 8, leaving the customers out of the loop.
The terms of Microsoft’s $2 billion loan into the war chest of Denali Holdings, the Dell private buyout entity led by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners, are now public record. Microsoft’s money was key in raising the $24.4 billion required to finalize the offer for Dell, but it’s possible Dell will benefit even beyond the loan; the loan documents make clear that after the acquisition is complete, Dell will re-negotiate its payment terms for Microsoft software licenses.
So no longer is it mere speculation that Microsoft was behind Dell going private and selling out. “Windows Blues,” as iophk calls it, is what we are seeing here. “Vista 8 is failing so they are already doing the N+1 thing,” he adds. Here is a report about it. Talk about rush; this is motivated by panic. The Guardian says “PC sales plummet”, but what it means to actually say is “Windows preinstalls plummet” (because of failure to evolve). “Biggest expectation is that update will revive start button familiar to users for 17 years before removal from Windows 8,” writes Charles Arthur. But that’s not really an apt summary. The real news is that Windows is plummeting to minority market share and Microsoft has no clue what to do about it. Here is CNET claiming “‘Wintel’ on the wane: Intel goes Google”. The summary is as follows: “Intel has been synonymous with Windows PCs seemingly forever. But it’s trying to change that in a hurry. Enter Google.”
I recently had lunch with an Intel engineer who acknowledged this trend. Moblin and Tizen were not good enough as comeback attempts. Here is a criticism of what Microsoft is essentially doing right now. The author alleges that Windows 8 marketing fiasco deemed even worse than ‘New Coke’ and he starts with the obvious pitfall: “With the Windows Blue update on the way, analysts have already started writing obituaries for Windows 8, the operating system that proved to be immensely polarizing among PC users. While history will likely look upon Windows 8 more kindly than the widely despised Vista, Envisioneering analyst Richard Doherty tells The Financial Times that it will be remembered as the biggest marketing fiasco since Coca Cola decided to rework the
formula for its famous soft drink back in the ’80s.”
Here is IDG with some numbers:
Microsoft’s own numbers show Windows 8 sales falling rapidly
Microsoft says it’s sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses to date, but its officially reported monthly sales are falling off precipitously
Based on some numbers from IDC (part of IDG), despite a lot of money spent on marketing, Windows is a non-starter outside the desktop. █
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Summary: UEFI Restricted Boot continues to be blamed for impeding the growth of free operating systems amid widespread Vista 8 dissatisfaction
The truth of the matter is that “Windows 8 is making only marginal progress and Windows RT continues to flop,” says the Associate Editor of InformationWeek.com, which is a Microsoft-friendly Web site. Even Windows boosters hardly ever denied that Vista 8 is a flop. They just blame others, e.g. OEMs, the users, etc. Mr. Pogson points out that Microsoft is creating a new breed of lock-in and OEMs are still part of it. With UEFI Restricted Boot, which distros are still just trying to catch up with, Microsoft has even upset some rather Microsoft-friendly entities, as Ravi reminds us. The Linux Foundation says that “this has raised concerns that Microsoft Secure Boot will make it difficult to install Linux or other operating systems on a Windows 8 computer.”
The very notion of a “Windows 8 computer” is rather sickening. Microsoft wants to impede general-purpose computer architecture. A Linux and BSD proponents site says that Vista 8 is the “most important reason to switch to [GNU]\Linux” and UEFI has a lot to do with it. The site’s author starts by stating:
As somebody who fully embraces the Free Software principle, I have no need for Windows 8 in my environment. Never used any version of Windows, and never will.
Previous versions of Windows were bad enough, but Windows 8, with its Restricted Boot requirements, have made dual-booting a Linux distribution with Windows 8 on store-bought computers a royal pain in the rear end.
Developers mostly reject Vista 8 and even Linux critics (masquerading as “advocates”), lean on the FSF for support. To quote:
The Free Software Foundation has taken recently to running a rather aggressive campaign.
Go to the website and judge for yourself. I hope the information helps you to make an informed decision that includes switching away from Windows to Linux.
“A hedge fund whose purpose is to influence boards sees potential in Microsoft and wants it to bring Office to more platforms,” according to a new report on which our contributor remarks as follows: “The office format monopoly is what ties people to Windows and helps keep the Windows monopoly. Here is pressure to break that.”
Windows on portable devices is a failure as Windows RT never took off and one pundit wrote:
The Web usage numbers are in: Windows RT can’t get traction, and Lenovo doesn’t believe RT ‘is what businesses want’
From the same site we pull this other criticism:
iOS and Android work well enough on a smaller screen, but Windows 8 will not
This is an area where Microsoft has been trying to make embedded chips Linux-hostile, especially with companies like ARM involved. This never worked because Microsoft lacked inertia in the area, but what about the desktop? A formal antitrust complaint has been lodged. █
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Don’t be bamboozled by Microsoft’s lies
Summary: The reality behind Microsoft’s financial results and the continued agony associated with inability to compete against Linux
As noted in the previous post, Microsoft’s CFO is fleeing, perhaps not wanting to be held accountable for future quarters at Microsoft. Mr. Arthur, who rarely takes Microsoft’s claims at face value, writes: “Here’s the first part of what happened. In June, Microsoft offered a scheme where people who bought a Windows 7 PC could update it to Windows 8 for just $15. The scheme ran through to December, and only after that could all the money received in it be cashed in. That gave a $1.1bn boost in “deferred” revenue which was really earned in the preceding six months, but couldn’t be recognised then.
“Take that away from the latest total, and you’re left with $4.60bn in this latest quarter, compared to $4.63bn a year ago.”
A year ago is before a new version of Windows came out! Talk about Vista 8 killing sales…
“Take that away from the latest total, and you’re left with $4.60bn in this latest quarter, compared to $4.63bn a year ago.”
–Charles ArthurThis weekend I bought two tablets and Microsoft was nowhere in sight among the tablets on display (the salesman was misinformed though, strongly insisting that one needs anti-virus software to use Android). People who bought tablets from Microsoft were not pleased, so this is becoming a dying breed and a source of misconception about security and stability (my Android tablet has not been booted for two months, since I first bought it). Well, the world is changing for everyone including the copyright industry because sales of portable devices are growing and many run Free software systems which thrive in abundance. Even Microsoft business partners report a serious decline for Windows machines and the Microsoft booster says that Microsoft is running back to where it used to be, essentially moving backwards with a “plan B”.
Microsoft just cannot evolve, not even by hijacking Nokia, which is dying under Microsoft leadership. “Do I need to remind you, that just before the Elop Effect, Nokia sold 2.6 million phones per quarter in the US market,” writes Tomi Ahonen.
“It’s about patent money,” writes Pamela Jones, “that agreement, in my view. I don’t think they care all that much about sales of phones. It’s like SCO selling Unix. They surely didn’t care. It was all about the litigation, which of course they denied until they were no more.”
“Why are GNU/Linux developers having to struggle with UEFI restrictions in the first place?”Having failed to stop the growth of Linux as of late, Microsoft also uses UEFI, which necessitates special distro releases just for Microsoft. As Jamie Watson put it the other day in his blog: “The Live image is Secure Boot compatible, but the installed system is not?”
Why are GNU/Linux developers having to struggle with UEFI restrictions in the first place? This is what Microsoft was hoping to achieve, but it cannot stop Android. UEFI is now the subject of an antitrust investigation, but when will there be another SEC investigation into Microsoft’s dirty financial tricks? Shareholders are being deceived. █
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Summary: In addition to filing an antitrust complaint against Android, Microsoft is committing antitrust sins when forcing OEMs to make hardware Microsoft-dominated
The Vista series, starting with Windows Vista, has been crushing the Windows franchise. Microsoft repeatedly extended the life of XP, now a 12-year-old system, in order to keep GNU/Linux at bay (Microsoft also used corrupt business practices to achieve this).
The other day we saw Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols saying that Windows is pretty much finished. To quote:
Windows: It’s over
You can think Windows 8 will evolve into something better, but the numbers show that Windows is coming to a dead end.
Vista 8 is indeed a dead end as Microsoft already leaps to vapurware, or imaginary replacements. ZDNet has this piece titled “What really signed the PC’s death warrant? Microsoft’s decision to support netbooks” (to keep GNU/Linux down).
“Some of the reasons for the collapse of the the PC market go a lot further back than the reception of Windows 8,” argues the author. By bribing to keep GNU/Linux out of netbooks Microsoft devalued Windows, which had already seen its value deflating after Vista came out.
There is a shameless attempt at spin, blaming hardware rather than software and given that Microsoft’s hardware is rejected as much as its software, this distraction does not hold water. We covered this before with examples.
One reader of ours asked: “Which real reviewer actually praised Microsoft Surface?
“It’s DOA like Vista 8 is.”
The Microsoft boosters too acknowledge Microsoft’s defeat, but their new strategy is to just discredit the opposition, as we shall show in a later post. Here is what the booster says:
The tablet market will grow this year by 38% to 150 million units, but Microsoft won’t be a beneficiary, says a new report from ABI Research. Windows tablets, BlackBerry tablets and “unidentified OS implementations” currently make up only 3% of the total market, and don’t show signs of significant growth.
The ABI Research report says that an estimated 150 million tablets will ship in 2013, worth an estimated $64 billion. The total number of tablets will grow by a projected 38% over 2012, and the total revenue will grow a projected 28%.
Realising that Linux is unstoppable and the demise of Windows to minority userbase imminent, Microsoft filed an antitrust complaint through a proxy. ECT has an analysis of it here. The overview says “Microsoft has “tried forcing people to license Android from them to try to kill Android, and they’ve tried putting out their own mobile OS to try to kill Android,” said blogger Mike Stone. “Both initiatives have failed on every level. People are still buying Android devices as fast as they can be made. All that’s left is to follow in Apple’s footsteps and sue sue sue. It stinks of desperation.”"
“Other people may turn to Windows in such a scenario.”Well, the latest antitrust violation is Microsoft’s, which according to yet more articles like this one is suppressing GNU/Linux adoption.
It is about UEFI restricted boot. “UEFI BIOS and Secure Boot work perfectly well with only Linux installed according to the experiments I have conducted on my own PC,” writes Jamie Watson this week. It has become complicated due to Microsoft’s dirty trick. Yesterday after an in-place distro upgrade I had to resolve a GRUB issue before I could boot again, so I know the feeling of discouragement through complexity, I nearly gave up and installed everything from scratch. Other people may turn to Windows in such a scenario. Some might simply stay with it, no matter how fed up they are. This is Microsoft’s last hope. █
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