Windows Telemetry

In August 2015, Microsoft delivered some ‘optional’ updates to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users (KB3075249, KB3080149 and KB3068708) that would provide the same telemetry data.

To disable this in Win 7 & 8, go to Start and type in services in the search box. Then click on Services. Go down the list in the left-hand pane and select Diagnostics Tracking Service and right click Properties. In Properties change Startup type to Disabled.

Windows 10 comes with the telemetry feature enabled by default and this collects user activity and sends it to Microsoft. Once installed, it looks like there is no way to disable it completely using the Settings app for Home and Pro editions of Windows 10. Only Enterprise users can turn it off by editing the registry. The best practice is to install Win 10 using the Microsoft’s Media Creation tool (see Windows 10 as Spyware) and then confirm that the telemetry is shut-off in the registry.

Due to complaints about Microsoft’s practices, the updates that scrape data from your computer now appear as telemetary updates or as security updates to IE. As more people object, expect these updates to appear in a different guise.

Disabling the WIN 10 Upgrade Nagging

In June 2016, this nagging became much more intrusive. MS began squatting on your machine with the Win 10 install files. They then began installing Win 10 without warning on unsuspecting users.

Given the privacy and security concerns with Win 10, you may not  want to be nagged to update, here’s how to stop the Windows 10 upgrade notifications and run Windows 7 or 8 forever.

There are a few methods which worked in the past but no longer stop the nagging and surreptitious install of Win 10. Never10 is the current tool that most easily disables the upgrade.

Windows 10 as Spyware

Current users of Windows 7 or 8 have been offered free upgrades to Windows 10. This would be tempting except for the liability that this may create. As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Many experts deem lots of the new so-called features to be spyware. It is one thing to find an application misbehaving; it is entirely different to use an OS designed to allow Microsoft (MS) to monetize your data and squat on your computer hard drive. Built into the Windows 10 OS are spying and data-mining features that deliver data to MS which MS then uses to generate profits.

The long-winded Microsoft Services Agreement runs to 40,000 words of impenetrable legalese and you must agree to everything in it to get your new OS. Unfortunately, or is it predictably, the agreement appears to grant Microsoft the right to read, save, and share anything stored on or accessed using any computer running MS Windows as well as any computer using MS products or services. By default, all of this snooping is turned on and I have serious concerns that it may be impossible to entirely prevent this snooping.

Portions of Microsoft’s privacy policy, which is part of the services agreement, indicates that the MS may use a keylogger to collect users’ data. This means, if you open a file and type, MS has access to what you type, and the file containing the what you type. This may also apply to voice information from speech processing software. Of course, MS offers a way to shut-off all this logging, but you have to believe that it actually works and stays off.

If you are careful in planning your upgrade to Windows 10, and if you have the technical knowledge, then you can probably upgrade the OS while preserving your professional obligation to protect client confidentiality and privacy, at least initially.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality you should use Microsoft’s Media Creation tool. This gives you a copy of the OS installation files. You’ll need at least a 6 GB USB drive. You can use it on multiple PCs. During an upgrade, the installation will look to see if you already have a product key. To do a clean install you may need to have your Windows 7 or 8 product key. You should tape it on your PC. Keep the USB since there’s no other way to get back to Windows 10 if anything unexpected happens. Doing the installation otherwise may allow MS to scrape data from your computer.

By clicking on “Express Settings” during installation you give away your contacts, calendar details, text and touch input, location data, and a whole lot more. It is clear that MS wants to monetize the confidential information on your computer. This creates a serious liability for Canadian private investigators who maintain personal identifiers and other confidential information on Windows 10 machines. Under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PEPIDA), by accepting the terms of the Microsoft Services Agreement you have chosen to share this information and in most cases that may be illegal. Accepting this agreement may also put private investigators in contravention of their licencing statutes.

If you click on the small “Customise settings” button at installation, you must toggle many settings on two pages to ‘off’. Don’t forget to include Wi-Fi Sense. Using the Privacy App to turn-off the data stream to MS for those who have already installed the OS using “Express Settings” will be even more confusing to the average user. After doing all the above, Windows 10 continues to send confidential data to MS unless you dig into the registry and group policy editor. Stopping the snooping will disable many features like the digital assistant Cortana that MS is marketing as a reason to upgrade to Windows 10. However, what I am describing here only describes what we can see. Without conducting packet-level analysis, we you don’t really know what data is being sent back to Microsoft, and by which service.

You will also need to go into Windows Firewall and turn-off the rules that allowed a whole slew of Microsoft applications to transmit information.

Windows 10 Home comes with full-disk BitLocker encryption. To enable it, you must use a Microsoft account and the recovery key needed to decrypt your drive resides on Microsoft’s servers. Doing this violates your professional obligations. However, Windows 10 Pro doesn’t have this restriction: you can use BitLocker with a local account and keep your key out of the cloud. Most investigators would use Windows 10 Home and theoretically, a third party could decrypt their drives remotely.

The data stream from your PC to MS is bad enough, but somebody will learn to intercept this data stream and this will leave you open to a targeted attack. If the hacker releases the stolen data and it is tracked back to you or your computer, then your career is likely over. You can expect some form of action under PEPIDA and/or prosecution under your licencing statute. This data breach will almost certainly result in a civil suit and adverse publicity. Who would hire a PI or researcher like that?

Another concern is how updates are delivered. Like Bittorrent, Win 10 updates will be distributed from other Win 10 PCs  This presents an extreme risk, as you don’t know where the update is really coming from. You have to know enough to choose how your updates are delivered.

Privacy & the PI

Let’s address this situation realistically from the perspective of the PI or researcher determined to use Windows 10.

Let’s assume that you are a trusting individual. You trust MS government officials, litigants, lawyers, and everybody else to not understand or care that you accepted the Microsoft Service agreement that grants MS access to all your confidential data and the right to save and share it. You must also trust that your own technical expertise is up to the task of properly installing Windows 10 to circumvent all the efforts of MS to access your data.

At the outset, you pay extra for the Pro version to set-up disk encryption with a local account because you are security conscious.

First, you try to install the OS without it being connected to the Internet to ensure it doesn’t scrape data from your PC. This doesn’t work, as it needs connectivity to complete the installation. You discover that you must use the clean install method (using Microsoft’s Media Creation tool) described above to isolate your PC from the Internet to ensure that MS doesn’t scrape data from you computer during the installation. There are reports of Win 10 install files being placed on your computer on Patch Tuesday to use your PC to further distribute the OS installation files. You must learn how to get your patches from only a trusted source and to prevent MS from using your PC to distribute the OS.

Second, upon ensuring that it will not scrape data from your PC during installation, you toggle two pages of settings to ‘off’ and lose many of the new features.

Third, you edit registry and group policies to staunch the continuing flow of data to MS. Doesn’t everybody know how to do this without damaging the usability of the OS?

Fourth, in Windows Firewall, you turn-off the rules that allow MS applications to transmit information to MS.

Fifth, you then choose how your updates are delivered to prevent updates from untrusted sites. You ensure that updates come from trusted computers in your own network.

Sixth, you conduct packet-level analysis and shut-off any service that continues to send data to MS. Doesn’t everybody know how to do this and have the time to do it?

Finally, with every update and patch, you do a packet-level analysis to make sure your privacy and security is intact.

Of course, sending all this private and confidential data to MS is not necessary to have a functioning OS and applications. It is only necessary for MS profits and probably some government snooping.

Next, how to stop the Win 10 install nagging.

JonDo

For anonymous web surfing, at a minimum, two components are required: a proxy and a browser that doesn’t identify you. At the office, I have both and much more to protect my privacy and provide anonymity. If I have to use a Windows computer at a client’s offices, then temporary measures have to be undertaken.

The simplest solution for this, without using an anonymous VPN, is the JonDo Proxy program that will hide your IP address (Java application) and JonDoFox, a Firefox profile optimized for anonymous and secure web surfing. Using the USB doesn’t leave any traces on the computer for some snoop at the client’s office to uncover. This need Windows as the OS.

For more privacy and anonymity, you can use JonDo/Tor-Secure-Live-DVD, a secure, pre-configured environment for anonymous surfing and more. This has its own OS based on the Debian GNU/Linux OS. The live system contains proxy clients for JonDonym, Tor Onion Router and Mixmaster remailer and much more.

The advantage of the live system is that it is on a DVD, which prevents any other system from writing something dangerous to the DVD.

Using these do not make it impossible to uncover individual users, as there is no such thing as a 100% security, but for most users, this will be adequate for most situations. If you are concerned about this, I suggest you read the surveillance reports on the law enforcement page.

Operational Security Part 5: Online Personas

In this 6 part series of articles for Canadian Security Magazine, part 1 explained the nature of security intelligence (SI) and its OPSEC challenges. Part 2 explained the OPSEC challenges facing security intelligence in an iconic commercial enterprise or location. Part 3 explained the important aspects of document control. Part 4 explained the best way to protect the computer network used for security intelligence.

This, the 5th part, explains that privacy and anonymity are different things entirely and how to manage the use of online personas to gather intelligence.

Indexing PDFs

ORPALIS PDF OCR Free is a Windows tool which converts PDF files into fully searchable documents. It scans a PDF file and recognises all its text–even within images–and then exports a new PDF file that now has all its text searchable. This is useful with scanned documents, as it allows you to use the regular Search tool, rather than reading every page of the document.

ORPALIS offers a lot of useful tools for managing your documents. For example, the professional version converts over 90 document formats whereas the free edition supports only PDF as input. It also recognizes over 60 languages and uses multithreading to process multiple documents at the same time.

Document Scanning with Smart Phones

It is now common practice to take pictures of computer screens, record books, and documents during our research expeditions. I am certain that you want to do the same. Here is a list of scanning applications that may help with your quest for the ideal scanning app:

  • Genius Scan for ios. This app turns phone/tablet into PDF scanner w/Dropbox/GDrive integration.
  • CamScanner for Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone 8
  • Tiny Scanner allows you to create PDF documents with multiple scans. Scans are saved to your phone as images or PDFs. For Android, iPhone and both free and pro versions exist.
  • Scannable from Evernote. Requires iOS 8.0 or later and compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Beware, scans are only saved to your device for 30 days unless you disable this in the “Advanced” settings.

All of the above will create a PDF of the scanned content. The next post will offer a solution to indexing the PDF files to make them searchable.

Privacy Settings for Firefox–History

By default, Firefox remembers your browsing history to make it easier to return to a visited site.

Select Options and then Privacy in the left hand navigation panel. Under History, open the drop-down menu labeled “Firefox will:”and tell the browser to never remember your history or use custom settings.

Selecting “Always use private browsing mode,” is for hardcore privacy, but you need to understand the implications of private browsing mode. See the Mozilla’s support pages for more information on this.

Here are the History settings that I suggest.

Uncheck the box for remembering your browsing and download history, un-check remembering search and form history, and leave the box checked for “Accept cookies from sites.” Then under “Accept third-party cookies” set it as Never, but change “Keep until:” I close Firefox. Finally check the box that says “Clear history when Firefox closes.”

This combination of settings allows Firefox to behave normally, but erases most of your activity upon closing the browser. These settings provide some measure of privacy without sacrificing functionality.

Privacy Settings for Firefox–Tracking

Firefox is the best browser for protecting your data. However, Firefox does require several setting adjustments to avoid intrusive tactics like ad tracking.

Select Options and then Privacy in the left hand navigation panel.

By default, Firefox does not enable the do-not-track feature. Turn it on by selecting “Request that sites not track you.” Also select “Use Tracking Protection in Private Windows”, which enables tracking protection that blocks ads and other online trackers when you’re in private browsing mode. However, few sites honor this request.

To enforce your do-not-track intentions, you need to use an add-on such as Ghostery, Disconnect, or the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger. We have found that some sites do not to allow access to content with add-ons like these enabled.

Little Snitch

Just to be different, I started using a Mac to do some IIR. One of my quick fixes for security was  Little Snitch, a firewall for OSX. It monitors outgoing network traffic and alerts you if a program you’re running is trying to contact a strange server. This could be a shell or a program that snaps photos using your webcam or one that takes screenshots and sends them to an outside server.

When the Security Guard’s Job Stops

AttackThe fifth annual Horizon Scan Report published by the Business Continuity Institute, in association with BSI illustrates that physical security and related issues are growing concerns amongst business leaders. This renewed interest appears in studies and surveys throughout the industrialized world.

My own recent experience in Canada includes many executives asking questions about what they can do to prevent and manage active shooters, gang violence in their facilities, and terrorist attacks. Of course, they demand secrecy to surround their queries and the answers they receive. If I were to summarise the questions, they would display a surprising lack of knowledge about violence and Canadian law. I know the answers surprise the enquirer due to his reaction upon learning how helpless he is in the face of such low-probability but high-consequence threats. What follows should help to explain the most fundamental causes of, and reasons for, our inability to deal with these threats.

The recent awards for bravery related to the October 2014 attack on parliament hill should highlight our society’s irrational approach to managing armed attacks in public and private work places.

The outcome of this attack informs us that we cannot stop attackers at the front door due to our irrational aversion to armed security guards. That is apparent from the utterly inept response to the attack on parliament hill.

Most Canadian security operations stop short of actually managing an armed attack. Once something violent or dangerous starts, the normal response entails calling on somebody else to do the heavy lifting. In this organisational culture, when an attack starts, the security guard’s job stops. However, calling the police is not an emergency response procedure; it is an act of desperation and an admission of incompetence.

With this entrenched mindset, it does not matter how many resources have been devoted to the security operation, when an armed attack begins, security guards, employees, or guests will suffer serious injury or death.

Sign-in procedures, searches, and metal detectors have limited utility when violent intruders come calling. Intruders like this will not calmly line-up and politely follow orders.

The notion that technology and security theatre can supplant incompetence is common in the chancelleries that extoll the virtues of their most recent purchasing decision, but those worthies never face armed terrorists, gangsters, or homicidal lunatics themselves. On the other hand, unarmed guards exposed to armed intruders have a limited number of responses: run, hide, attempt moving people away from the attacker, die in place, or confront the attacker. As illustrated by the attack on parliament hill, unarmed guards are utterly ineffective in the last response option.

Most Canadians do not understand that self-defence is not so much a right as it is a defence in law used to enrich lawyers through endless prosecution and litigation. As a result, the government has embraced the union-shop mentality that sees the preservation of life and self-defence as something only government bureaucrats may do under the supposed ‘social contract’ and nobody has the money, power, and the perseverance needed to change this mindset. Demonstrating this needless and restrictive attitude is the fact that security guards may not get a pistol permit to defend life and limb; they may only get one to protect money. This promotes the perverse belief that the private sector is more interested in money than lives. Even worse, it demonstrates that our government does not believe that any class of private citizen should actually have the right to defend themselves.

Explaining to a public official or company manager that this aversion to armed security guards is irrational does not change his viewpoint but rather creates an enemy. Decades of propaganda and indoctrination against firearms ownership and the right to self-defence has produced an ignorance and unreasoning terror of weapons, which also manifests itself in the firm belief that only government bureaucrats have some magical ability to use weapons. Explaining,  if that were the case, then management of the parliament hill attack would have been quite different does not make any friends either.

In the 2014 Ottawa attack, the police did not sit on their hands outside as they did at the École Polytechnique shooting in 1989. Instead, they advanced to contact rather than waiting outside for specialized response units. This is termed Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD), which is a fancy acronym for common sense.

The IARD protocol is to swiftly locate and close in on the attacker(s) to neutralize the menace at the earliest opportunity, thereby preventing further mayhem. However, this protocol has one critical flaw—the time between recognising the problem and having someone come by to resolve it. This delay causes further casualties. Would it not be more effective to stop or disrupt the attackers plan at the door? Should the attackers make it past the front door, would it not be more effective if on-site security personnel immediately employed the IRAD protocol rather than wait for police to arrive?

The federal government is slowly addressing these issues on parliament hill but do not expect any provisions for the private sector to address the very same threats.