G-TechNote™: Privacy Settings You Should Check in Windows 10

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Windows 10 debuted last week to strong reviews and general goodwill. But as the new system has gotten into more hands, some have been raising a flag over privacy concerns.

It is true that Windows 10 relies heavily on picking up user data, and it’s certainly more data than any version of Windows we’ve seen before. Longtime Microsoft users may not realize just how much information the company is using to run some of the system’s new features.

Cortana: One of the main features of Windows 10, for example, is the personal assistant software Cortana. To make it (or any personal assistant software) useful,  you have to be willing to pour a lot of information into the program over time. That includes information about your own personal preferences, as well such data as the locations of appointments. If you want your computer to send you a reminder to give Paul $5 when you see him next, you have to give the computer the ability to know who Paul is and when your next appointment with him will be.

But if you’re not comfortable with sharing that information with Cortana — and, by extension, Microsoft — then you can head into Cortana’s settings and turn the program off. You can also opt out of using Bing in the searches you run on your computer from that same menu.

WiFi Sense: Another feature that’s getting a lot of attention is WiFi Sense, which lets you share access to your trusted WiFi networks with contacts from Facebook, Outlook or Skype. The program doesn’t show other people your password. But it does a bit of a logical leap by assuming that if a person is a) your contact on one of those networks and b) in your home or office, that they’re probably someone you wouldn’t mind sharing a network with.

The problem here is that you can’t whittle down a subset of contacts you like to share your network with; it’s an all-or-nothing type of deal. The setting shares with all of those groups by default — though you’ll need to take an extra step to verify your Facebook account to share with friends on that network. Sharing access means that your friends or colleagues won’t have to enter passwords to join your networks. It also means, of course, that they get the same access you do to printers or even other computers that are connected to the same network, depending on your setup.

The good news is that even if you have WiFi Sense enabled, it doesn’t mean you automatically share access for every wireless network stored in your computer. Every time you join a new network and enter a new password, there’s a check box under the password field that asks if you want to share. It’s not selected by default.

WiFi Sense will also connect you automatically to certain open networks that have been vetted by Microsoft and labeled “trusted.“ In theory, that means that you shouldn’t be caught up by bad guys running fake “Free Airport WiFi” networks on your next trip. But it’s still safest to stay off open networks altogether, if you can.

If you want to turn off WiFi Sense, you have to head to the “Advanced Settings” pane in your general WiFi settings menu.

Microsoft’s general Windows privacy settings: These are also worth taking a sweep through, if only to familiarize yourself with which apps and services are looking at various types of information.

Those include your location, as well as the on/off switch for allowing information gathered from your computer to show up in your Microsoft advertising profile. (To control what’s in your ad profile, you’ll have to head to a separate Web site, which is linked from the privacy settings menu.)

In these days when we’re essentially never offline the reality is that the type of data collection you see on the Web is now baked into our computers. Sometimes the data collection has benefits, but you have to balance those for yourself. In general, consumers should approach their computer settings as they do the settings on their mobile devices, particularly if they have concerns about sharing information with major companies.

Serious Security Hole in Mac OS X

The nasty bug, which could give hackers access to the entire operating system,
is set to be fixed in the next security update.

The Gilmer Free Press

Apple will soon push out a fix for a new security bug that’s affected users of its Mac operating system.

Reported in early July, the bug, known as DYLD, is considered a serious hole as it could allow hackers to remotely run a program on a Mac using administrator rights, which potentially opens up wide access to the entire operating system. The vulnerability has already been exploited “in the wild,“ according to the Guardian, leading to at least one adware installer taking advantage of it to further its capabilities.

In response, Apple will fix the bug in the next update to its Mac OS X, specifically OS X 10.10.5. The initial beta of the next security update did not contain the patch, the Guardian said, leading to some concern that it might not be resolved until El Capitan is released in the fall.

Apple has long enjoyed a reputation as a more secure operating system than Windows. And, yes, Windows does get bitten by a fair number of bugs, forcing Microsoft to roll out patches and fixes on a regular basis. But Apple’s Mac OS is hardly immune from security flaws. Bugs have popped up in the past, including the so-called “gotofail” OS X security hole in April 2014, the “Shellshock” or “Bash” bug from last September and three severe vulnerabilities  uncovered by Google’s Project Zero security team in January. In the past, Apple has sometimes been slow about patching bugs, raising concerns among security experts and OS X users.

But the latest beta for the next update to OS X 10.10.5 does include the fix for the DYLD exploit, according to security researcher Stefan Esser, who first reported the bug. On July 31, Esser tweeted: “Looks like dropping DYLD_PRINT_TO_FILE exploit resulted in Apple having fixed it in OS X 10.10.5 beta ‘2’ - suddenly they can work ‘faster.‘“

Sources close to the matter also confirmed to CNET that the latest public beta of OS X 10.10.5, created on July 30, does come with the necessary patch. Typically, a public beta of an update to OS X takes around two weeks before it reaches Mac users. So OS X users should expect the fix to roll out in the next week or so.

On Tuesday, Apple also updated its X Protect system, a security feature that filters out malware, to catch any malware that taps into the DYLD vulnerability.

Apple has taken other steps to prevent further exploits of the hole, the Guardian said. The company will now revoke the credentials of any developer who exploits the vulnerability and will place any app that taps into the bug on its list of malware. But Mac users still need to make sure they’re protected against the bug until the actual security patch is released.

That naturally raises the topic of whether or not you should run anti-malware software on a Mac. Many Mac users have contended that security software is not necessary as the Mac is a secure operating system, especially with such features as XProtect. But given that bugs do crop up from time to time, and Apple isn’t always quick on the draw to squash them, installing a good security program on your Mac may be a good idea at this point.

Google Becomes Part of A New Company, Alphabet

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Google chief executive Larry Page on Monday announced that the tech giant is undergoing a major restructuring and will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a new conglomerate known as Alphabet.

The move, Page said, will allow Google to focus more on its core products, namely its search engine, while Alphabet manages a variety of different businesses from driverless cars to drones.

“What is Alphabet?“ Page wrote. “Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead.“

Other companies within Alphabet will include “Calico” and “Life Sciences,“ the parts of Google that focus on making health products. Page said that the company’s X lab, which focuses on moonshot projects such as Google’s drone delivery service will also be part of Alphabet, as will its investment arms, Ventures and Capital.

Page will be chief executive of Alphabet while his Google co-founder Sergey Brin will become president. Sundar Pichai, who is currently Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, will become Google’s chief executive.

Page said that, “Alphabet Inc. will replace Google Inc. as the publicly-traded entity and all shares of Google will automatically convert into the same number of shares of Alphabet, with all of the same rights.“ The company’s two classes of shares will continue to trade on the Nasdaq as GOOGL and GOOG, Page said.

Google’s stock, which is up nearly 25 percent so far this year, climbed another 5 percent in after-hours market trading.

So what stays a part of the core Google business? According the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the main Google business will include “search, ads, maps, apps, YouTube and Android” as well as the technical infrastructure for those departments.

Most of the top Google executives will become Alphabet executives, the filing said. Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, chif financial officer Ruth Porat, and chief legal officer David Drummond will all take up corresponding positions within Alphabet. Porat will also remain the CFO of Google.

Google, one of the few companies to actually become a verb, hardly needs introduction. The firm was started by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1997, after the two met as students at Stanford University. Prior to Google, the two worked together on a search engine called “BackRub,“ which they operated on the servers at Stanford for more than a year. The pair registered the domain name “” on Sept. 17, 1998 with the mission to organize all of the world’s information.The company went public in 2004. It is currently worth $443.9 billion and handles an estimated 67 percent of the country’s desktop searches and 83 percent of its mobile searches, according to comScore. Internationally, NetMarketShare puts Google’s global desktop search share at 70 percent.

While the company has always held search at its core, it has expanded into several different focus areas ranging from driverless cars to health care. Investors and analysts have criticized Google in recent years for spending so much on these “side projects” and have repeatedly called on Page to streamline Google’s purpose.

Company shares were trading up more than 5 percent in after hours trading on the news, at $665.99 per share.

FCC Urges Carriers to Upgrade to Fiber

But carriers must notify customers of change and offer backup power, FCC says.
The Gilmer Free Press

The FCC today imposed new rules on carriers that intend to turn off copper networks and replace them with fiber, but said that carriers should feel free to make the switch as long as they keep providing the same services to customers.

As before, carriers still need approval from the FCC before shutting off copper networks in cases where they intend to reduce or discontinue service. “However, carriers will retain the flexibility to retire their copper networks in favor of fiber without prior Commission approval—as long as no service is discontinued, reduced, or impaired,“ the commission said in its announcement.

One new rule approved today “for the first time requires providers to directly notify retail customers—including consumers and businesses—of plans to retire copper networks at least three months in advance,“ the FCC said.

Today’s vote should make it clear to carriers they if they want to shut off copper and install fiber, they should go for it—as long as they keep consumers informed, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. A shift to fiber shouldn’t relieve carriers of their responsibilities to customers, he said.

“Changing technology does not change responsibility,“ Wheeler said. “Fiber brings great cost savings, great efficiencies, and great opportunities for new services. But it does not bring the opportunity to walk away from the responsibilities that govern the relationship between those who build and those who use the facilities.“

Fiber allows much greater Internet speeds than copper, but it does have one downside for landline phones. While copper-based phones can continue to work during power outages by drawing electricity from the central office, fiber-based phones shut off when the power goes out.

That’s why the commission voted in a separate item to require phone providers—including cable companies with VoIP services—to tell new and existing customers about this power limitation and offer the option to buy backup battery systems. Phone providers will have to offer an 8-hour backup to begin with, but within three years will be required to offer an option for 24 hours of standby power.

“Today’s action will empower consumers to make informed choices and support their need for 911 service during emergencies,“ the commission said.

Though the battery requirement still falls short of copper landlines that stay on indefinitely during local power outages, a 24-hour backup could last multiple days if customers only power it on when absolutely necessary. Customers could also buy extra batteries to make a backup system last multiple days, though this could be cumbersome. Verizon’s current system requires 12 D-cell batteries to power 20 to 24 hours of phone service.

Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge applauded the FCC’s actions overall, but said the backup power requirements fall short. “First, the required 8 hours of backup power is much shorter than typical duration of outages seen in recent natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy,“ Public Knowledge said. “Second, the burden of paying for the backup power falls solely on consumers, making it difficult for low income consumers to have basic communications during emergencies.“

Industry: New rules will slow fiber construction

The FCC enacted the backup power requirements without any dissenting votes. But there was some controversy. The new copper shutoff notification requirement was passed as part of a larger ruling that also addresses services offered to competing carriers.

Smaller carriers sometimes buy network access from incumbents in order to serve small businesses, schools, libraries, health care facilities, and government offices, the FCC noted. Today’s vote prevents carriers from discontinuing these services when they shut off copper networks, requiring that “replacement services be offered to competitive providers at rates, terms and conditions that are reasonably comparable to those of the legacy services,“ the FCC said. This is an interim measure that will be in place until the FCC completes a separate proceeding that will examine this market in more detail.

Carriers will also have to provide six months notice to interconnecting carriers before shutting off copper networks, instead of the three months that was required before today’s vote.

Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly voted against these new requirements, arguing that they will slow fiber deployments.

The Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), which represents AT&T, network equipment makers, and some conservative lobby groups, argued that the FCC shouldn’t require carriers to keep offering service to interconnecting carriers.

“Giving a select group of competitors, which continue to rely on the copper telephone network due to their failure to invest in their own advanced networks, the ability to influence copper retirement plans creates harmful market incentives that ultimately favor some providers over others, and runs contrary to the Administration and FCC’s National Broadband Plan goal of modernizing our nation’s communications networks for the benefit of the American consumer,“ the IIA said.

One thing left unsettled is what will happen to residential customers in areas where carriers don’t believe it’s profitable enough to install fiber. Some customers could end up with wireless as their only option after copper gets shut off in the coming years. Carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have also been accused of letting copper networks degrade, both in areas where they intend to upgrade to fiber and in areas where copper remains the primary option. The FCC has said it will define “retirement” of copper networks “in such a way to prevent retirement of networks by neglect (sometimes referred to as ‘de facto’ retirement).“

While carriers have to get FCC permission before discontinuing, reducing, or impairing service, the FCC today noted that it “has never codified the criteria used to evaluate and compare replacement and legacy services.“ Thus, the commission is seeking comment on criteria to be used, including “support for 911 services and call centers; network capacity and reliability; quality of both voice service and Internet access; interoperability with devices and services, such as alarm services and medical monitoring; access for people with disabilities, including compatibility with assistive technologies; [and] network security.“

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