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TOP 5 spyware scandals

3 December 2014

1. A built-in keylogger in Windows 10.

1-windowsMicrosoft has confirmed that Windows 10 Developer Preview contains an integrated keylogger that captures everything that users type on their keyboards and sends these logs to the corporation.

Moreover, even voice commands and dictation results are logged in the same way.

The company explained that the collection of this information helps improve the operating system’s word autocompletion feature and the build-in spellchecker.

Particular concerns among some users were raised by the fact that the license agreement (terms and conditions of the Insider Program) states that the user agrees with the disclosure of keyboard logs both to Microsoft and undefined third parties.

2. Keyloggers found in new Samsung laptops.

2-samsungResearchers have found a software keylogger installed on Samsung laptops purchased online.

The program discreetly collected information about key presses, made screenshots and sent them to an unidentified recipient.

An anonymous consultant explained that the purpose of installing this spyware was the collection of data for improving future device control features.

Although Samsung has initiated a lengthy internal investigation, it has not officially admitted its role in this scandal and voiced an assumption that the programs had been installed by store employees.

3. A scandal around the Carrier IQ app installed on 140 million phones.

3-phoneAn app called Carrier IQ was found on a huge number of devices from all major manufacturers, from Apple and Google to Nokia and HTC.

Its official purpose was the collection of phone parameters and general usage details. However, the researchers have found out that the program is also capable of accessing multiple types of users’ data, such as the lists of visited websites and sent text messages.

Apple completely removed the application only in the latest version of iOS. Other manufacturers explained the presence of the program on their devices by a mistake made by wireless service providers during phone localization.

4. Spying computers available for purchase by installments.

Several chains of stores were offering an installment plan for computers with a program called “PC Rental Agent” included in the standard software bundle.

The program was initially intended for monitoring computers sold by installments – that is, computers that still belonged to the stores.
However, store employees did not inform customers about the purpose of these programs. They could be used for remotely installing any other software on customers’ systems.

Such software could include tools capable of making screenshots, activating the webcam, recording key presses or locating the system using the nearest Wi-Fi networks.

The investigation revealed multiple cases of abusive behavior by store employees. Some of them were spying on customers for fun, and some of them continued to do so even after the last installment was paid.

The store owners were forced to pay ample compensations to affected customers.

5. Skype – an illusion of privacy.

5-skypeSkype, a popular communications program for text, audio and video chats, has been in the center of spy scandals surprisingly often.

Even before the company was acquired by Microsoft, it was rumored to be a part of “Project Chess”, a secret initiative aimed at making users’ data available to secret agencies.

After Edward Snowden’s revelatory publications, Skype appeared on the list of companies cooperating with PRISM, a monitoring system created by the U.S. National Security Agency.

This information, however, remained a mystery. Which is probably the way it’s supposed to be in spy stories.


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Microsoft and Verizon patent user surveillance technologies

9 July 2013

A new patent by Microsoft (patent number 0120278904) describes a surveillance system that uses special camera-like devices to detect the presence of people in a room and calculate their number. The patent describes a possible use case where such a system is used to monitor the number of people watching a movie. When a certain threshold is exceeded, the system requests that an extended content license be purchased. The content can be played only a certain number of times, within a certain time period and for a certain number of viewers of specific ages.

According to the patent, such a system can be used in various types of devices: from tablets, consoles and PC’s to mobile phones.

Verizon has a similar patent, but it provides more details about user monitoring.

The system is based on devices equipped with a microphone, a camera, an infrared camera and a laser sensor. The concept is strikingly similar to existing devices – for instance, Kinect for Xbox.

The described system can not only determine the number of people in a room, but also analyze their activities and identify their behavior (and show relevant ads, for example). The system will recognize the age of specific individuals and detect the presence and type of pets in front of it.

The system can also connect to users’ mobile phones for greater control accuracy.

Google is currently submitting a similar patent for its Google TV service, but little is known about it yet.

The capabilities of such systems are described in patent applications as entirely voluntary user actions. However, this will hardly prevent content providers (game and movie companies) from requiring a connection to such a system.

As in many other similar situations, this news worried lots of users. Blogs and forums were filled with references to Orwell’s “1984” novel and concerns about possible illegal use of such systems for user monitoring.
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Legal Activists Raise Concerns About Skype

12 April 2013

A large group of activists comprised of organizations, journalists, lawyers and regular Internet users issued an open letter to Skype’s current owner, Microsoft. This letter focused on the confidentiality of Skype communications. They believe that the service’s confidentiality policy is somewhat fuzzy and the description of possible interactions with third parties and law enforcement agencies is insufficient.

Microsoft’s agreement with China’s TOM Оnline on the creation of a custom version of Skype for Chinese users was especially criticized. This version had a special filter that blocked specific messages. And since this version was identical to the regular one, it meant that any Skype user could eventually be monitored.

Activists reckon that the main reason for such changes in Skype policies is the recent acquisition of the company by Microsoft. That is why it is now held responsible for letting the public know about the ways the service works with confidential data and interacts with law enforcement agencies.

Microsoft employees confirmed the receipt of the letter and promised to issue an official response to these questions.

20% of all Internet users are afraid that their browsing history will be made public

29 March 2011

This conclusion was made by Microsoft after an extensive international research that analyzed the behavior of users online and their perception of online security. Users from over 20 countries, including Russia, took part in the research.

According to this study, only 36% of Russian users fully recognize the importance of keeping their browsing history confidential, but over 63% are confident that the Internet must be safe.

The results are slightly different on the global scale, but the figures as still in the same brackets. Users called page loading times, user-friendliness of browsers and privacy the next most important aspects of comfortable Internet surfing after security and protection from viruses.

Around 60% of all users would not want anyone else to have access to their browsing history, and 20% are afraid of this actually taking place.

The sites that users would not want seen in their browsing history are mostly online banking sites and porn sites.

Microsoft concerned over possible leak of confidential data

25 February 2011

Microsoft initiated a lawsuit to prevent one of its managers from assuming a position in a competing company.

According to Microsoft, Michael Michevsky, their former manager, copied a large number of internal documents prior to leaving Microsoft and intended to disclose them to Salesforce, the company’s direct competitor.

The court agreed to the argumentation of the plaintiff and issued a court order prohibiting Michael to assume the position of a vice president at the competing company.

Microsoft representatives insist that the actions of their former employee are in breach of the non-disclosure and non-compete agreements that he signed at the time he was hired.
The summons also states that Michevsky copied over 900 files with over 25,000 pages of text (around 600 MB) to his laptop. These documents allegedly contained confidential information about the company’s marketing strategy and copyright-protected items.

Salesforce refused to comment on this incident.


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