Archive for June 3, 2024

Monday, June 3, 2024

Privacy of Windows Copilot+ Recall

Kevin Beaumont (via Stephen Hackett):

Microsoft told media outlets a hacker cannot exfiltrate Copilot+ Recall activity remotely.

Reality: how do you think hackers will exfiltrate this plain text database of everything the user has ever viewed on their PC? Very easily, I have it automated.


Microsoft are going to deliberately set cybersecurity back a decade & endanger customers by empowering low level criminals.

Kevin Beaumont:

Every few seconds, screenshots are taken. These are automatically OCR’d by Azure AI, running on your device, and written into an SQLite database in the user’s folder.

This database file has a record of everything you’ve ever viewed on your PC in plain text.


In fact, you don’t even need to be an admin to read the database — more on that in a later blog.


Recall enables threat actors to automate scraping everything you’ve ever looked at within seconds.

During testing this with an off the shelf infostealer, I used Microsoft Defender for Endpoint — which detected the off the shelve infostealer — but by the time the automated remediation kicked in (which took over ten minutes) my Recall data was already long gone.

Tom Warren (The Verge):

This is the out of box experience for Windows 11’s new Recall feature on Copilot+ PCs. It’s enabled by default during setup and you can’t disable it directly here. There is an option to tick “open Settings after setup completes so I can manage my Recall preferences” instead.

Eric Schwarz:

This fact that this feature is basically on by default and requires numerous steps to disable is going to create a lot of problems for people, especially those who click through every privacy/permission screen and fundamentally don’t know how their computer actually operates—I’ve counted way too many instances where I’ve had to help people find something and they have no idea where anything lives in their file system (mostly work off the Desktop or Downloads folders). How are they going to even grapple with this?


Update (2024-06-04): Zac Bowden (via Hacker News, MacRumors):

Microsoft has done the bare minimum to protect this data. It’s stored in a system directory that requires administrator and system-level rights to access and edit. However, these protections are easily bypassed, and an attacker could easily write a bit of software to ignore those permissions if they wanted.


With that said, I find the outrage about this discovery to be somewhat overblown. All your files are unencrypted when you’re using your PC, yet most people aren’t constantly concerned about malware potentially scraping their personal documents, pictures, downloads, videos, and synced cloud folders.

However, Recall would give it access to information that was deleted or that was shown on screen but never otherwise saved to disk.

John Gordon:

Windows Recall won’t be deployed in the enterprise.

Remember how much effort is put into archiving and deleting email to reduce legal discovery risks?

Update (2024-06-05): Kevin Beaumont:

If you want to know how Microsoft have got themselves into this giant mess with Recall, here’s what the documentation says between the lines: you, the customer, are a simpleton who doesn’t want to be an AI genius yet. Have a caveman mode.

Alternative view: Microsoft put their CEO in front of world’s media to launch a product customers largely don’t want, attached to their biggest brand, Windows, attached to new brand, Copilot, and didn’t handle security, privacy and AI safety properly while under massive scrutiny.

Charlie Stross (via Hacker News):

Use a password manager like 1Password? Sorry, your 1Password passwords are probably visible via Recall, now.

Now, “unencrypted” is relative; the database is stored on a filesystem which should be encrypted using Microsoft’s BitLocker. But anyone with credentials for your Microsoft account can decrypt it and poke around. Indeed, anyone with access to your PC, unlocked, has your entire world at their fingertips.

But this is an utter privacy shit-show. Victims of domestic abuse are at risk of their abuser trawling their PC for any signs that they’re looking for help. Anyone who’s fallen for a scam that gave criminals access to their PC is also completely at risk.


Microsoft “got serious” about security earlier this decade, around the time Steve Balmer stepped down as CEO, and managed to recover somwhat from having a reputation for taking a slapdash approach to its users data. But they’ve been going backwards since 2020, with dick moves like disabling auto-save to local files in Microsoft Word (your autosave data only autosaves to OneDrive), slurping all incoming email for accounts accessed via Microsoft Outlook into Microsoft’s own cloud for AI training purposes (ask the Department of Justice how they feel about Microsoft potentially having access to the correspondence for all their investigations in progress), and now this.

Rosyna Keller:

I’m not saying that it’s not possible to secure Windows Recall data stores from malware and other users.

I’m just saying that the features to secure it don’t exist on Windows.

See also: Andrew Cunningham.

Update (2024-06-07): Thomas Claburn (via Hacker News):

Asked to explore the data privacy issues arising from Microsoft Recall, the Windows maker’s poorly received self-surveillance tool, Jaime Teevan, chief scientist and technical fellow at Microsoft Research, brushed aside concerns.

Mark Hurst (via Hacker News):

Whatever blowback Microsoft faces if and when users are hacked because of Recall, there’s no chance the feature gets killed.


“Linux on the Desktop.” The free, open-source operating system of Linux is not owned by any company (Big Tech or otherwise), doesn’t contain any opaque surveillance code, and enjoys a worldwide community of developers who actually want to make the software better – not, as in Microsoft’s case, worse.

Pieter Arntz:

As a warning about how Recall could be abused by criminal hackers, Alex Hagenah, a cybersecurity researcher, has released a demo tool that is capable of automatically extracting and displaying everything Recall records on a laptop.

Kevin Beaumont:

If anybody is wondering if you can enable Recall on a machine remotely without Copilot+ hardware support - yep.

I’ve also found a way to disable the tray icon.

Andy Greenberg (via Hacker News):

On Friday, Microsoft announced that it would be making multiple dramatic changes to its rollout of its Recall feature, making it an opt-in feature in the Copilot+ compatible versions of Windows where it had previously been turned on by default, and introducing new security measures designed to better keep data encrypted and require authentication to access Recall's stored data.

Trent Harvey (screenshot):

This is their updated screen. It forces an absolute choice with happy language “Yes, save” as the choice in the default “continue/next” position - most likely to be selected by users who don’t read the screen or don’t have a fully informed context to decide.

As opposed to a more honest opt-in which would be a separate radio choice to Enable / Disable the feature with Continue/Next being it’s own action.

It’s better than Apple’s opt-outs that say “Later” and don’t even look like buttons.


Update (2024-06-12): Zac Bowden (via Kevin Beaumont):

Microsoft has the Windows Insider Program, yet to maintain secrecy, it chose not to test this feature openly. I can’t think of a single feature that would have benefitted from public testing more than Windows Recall. This is the kind of feature that needs to be built in the open so that users can learn to trust you with it.

Had it been tested openly, these security concerns would have definitely been pointed out well ahead of general availability, and likely fixed before mass hysteria could ensue. Of course, the true reason Windows Recall wasn’t tested openly was because the company wanted to make it exclusive to new Copilot+ PCs, and you can’t really do that if you’re testing the feature on existing PCs where it works quite well.

Microsoft also wanted to keep Windows Recall a secret so it could have a big reveal on May 20. Except, it wasn’t really much of a big reveal. Many of us in the tech press already knew it was coming, even without being briefed on the feature ahead of time.

Update (2024-06-18): Reuters (via Hacker News):

Microsoft will not roll out “Recall”, an AI-powered feature that tracks computer usage, with its new computers next week and will instead preview it with a smaller group later, the tech giant said on Thursday, amid concerns of privacy risks.


This is confusing and vague to me, which I believe is exactly the intent. It focuses on security, reiterates that security is their top priority (and we know that this is untrue). What were the security problems? They don’t even allude to the existence or detection of any specific security problems.

It sounds to me like they’re figuring out a new marketing approach, or they’re softening the blow by “listening to users” and then rolling out more slowly, when outrage has died down and people will just accept it.

Joshua Nozzi:

What I really want to see is proper journalism around “how / why did this make it so far before Microsoft ‘realized’ how insecure and terrible an idea it is”.


Joz’s answer [at The Talk Show] to Microsoft’s “Recall” failure is hilarious.

“Lightning” Headphones That Require Bluetooth

Josh Whiton:

A crazy experience — I lost my earbuds in a remote town in Chile, so tried buying a new pair at the airport before flying out. But the new wired, iPhone, lightning-cable headphones didn’t work. Strange.


By now the gift shop people and their manager and all the people in line behind me are super annoyed, until one of the girls says in Spanish, “You need to have bluetooth on.” Oh yes, everyone else nods in agreement. Wired headphones for iPhones definitely need bluetooth.


With a little back and forth I realize that they don’t even conceptually know what bluetooth is, while I have actually programmed for the bluetooth stack before. I was submitting low-level bugs to Ericsson back in the early 2000’s! Yet somehow, I with my computer science degree, am wrong, and they, having no idea what bluetooth even is, are right.


True Apple lightning devices are more expensive to make. So instead of conforming to the Apple standard, these companies have made headphones that receive audio via bluetooth — avoiding the Apple specification — while powering the bluetooth chip via a wired cable, thereby avoiding any need for a battery.

Via John Gruber (Hacker News):

I think the problem these cheap manufacturers are solving isn’t that Lightning is expensive to license, but that it’s difficult to implement for audio. Actual Lightning headphones and headphone adapters have a tiny little digital-to-analog converter (DAC) inside the Lightning plug. It’s like a little computer. Doing it with Bluetooth and using the Lightning plug only for power is surely easier. It’s just lazy. But it’s kind of wild that the laziest, cheapest way to make unofficial “Lightning” headphones is with Bluetooth.


The End of ICQ

ICQ (via Hacker News):

ICQ will stop working from June 26

You can chat with friends in VK Messenger, and with colleagues in VK WorkSpace

Wes Davis:

ICQ was started in 1996 by Israeli company Mirabilis, which AOL bought in 1998. ICQ grew to 100 million registered users at one point, at least according to a 2001 release from Time Warner, which had combined with AOL in a famously doomed merger. AOL sold the service to Digital Sky Technologies, the firm that owned VK, then known as, in 2010.

Via Mark Christian:

ICQ really was something special to me. I was absolutely glued to it for most of 1998 in particular, although I used it for years and years. I made some great friends on there[…] ICQ was the first social media platform I ever made a home on, and the uh-oh! notification sound will be etched in my mind forever. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a quarter of a century since I was using it all day long; it’s even harder to believe that I’m still talking to some of those internet friends on a regular basis.

John Gruber:

Pre-mobile, “instant messaging” had a surprising number of popular platforms.


They all worked more or less the same way, and using any of these protocols was a lot like messaging today with iMessage, WhatsApp, or Signal. But there was one big difference: with the old “instant” messengers, you were only available while your computer was online. And even then, you could set your “status” — green for “sure, hit me up, I’m free”, and red for “I’m online, but don’t bother me right now”. And if you quit your messaging client or, you know, closed your laptop, poof, you were offline and unavailable.

If you wanted to contact someone asynchronously, you sent them an email. If you wanted to chat with messaging, you both needed to be online simultaneously.

The other key difference was that there used to be clients like iChat and Adium that worked with more than one service. It felt like you had some control and could use these services on your own terms. Now everything is all locked together. The only iMessage client is Apple’s. You can only use it on Apple’s platforms. And even then you can only log into one account at a time.


AirTag Anti-Theft Successes

Elisha Fieldstadt (via Hacker News):

An Apple AirTag led to the arrest of an airline subcontractor accused of stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of items from luggage at a Florida airport.


Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies investigating both suspected thefts cross-referenced Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport employees who lived near Kathy Court and found De Luca at his home. He was arrested Aug. 10.

The items reported missing on Aug. 9 were recovered, and De Luca admitted to rummaging through someone else’s luggage and removing an Apple AirTag, the sheriff’s office said. The woman’s luggage has not been found.

Paul Duggan (via Hacker News):

Twice before, this Virginia carpenter had awoken in the predawn to start his work day only to find one of his vans broken into. Tools he depends on for a living had been stolen, and there was little hope of retrieving them. Determined to shut down thieves, he said, he bought a bunch of Apple AirTags and hid the locator devices in some of his larger tools that hadn’t been pilfered. Next time, he figured, he would track them.

It worked.

On Jan. 22, after a third break-in and theft, the carpenter said, he drove around D.C.’s Maryland suburbs for hours, following an intermittent blip on his iPhone, until he arrived at a storage facility in Howard County. He called police, who got a search warrant, and what they found in the locker was far more than just one contractor’s nail guns and miter saws. […] Seth Hoffman, a Howard County police spokesman, said investigators think most of the 15,000 or so tools were stolen in Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania. Howard County is just where they were stashed.


Update (2024-06-06): Jeff Weinsier:

Now, an airport employee has been arrested and charged with grand theft, and the incident was caught on camera.


Garcia’s MacBook, two Apple watches, an iPad, jewelry and designer clothes were all taken.


The Apple watch signal was coming from a house at 1017 NW 11th Ct.

When she arrived, she said she saw suitcases all over the place, so she started to take video and called 911.

That was lucky since batteries for Apple Watch don’t last as long as for AirTag.