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Windows 8’s Killer Feature: The Killswitch

If you knew Microsoft could remotely remove software from your computer, would you feel safer or more concerned? Inside Microsoft’s new Windows 8 Metro operating system, a “killswitch” could do just that.

The killswitch is an increasingly popular piece of technology that allows companies to remotely remove software from your devices. Apple’s iPhone has one, Google’s Android has one – even the Amazon’s Kindle has a remote-removal for deleting offending books.

And now Microsoft has announced its new Windows 8 operating system will feature the technology. So what does this mean for PC users? Will we now be safer from rogue software? Or will we have to worry about Microsoft’s access to our hard drives? And because the desktop computer is so versatile, will it even have any effect?

Anyone worried about Microsoft having complete access to your computer can rest easy – for now. The company has stated that they can only “kill” programs downloaded from its new Microsoft App Store (that’s our name for it – we’re sure they’ll pick something less Apple-friendly).

Users of Windows 8 will be able to add software in two ways – through the official store or via unsecured sources (the internet, USB sticks, DVDs, etc.). Essentially, it’s the same as how Android mobile phones run.

As a precedent for Windows 8, the Android killswitch has been used a few times without much outcry. It’s successfully removed malware-ridden software that could damage users’ phones and steal their data. On the closed mobile platform, therefore, the technology has been successful so far.

On the other side of the coin, however, are free speech advocates such as Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University’s law school in California, who said: “You have someone who has absolute control over my hard drive in ways I may have never anticipated or consented to. If they use that power wisely, they actually make my life better. We don’t know if they use the power wisely. In fact, we may never know when they use their power at all.”

My big concern, however, is will it work? Most malware I’ve seen comes from e-mails or downloads through a web browser. Would added control over Apps solve this problem? I’m afraid it seems unlikely.

What do you think – could a killswitch make us more secure? And does it need a friendlier name?

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24 Responses to Windows 8’s Killer Feature: The Killswitch

  1. Harry says:

    Microsoft must never have unattended acces to my computer unless I allow it by taking over my pc with nummeric safety codes.
    With this feature I don’t feel safe, but am afraid of Big brother is watching etc.

  2. Øyvind says:

    No thank you, i will do fine without windows poking into my private property. In any way, shape or form!

    Use resources on making windows stability issues go away! Apple OS has gone WELL beyond windows there, and everyone knows it! Thats why people with money buy a macbook instead of a pc. Because Windows SUCKS at stability.

    So why on EARTH would i allow a corporation a loophole into my computer, which by the way sounds like an excuse to monitor my content more than anything else, so that they can “delete software”.

    i have no words of how stupid that idea is.

  3. L says:

    One step at a time. Incremental takeover of control of your computer, this time they can just stop Microsoft app, but when everyone gets used to this, then they will expand just a little bit, to stop other applications, do not accept any invasions no matter how small they are, because tomorrow everything you do will be watched and access will be controlled. Google are just the same, their motto “don’t be evil” is a reverse psychology, evil is what they peddle, it’s like Nixon saying “I am not a crook” in fact incremental changes are exactly what politicians do to manipulate the masses into thinking that the changes made are democratic, but then the internet is becoming less democratic with every little incremental change.

  4. sam oueida says:

    it is better to stick on win 7
    since it is very safe and has no kill-switch
    Microsoft’s excuse to delve into computers and privacy.
    really what a shame

  5. John T. Squires says:

    I agree with Harry wholeheartedly. I don’t want anyone having access to my computer (or network) without having an agreement with that person or entity and complete security in place.

  6. Niels says:

    This will for sure push me into what I havnt bothered to do up to this point: Looking for another OS. And Mac wont be considered thx.

    • alfsagen says:

      I did 1,5 years ago, when Win7 worked like syrup on my notebook, even with 8GB memory and a huge SSD. I’m happily working on Linux (Ubuntu was my choice), and I run VirutalBox with WinXP for those apps that need Windows. Boots quicker, is stable, uses less resources even with 3 virtual machines than Win7 does only at boot-up, …

  7. David says:

    Why do they (MS, Apple, Google, Amazon) need a killswitch to delete a program? When they find out that a program is compromising, then why not just send you a notice (just like they do with updates) and drop it at that? Then it is up to you to delete it.

  8. jayesstee says:

    Microsoft don’t allow us to buy Windows, they merely charge us to license it for a finite number of years (which THEY determine)!
    When we buy that license, we enter into a contract with Microsoft, see their ELA for their terms of this contract.
    They must be taught that this will not be tolerated by all of us – amateurs and professionals alike – will NOT agree to this intrusion of our computers. Boycott WIN 8 until either they change their policies or till some hero produces the “Kill ‘killswitch’ tweak”.

  9. With this bit of knowledge I doubt I will ever upgrade to Windows 8. I refuse to let my games connect to the net when I am playing on offline mode and refuse to install SecuRom “protected” games as it is as draconian as this “kill switch” could be and probably will be.

    Until they remove that they will not be getting more of my money.

    BTW, what was wrong with the desktop anyway? I want a computer not a 60 pound smart phone sitting on my desk. I guess they couldn’t get enough tablet sales so now they are going to turn all desktop computers into one.

  10. Jeff Clyburn says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Harry’s view and those of the others. I served to protect our freedom, and I’ll be damned if some company is going to steal that from me!

  11. Juerg says:

    No way will I even consider Win8 then.
    Hopefully, there will be 3rd party security tools that can block the killswitch … ?

  12. up says:

    I certainly will do everything possible to avoid being watched by big brother!
    What about switching to open operating systems and software like Open Office? With a lot of people having access to the source code, it is more difficult to introduce programs that poke into my private spere. Anyone having an opinion on this?

  13. Bjorn says:

    Maybe time to by a typewriter and start using “snail mail” again :-)
    When will “they” start putting ID tags under our skin?

  14. Stig A says:

    I expect that Microsoft pays us computer owners rent, for using our computing power. It is customary!

  15. Esko Räsänen says:

    No way!!! I am so glad to see how you all react – there is some limit to how the companies and especially Microsoft are trying to control us – THE CUSTOMERS. This of course leads the to the new “cloud computing” environment. You buy the annual license to use e.g. MS Office thru internet. And after that MS can kill whatever you are not supposed to have on your computer. The comment about making the changes little by little is probably correct. There is a strategic long term master plan about MS is going to force us all to be totally depending on them. I will start immedeately looking at Ubuntu and other ways of not using MS products. Will appreciate all good advice on that. Look at Windows phone, Android phone etc. all limitin our choices and forcing us to use their packages.

  16. tJ says:

    This is the last straw. Windows 7 is the very last MS O/S I’ll load, Open Office conversion is well under way, Linux here I come!

  17. Bob says:

    Proles, raise your glasses of Victory Gin and then throw it at the Inner Party.
    Windows 8 will rot on a shelf before I buy it. We’ve already seen the power of the people regarding SOPA. The exercise of POWER by the PUBLIC influences the course of Gov’t & Business alike (voting, spending habits, public outcry, etc.)
    I do not like green eggs and ham Sam I Am, and if you don’t stop following me I’ll shove them where the sun don’t shine.

  18. Peter P. says:

    As jayesstee pointed out we do not own the Win OS but we do own the hardware and we decide which software will run on the devices. The useless (on desktops) metro interface is not a reason to “up”grade to Win8 and the controls via Killswitch and EFI-boot are neither.

  19. Rick says:

    As far as Windows8 and it’s built in spyware-controlware is concerned, Microsoft is going to think that MS silverlight was a complete success compared to this fiasco. I hope that people take this seriously as far as personal intrusion in the guise of protection is what it is. Time to work in Linux.That’s a secure OS!

  20. ComputerSicenceStudent says:

    Aren’t you forgetting something?
    You have a choice to not upgrade to Win 8, but when you need a new laptop or desktop PC it will most likely come with Win 8 and if are only a end user who does not know how to before use the computer install Linux for example – you will definetely end up in Microsoft hands. Solution – use a Mac or get used to how install and uninstall Operating Systems.

    • jayesstee says:

      @ComputerSicenceStudent: Good point about being forced to use Win 8 on new hardware!
      My solution is to make sure I have a fully installable copy of Win 7 available, just in case.

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