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Wednesday, 22 May 2024 09:28

Satya Nadella wants security – and also stupid features on your PC Featured

Satya Nadella wants security – and also stupid features on your PC Image by NIUCO from Pixabay

On 3 May, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella issued a long statement, saying in effect that security would be the most important thing for the company from now on.

On 19 May, the same Nadella announced a feature called Recall where Windows would store up to 25GB of data from an individual's desktop session locally. Just so that people could see what they had been doing in the past, say, three days.

There seems to be some kind of dissonance about these two statements. When Microsoft talks about security most long-time users of computers have no other reaction other than a cynical smile. Something like what's on the visage of the Mona Lisa.

But Nadella was doing what he does best when he made that statement on security: playing the grand poobah of public relations for a company that is a marketing entity first and a technology firm a distant second.

The security statement was prompted by two incidents where suspected Chinese and Russian attackers got deep into Microsoft's systems and stayed there for a while. It made the company look very amateurish on the security front.

According to the 3 May statement, Nadella said the approach from now on would be governed by three principles:

"Secure by Design: Security comes first when designing any product or service.

"Secure by Default: Security protections are enabled and enforced by default, require no extra effort, and are not optional.

"Secure Operations: Security controls and monitoring will continuously be improved to meet current and future threats."

Given such lofty goals, the announcement of Recall looks like rank hypocrisy from the soft-spoken Nadella who often uses references to cricket to slip in a few googlies in his spiel and get them past the keeper. He did it this time too.

Let's be clear about one thing: for all technology companies, money comes first, second and third. (Also fourth, fifth, sixth ad infinitum). Nadella is just the latest in a line of chef executives who try to use gentle speech and devious words to sell users on some feature or the other.

Top British security practitioner Kevin Beaumont, who has worked for Microsoft in the past, had these comments, among others, about Recall:

"To put this into context, this isn’t 'the last thing in the clipboard'. It is everything you did in recent memory – and it’s instantly available to malicious software and individuals. If you have malware running on your PC for only minutes, you have a big problem in your life now rather than just changing some passwords.

"Microsoft will wordsmith around this and issue lovely comments to [the] press, but this seems like a huge risk which fundamentally undermines the security of the Windows ecosystem. All consumers and businesses should disable and reject Recall on Copilot+ PCs unless it has a substantial rework, as it directly places you and the data you view at risk."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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