Microsoft’s Dirty Little Secret
Note from your Newsletter editor: Since the publication of this article, Microsoft has modified the cited program slightly, so that it no longer transmits information as often as before. However, it still transmits information without customer consent, and in any case the main thrust of the article remains important: That Microsoft routinely takes advantage of its defacto monopoly to subject its captive customers to whatever Microsoft chooses to do, including using those customers as guinea pigs for its new software, and secretly taking information from customers’ computers.
Brian Livingston, one of the writers of the authoritative series of "Windows Secrets" books, announced recently that Microsoft has downloaded and installed a spyware program in many Windows users' computers, without their knowledge or consent, and you might be one of the targets. The routine was put into the users' machines as part of Microsoft's standard monthly update. (The ostensible purpose of the monthly update is to patch security vulnerabilities brought to the company's attention by expert users, and to make minor improvements.)
The name of the routine is "Windows Genuine Advantage" or "WGA". The name is ironic because the only advantage is to Microsoft. The routine checks the authenticity of the user's copy of Windows. What makes it spyware is that it also transmits personally identifiable information back to Microsoft every 24 hours. It also can download other software without the user's knowledge or consent.
Perhaps among the routine's worst characteristics is that as of this writingit is still in the test stages, so countless people are being used as hapless, unwitting guinea pigs. Not surprisingly there are already reports of problems caused by the routine.
WGA is not easily uninstalled, and in any case you would not then receive any updates to the operating system. You can, however, stop it from sending information: If you have a "two way" firewall program* such as Zone Alarm, set it to deny Windows Genuine Advantage access to the Internet. You can get a free version of Zone Alarm at www.zonelabs.com. Just click the link “Free Zone Alarm and Trials” and then click the Download button at the top of the “ZoneAlarm Free Download” column.
Please note that 1) The above article is based on information in the June, 2006 Windows Secrets newsletter. 2) It was submitted through the generosity of Bill Shapiro.
* A two way firewall is one that can block both incoming and outgoing transmissions.