Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out Over Windows 10’s WiFi Sense Password-Sharing Feature

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Here’s How Windows 10 Could Kill Passwords Forever.

A. Starting this week, Microsoft is offering most Windows 7 and Windows 8 users a free upgrade to the software giant’s latest operating system — Windows 10.Microsoft’s Windows 10 software has only been available in its final form for a few hours – but experts have already warned of a major security risk in the software.When Microsoft’s Windows 10 launches Wednesday, a lucky few users will be greeted at the login screen by a cartoon eyeball that appears to want to lock eyes with its owner.Microsoft Windows 10 will have a number of improvements when it launches tomorrow, including a revamped Start menu, a speedy Microsoft Edge web browser, a built-in Cortana digital assistant and the ability to stream games from an Xbox One console to another device.

However, experts say the feature actually automatically shares your wifi passwords with all Outlook, Skype and Facebook contacts who also use Windows 10. ‘Wi-Fi Sense automatically connects you to Wi-Fi around you to help you save your cellular data and give you more Internet connectivity options,’ Microsoft says. ‘It can do a lot things for you to get you connected to the Internet using Wi-Fi, so you don’t have to. If you don’t change a single setting in Microsoft’s new operating system, your friends will still have to ask for your WiFi password when they show up. This brilliant new feature, which Microsoft has dubbed Wi-Fi Sense, doesn’t share your Wi-Fi network password per se — it shares an encrypted version of that password.

The Windows team calls this snappy new login feature “Hello.” “It’s our way of saying goodbye to passwords,” says Chaitanya Sareen, Microsoft’s principal program manager on Windows. The new software will be the first to work across all Windows-powered devices, from smartphones to tablets and desktop computers, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox One games console. Judging by Sareen’s recent demonstration to TIME, the feature is even more seamless than the iPhone’s thumb scanner — you don’t even have to lift a finger to use it. “It’s actually using different dark and light shadows on the contours of my face,” says Sareen. “If it was pitch dark it would still sign me in.” That’s because Hello works with Intel’s Real Sense 3-D camera, which bathes the user’s face in infrared light, penetrating facial hair and dim lighting conditions. This feature makes it easier for your friends and family to automatically connect to your Wi-Fi while visiting, but security pundits are warning that it may compromise your network. “In theory, someone who wanted access to your company network could befriend an employee or two, and drive into the office car park to be in range, and then gain access to the wireless network,” said Simon Rockman of The Register UK. I first read about this disaster waiting to happen over at The Register, which noted that Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Sense FAQ seeks to reassure would-be Windows 10 users that the Wi-Fi password will be sent encrypted and stored encrypted — on a Microsoft server.

Microsoft is also introducing a new web browser – Edge – to replace Internet Explorer, while the firm’s voice assistant Cortana will also move to desktop computers for the first time. Here’s how it works: In Win 10’s (reborn, thoughtully revised) Start menu, click or tap Settings, select “Network & Internet,” select “Wi-Fi,” and scroll down and choose “Manage Wi-Fi settings.” The defaults on this screen don’t share your saved passwords with anybody.

They only allow your device to connect to “suggested open hotspots” or those “shared by my contacts.” “Suggested,” a Microsoft tech note explains, means no-password-required hotspots that the company has vetted with “crowdsourced information based on what your PC and other participating customers’ PCs tell us about those networks.” That note also correctly reminds readers that on an open network, it’s easy for others to eavesdrop on your traffic unless you confine your Internet use to encrypted sites and apps. The company says your contacts will only be able to share your network access, and that Wi-Fi Sense will block those users from accessing any other shared resources on your network, including computers, file shares or other devices. At no point will it ever lift off into the cloud, according to Sareen. “Even if a hacker got [the data], you could still not reverse engineer my face, my fingerprint or my iris.” Should those security claims stand the test of time, biometric logins could offer a more secure alternative to passwords, which are often still shockingly easy to crack. As I noted here last week, that also requires those sites to use modern encryption, and browsers besides Chrome don’t yet offer much warning of its absence. But these words of assurance probably ring hollow for anyone who’s been paying attention to security trends over the past few years: given the myriad ways in which social networks and associated applications share and intertwine personal connections and contacts, it’s doubtful that most people are aware of who exactly all of their social network followers really are from one day to the next. “That sounds wise — but we’re not convinced how it will be practically enforced: if a computer is connected to a protected Wi-Fi network, it must know the key.

Windows users who have registered their interest will be notified once Windows 10 becomes available to them, with the roll out beginning in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and set to be staggered over the coming days. The most commonly used password among victims of cybertheft alternates between “password” and “123456,” according to cybersecurity firm SplashData. It has new features, a streamlined Web browser called Edge and a desktop version of Cortana, the online assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri. I should point out that Wi-Fi networks which use the centralised 802.1x Wi-Fi authentication — and these are generally tech-savvy large organisations — won’t have their Wi-Fi credentials shared by this new feature.

Microsoft says it’s prodding hardware manufacturers to broaden the selection of devices equipped with 3D cameras, though the price of the technology may prove prohibitively expensive to budget shoppers. Microsoft’s solution for those concerned requires users to change the name (a.k.a. “SSID”) of their Wi-Fi network to include the text “_optout” somewhere in the network name (for example, “oldnetworknamehere_optout”). Wi-Fi Sense has of course been a part of the latest Windows Phone for some time, yet it’s been less of a concern previously because Windows Phone has nowhere near the market share of mobile devices powered by Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS.

And if you want to share it with your Facebook friends, typically a wider circle than Outlook.com or Skype contacts, that requires an extra level of approval. The encrypted file is sent over a secure connection to your friend’s Wi-Fi Sense enabled device if he or she is in range of the Wi-Fi network, according to Microsoft’s FAQ about Wi-Fi Sense for Windows Phone.

If you do use this feature, my advice would be to restrict WiFi sharing to the smallest circle possible and consider carefully which networks to share and for how long. Adding wireless logins for nearby coffee shops or restaurants can help visiting friends at no risk, while doing the same for your own home’s network might best be limited to times when you have guests over. Microsoft, in turn, could relieve concerns over this option by highlighting shared networks in the Wi-Fi Sense window and letting you share WiFi networks with only designated contacts. Open Settings from the Start menu, select “System” and then “Apps & features,” and you’ll see your current apps listed by their disk footprint instead of alphabetically–any space hogs will stick out. (The “Storage” heading under “System” also helps by providing the sort of comprehensive overview of space usage that formerly required adding third-party apps.) You can then switch back to an alphabetical sort or show your apps by their install date, though it would also help to see which ones were last updated or last used.

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