Protecting your Privacy
Windows 10, out of the box, does everything it can to know all about you and shares it with its Mother Ship, Microsoft. Some would argue that this enhances the user experience, but at best it’s as an invasion of your privacy. Do you really want Cortana to listen to everything and store it?
Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your privacy! Here are some things in Windows 10 you can change immediately:
Avoid the PIN. Use a strong passphrase instead of a numeric PIN to log into your computer. Even if it’s a local account and not a Microsoft account, select a good passphrase and set it as the default. You can find this setting in Settings > Accounts > Sign-in Options.
Use a Local Account. Windows 10 gives you the option to login using an account you might have with Microsoft (i.e. live.com, Hotmail.com, outlook.com, etc.) so you can share your data across multiple devices, like iTunes does. While that’s convenient, it’s also a risk that can expose all your information if one computer is compromised. You can find this setting in Settings > Accounts > Your Info.
Randomize your network hardware address on Wi-Fi. By default, this is something that isn’t changed so you can be tracked whenever you connect to a Wi-Fi network. When you connect to a Wi-Fi that doesn’t belong to you like a public or hotel Wi-Fi service, those systems are able to track you by your hardware address. That Wi-Fi remembers you and can track when you come back and from where. Like Big Brother, very invasive and creepy. You can find this setting in Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi.
Disable Auto-connect to Wi-Fi. Sure, it’s nice to go somewhere and just have your laptop connect to a free Wi-Fi. You don’t have to search the list and pick one. This option is turned on by default to make it easier for you to roam about and just connect. The risk here is that if bad guys setup a “free” Wi-Fi to collect info and scan computers that automatically connect, your laptop can get compromised fairly quickly by getting redirected to malicious websites. You can find this setting in Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi Sense.
Disable Cortana. Cortana comes to you with Windows 10 as a way to help you do things easier by just speaking to your computer. Think Siri or Alexa or Google. When you use Cortana, it sends the commands that you give it back to Microsoft, along with information about your files and the searches that you do. While convenient, it’s an invasion of your privacy. You can find this setting in Settings > Cortana.
Check privacy settings in Updates. Windows and app updates can change your privacy settings without letting you know. Make it a regular habit after any updates to check your privacy settings. Do you really want app updates to gain access to your private information without your permission? You can find this setting in Settings > Update & Security > Advanced Options > Privacy Settings.
Disable sharing your Ad ID with Apps. Out of the box, this option is enabled so apps can track your Advertising ID. As if Google and Bing don’t already know almost everything about you, you probably don’t want the apps you have installed to also associate with your Ad ID to track you there as well. You can find this setting in Settings > Privacy > General > Change Privacy Options.
Disable Location tracking. The default setting is to allow apps to track your location. This is designed to target you for ads and marketing whenever you’re somewhere other than home or the office. Of course, you’re tracked at home and office as well. Check all the apps you have to see what’s tracking you and if you don’t want it to, turn it off. You can find this setting in Settings > Privacy > Location.
Control App access to sensitive data. Most computers, especially laptops, have a microphone and camera. Apps can use those hardware components to listen and capture. It can go beyond your camera and microphone and tap into your calendars, emails, contact lists, etc. If that doesn’t sound pleasant, check all the apps to see what has access to your sensitive data, and disable access. You can find this setting in Settings > Privacy > Camera and Settings > Privacy > Microphone.
Stop speech and typing from going to the Cloud. Enabled by default, when you speak or type something in Windows, it’s uploaded to the Mother Ship, Microsoft. That data is then used to create a user dictionary of things you say, type, etc., and shared with Microsoft. There are several settings on this that you should disable, unless you just want Microsoft to know and store what you say and write. You can find these settings in Settings > Privacy > Speech, Inking and Typing.
These are 10 things you can set immediately to protect your privacy when you use your Windows laptop or computer. There are more options in Settings that you should take the time to go through and decide how invasive you want your software and applications to be with your private information.
In a business environment, your corporate IT can, and should, be managing and controlling all these settings. If they’re not, you should consider asking questions. Some of these settings can be used to gather information for social engineering and then lead to spear-phishing and phishing attacks against you, your computers, and accounts.
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