Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Cloud concerns

This morning Kath, Anto and Rhiannon departed for Kenilworth, Clare set about doing the laundry, three machine loads of it, and I helped by hanging it all out. Fortunately, the weather was mild and kind enough to allow us to have the lot dry enough to finish off on the radiators in the evening. Meanwhile it was a machine minding day for me.

The HP mini had evidently gone through a factory re-set before purchase, and Win 8.1 had to be set up before Win 10 upgrade could take place. Although I'm sure I registered the software properly with Microsoft at the outset, the machine made three two hour attempts to download the upgrade file before it alleged the O/S wasn't MS registered. Hadn't registered on their servers I'd argue. Once done, upgrade proceeded at a snail's pace, another six hours, plus an hour getting rid of crapware and setting up my choice of software for use. None of these choices are reflected by the OneDrive filing system, although passwords are, and I now learn, also encryption keys. Disturbing, even for honest citizens.

I have one piece of previous legacy hardware - a keyboard with Swiss French layout, great for writing letters in French or German. So I had to configure the system to accept its input. The option is rather buried and not easy for a first timer, but being used to it for over 20 years, I didn't take me long to set it up to use with English language as the writing medium. When later in the day, while the upgrade was still happening, I used my laptop, I had difficulty logging in, and quickly discovered that the keyboard settings stored for the desktop machine and Swiss keyboard were being imposed on a standard English laptop keyboard, and producing errors. Instead of setting and forgetting, I had to return to configure for two different switchable settings EN/CH and EN/EN for both devices. Not good news.

Given the number of multi-lingual users owning and regularly using more than one device, not storing and keeping such basic settings on each machine as has happened up to now is a serious error of judgement on the part of our American digital overlords. The reasons are several: 1) if you don't know about keyboard configurations and how to switch them, you're going to waste your own and others' time with trouble-shooting; 2) multiple errors entering passwords could on some systems lead to users being barred access to essential if not urgent functions; 3) the imposition is in effect a breach of my network security. If didn't know about it, I couldn't authorise it.

What if a hacker found a way to replace the keyboard management software on one of my computers with a lookalike containing malware key-logger, activated by switching languages, one whose payload could then be distributed to all my machines via OneDrive? As with the encryption key concern, all it requires is a Microsoft server breach to spread vulnerabilities. OneDrive is attractive and can be quite convenient, provided your devices sync properly, but does it pose too much risk of privacy or security being compromised? 

The more the usage of Windows 10 is extended and explored, the more issues of this kind will arise for debate among the less technically sophisticated who get caught out. Computer systems are complex and hard to grasp. If an operating system does too much for you presuming it's being 'helpful' (as defined by a corporate giant dominating a different culture 5,000 miles away, from which we're divided a common language), it creates unhealthy dependencies and inefficiencies we can well do without.  

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