Fix Slow Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book Wi-Fi Problem

If you’ve been having some problems with slow Wi-fi on your Surface Book or Surface Pro 4, I have good news.

Microsoft knows about the slow Wi-Fi issue and is working on a patch for the problem. From the information available, it appears that it’s software-related problem related to MAC layer aggregation (AMSDU over AMPDU) and certain types of wireless access points. In other words, they’re saying it’s the access point, not the Surface or Windows 10, per se.

Like you care, you just want it to work, right? 😉

While the problem *should* only affect a small percentage of access points, a fair of people are complaining about it, so Microsoft has promised to resolve it with a update on their Microsoft Community Forum.

Slow Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book Wi-Fi: The Fix

Unfortunately we don’t know when the fix will be released but it should be pretty soon. In the meantime, you can try the following registry change to work around the problem.

  • Search for regedit and open it from the results.
  • Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\ControlSet001\Services\mrvlpcie8897
  • Find the entry for TXAMSDU, modify the value from 1 to 0 (Hex)
  • Save the change and restart your Surface

If your Surface Wi-Fi speed problem is stemming form the MAC aggregation issue, this should help but the real “fix” will be coming along as a Windows update in the near future. So, keep checking for new updates.

Tim

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5 Must-Do Things to Setup My New Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book

You just got your new Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, you’ve turned it on, and paired the pen but now you start wondering “what’s the best way to setup my new Surface, so I don’t have problems down the road?”

OK, maybe you’re not wondering something that specific but you get the idea.

Even if you’ve set up a Surface before, do you know what you should do to setup and configure your new SP4 or Surface Book? How are you going to get the files from your old computer moved over? How are you going to keep it secure and protected from viruses?

Well, have no fear, if you follow the steps outlined below, you’ll have your new Surface up and running, problem-free, in just a short time…

Setup My New Surface: Check for Updated Firmware and Drivers

Even though your Surface came with Windows 10, it’s possible that you don’t have all of the latest drivers and firmware installed. This will be particularly true if you waited a while after the new models were released before getting yours.

However, it’s pretty easy to make sure you have the latest firmware and drivers. Just visit the appropriate link below to download and install them.

It doesn’t matter when you’ve found this article because Microsoft keeps these pages up-to-date with the latest drivers and firmware when they are released.

Setup My New Surface: Transfer Settings and Applications

If you have an older Surface (or other Windows 8.1/10 machine) and you’re using a Microsoft account with OneDrive you may not need to do this step – especially if you’ve only been installing apps from the Windows store. This is because many of your settings will be automatically transferred and software from the Windows Store can be automatically installed when you use it for the first time.

However, if you have an older (Windows XP, Vista, or 7 desktop/laptop), you may want to use Laplink’s PCMover software which you can download free from Microsoft.

This free version of PCMover will move your profile information and data from your old computer to your new Surface, however, it will NOT transfer any installed applications.

If you want your installed applications transferred as well, you can pay $29.95 USD to get a copy of PCMover Professional which will move installed apps from your old computer to your new Surface. Otherwise, you’ll need to reinstall everything on your new Surface manually.

The same goes if you have an older Surface but you have non-Windows Store items installed (Photoshop, GIMP, etcetera).

  • For instructions on how to use the software, you can find the PCMover user guide here: PCMover User Guide
  • Download the free version of the PCMover software from Microsoft’s website here: PCMover Personal Edition

Setup My New Surface: Install Anti-Virus, VPN, and Anti-Malware

Even with Windows 10, computer viruses and other security threats are an annoying part of online life. However, with just a little knowledge, it’s not hard to protect yourself and your new Surface.

Microsoft includes Windows Defender that is installed with Windows 10. Unfortunately, Defender does a poor job at detecting or cleaning virus infections. So, you’ll want to get an alternative anti-virus package right away. In addition, it does very little to block other types of malware or cyber-snooping.

To better secure your new Surface, follow these steps:

  • Install better Anti-Virus Software: If you don’t already have a favorite anti-virus package, take a look at our Free Antivirus for Surface – 2015 Guide where we suggust a couple of options for you.
  • Install Anti-Malware Software: Anti-malware software is different than anti-virus software and you need them both. We recommend you use MalwareBytes on your Surface. It works really well and is highly respected in the industry.
  • Install a VPN: You can install a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) if you travel or use public networks. A VPN encrypts all of your network traffic before it goes over the network. This prevents someone on a public WiFi spot from “listening in” on what you’re doing. We highly recommend VyprVPN because it does a great job and there’s a free option if you use less than 500MB/month on the VPN. See our article on safe computing practices on public Wi-FI networks.

Setup My New Surface: Install Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is almost as ubiquitous as Windows itself. It’s almost impossible to do any sort of “serious” work without Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. So, you’re going to want to make sure you have Microsoft Office installed on your new Surface.

Unfortunately, Microsoft did not include an Office 365 subscription as part of the purchase price for your new SP4 or Surface Book like they did with the Surface 3. However, you can still get Microsoft Office on your new Surface even if you don’t already have a copy.

Here are three options for you to get Office on your new Surface:

  • If you had a copy of Office on your old computer and used the PCMover software and you paid for the professional version, the old version you had should be installed on your new Surface.
  • If you have an Office 365 subscription, you can go to this web page (you’ll need to log in) and install Office onto your new Surface. Be aware that you will probably need to deactivate the subscription on your old computer to use it on your new one.
  • You can go to the Windows Store and download Mobile Excel, Mobile PowerPoint, and Mobile Word for free to your Surface. These versions aren’t “full-featured” but they will do just the basics. But if you are a power-user, you’ll need to go with one of the other two options.

Setup My New Surface: Create a Local Admin Account

Finally, I recommend that you Surface in addition to the account you use day to day.

This way, if something goes wrong with your account, you may be able to fix the problem with the local admin account. Just make sure you use a really secure password and you store the password in a safe place where you can get to it, like Passpack.

If you followed the advice above, your new SP4 or Surface Book should be good to go. Yes, you’ll probably need to do other things, like install additional software or pair up your favorite Bluetooth accessories, but the 5 things above will cover the basics.

Have fun with your new Surface.

Tim

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Weekly Surface News Roundup: 11 October, 2015

It’s that time of week again. Time for the Weekly Surface News Roundup.

Here’s my list of interesting news for Surface owners that is in addition to the Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book announcements earlier this week:

  • Vigilante Malware is a Good Thing?
  • Say ‘Bye’ to the Control Panel, Maybe…

I know it’s a little light but, because of the announcements on Tuesday, the news stream is still flooded with opinions. OK, with that out of the way, let’s get started…

[divider]

Weekly Surface News Roundup: Vigilante Malware is a Good Thing?

Malware, even the name implies it’s malicious. However a new malware that infects network routers may actually be doing some good. Linux.Wifatch has been making rounds for months and one of the first things it does when it infects your router is patch it to make sure it’s more secure from other viruses and malware. Once it’s done improving your network security, it tries to spread to other network routers it can find.

Symantec has been watching Linux.Wifatch for a while now and, so far, it hasn’t done anything malicious.

They are quick to point out, however, that it could suddenly become malicious at any moment. So, since you can get rid of Linux.Wifatch by simply restarting your network router, they advise you to do so, then make sure you apply the latest patches to it. If you don’t apply the patches, Linux.Wifatch may re-infect it.

Now, for the obvious question; why didn’t they call it “Anonymous.Batman?”

Related: Symantec

[divider]

Weekly Surface News Roundup: Say ‘Bye’ to the Control Panel, Maybe…

According to Mark Wilson at Betanews, Microsoft is thinking about getting rid of the iconic Control Panel that has been in every version of Windows since Windows 2.0 was released in 1987!! Instead, they would make the Settings app in Windows 10 more complete.

This story originated on Twitter when Gabe Azul was asked about the Settings app and Control Panel.

If you’re a die-hard fan of the Control Panel (and its familiarity) you don’t have to panic yet. There hasn’t been any schedule put forward by Microsoft as to when this might happen. The Windows Insiders (running beta versions of Windows) will see the change before it happens.

When we see it, we’ll let you know it’s coming.

Related: BetaNews

[divider]

I’m looking forward to getting back to normal news stories again next week…or may not, maybe there will be more of the SP4 and Surface Book stuff…who knows…

Tim

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Enable God Mode on Surface Tablets

Here is another Quick Tip for you: “god mode”

Since Windows 7, Microsoft has included a little feature called “god mode” (taken from gaming where you could often use a cheat mode called god mode to become invincible – please don’t blame me if you don’t like the name).

If you enable god mode on your Surface, you won’t be invincible but it can be a pretty handy way to easily access various (sometimes hidden) systems settings. As such, this post is essentially for folks who like to make various tweaks to their Surface.

Enable God Mode on Surface Tablets: How To Do It

To create a god mode icon on your desktop, follow these steps:

  • Tap and hold (right-click on the Desktop to bring up the properties menu.

  • Select New Folder and name it exactly as follows: godMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

  • The folder should rename itself to godMode and look like the example below:

Once you have a godMode icon, go ahead and open it and you’ll get a long list of settings you can use to tweak various aspects of your Surface.

The procedure above works for both Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Also, once you’ve made it, you can rename the icon to whatever you want and it will still work. So, if you don’t like the name you can call it something like superMode or adminMode or whatever.

There are a lot of settings and tools on the god mode list, perhaps too many, but the list is searchable (top right corner) to help you find what you’re looking for – cool, eh?

In case you’re wondering, using god mode will not allow you to access settings unless you have permissions to do so. So, it works best if you’re logged in with an administrator account.

Tim

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A Fix for Windows 10 Wi-Fi Issues – Quick Tip

Folks have been reporting some Windows 10 Wi-Fi issues where their device no longer has the ability to connect to a network. It’s almost as if the Wi-Fi card is disabled because you can’t browse or connect to wireless networks.

If this has happened to you, it could be because of a bug in a recent Windows 10 update. Fortunately, there is a fix circulating on the internet that may help you fix it.

Windows 10 Wi-Fi Issues: The Fix

The fix involves deleting a registry key where some bad information about the wireless network is listed. The bad data seems the be the result of a patching process where the registry key is supposed to be deleted after the patch is installed but isn’t.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to remedy:

  • Start an Administrative Command Prompt by performing a tap and hold (right-click) on the Start button then selecting Command Prompt (Admin) from the choices.
  • Enter the following command into the command prompt (no quotes) “reg delete HKCR\CLSID\{988248f3-a1ad-49bf-9170-676cbbc36ba3} /va /f”. If you get an error indicating the specified registry key doesn’t exist, then this fix won’t correct your problem and possibly something else is going on.

  • After the command completes, assuming you don’t get the “key doesn’t exist” error, restart your Surface. Your Surface will take a bit longer to start than it normally does but, after it restarts, you should be able to see and browse wireless networks again.

If you saw the error above, you should still restart your Surface but it probably won’t help resolve your problem.

Tim

Windows 10 May Already Be On Your Surface

The Inquirer website discovered that even if you didn’t “reserve” your copy of Windows 10, the installation files are still downloaded to your Surface.

When they asked Microsoft, they got the following response…

“For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they’ll need if they decide to upgrade.”

Nice, huh?

You can remove the Windows Update responsible for the Windows 10 pre-load easily enough by removing the KB3035583 update (see our article: Remove Windows 10 Upgrade Notification From Surface) and the hidden $WINDOWS.~BT folder but, we’re actually more interested in what you think about this whole mess.

If you have an opinion, head on over to the Forum and leave it in our Topic of The day – Windows 10 Preloads.

Tim

Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

This is the forth in our Windows 10 Backup and Recovery series. You can find the previous article here: Create A System image Backup in Windows 10.

Today, I’ll cover how to create and use a Windows 10 Recovery Drive.

If you don’t know, a Recovery Drive is a bootable USB drive that can be used to repair or recover your Surface, in the event it won’t start normally. As such, I recommend that every Surface owner has one ready to go at all times. Personally, I keep one on my key-chain, so I always have it with me.

Also, once you use a USB drive as a Recovery Drive, you should not use it for anything else because the recovery tools can get messed up – so make sure you have one available just for this purpose.

Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

To create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive, follow the steps below.

  • Obtain a USB Drive with at least 8GB of capacity and plug it into your Surface.
  • Log in to the Surface with Administrator rights.
  • Search for Create a Recovery Drive and then select it from the results. You might get a security popup. If you do, tap or click Yes.
  • When the Recovery Drive tool starts, ensure the Back Up System Files to the Recovery Drive option is selected, select Next and you’ll get a “please wait” screen.

  • Once the Select the USB Flash Drive window appears, select the drive you want to use (in this case, I’m going with (E:\Win10_RCVY) then tap or click Next.

  • The Overwrite warning window will appear as shown below. Tap or click Create to start the Recovery Drive creation process.

  • This could take some time as a large number of files will be copied to the USB drive but you’ll get a progress bar letting you know how the process is going.

  • Once it’s finished, select Finish to exit the Drive Creation process then eject the USB drive.

Once ejected from your Surface, put the drive somewhere it will be handy. Remember, you shouldn’t use it for anything else so make sure you mark it as your Recovery Drive (I used a Sharpie on mine). That way you won’t accidentally use it for anything else.

Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive: FAQ

Here’s the answers to some frequently asked questions about Recovery Drives in Windows 10:

  • Will this free up space on my Surface like in Windows 8.1? No, Windows 8.1 included a dedicated recovery partition that you could delete to free up space. It doesn’t exist in Windows 10.
  • Can I make more than one in case I lose it? Yes, you can. In fact, I would recommend it, if you have the USB drives to spare.
  • Do I need to update the Recovery Drive? Only when there’s a major update to Windows.
  • Is there a non-USB option? Technically, you can also make a recovery DVD but, because it’s missing some important data such as volume/partition layouts, I always recommend going for the USB Recovery Drive option.

Now that you have your recovery drive and some of your questions answered, let’s move on to using your Recovery Drive.

Using Your Windows 10 Recovery Drive

Your Recovery Drive should only be needed in the event your Surface is so messed up that even the built-in Advanced Recovery Tools won’t start.

Basically, once your Surface fails to boot several times, Windows 10 will automatically try to bring up the Advanced Startup Tools, which should allow you to troubleshoot and fix problems. If your Surface can’t bring up these tools, you will need your Recovery Disk to fix it. At that point, plug in the Recovery Drive and restart.

It should automatically boot from the Recovery Drive and allow you access to the Advanced Startup Tools. From here, you can do several things to help troubleshoot your Surface, such as perform a System Restore, Restore from a System Image, or try an Automatic System Repair.

Special Note For Surface 3 Owners: For you, the Recovery Drive is a bit more important than it is for Surface Pro (1/2/3/4) owners running Windows 10. This is because the version of  the built-in Advanced Startup Tools in Windows 10 Home doesn’t offer the same tools as on the Pro versions of the Surface. As a result, to get access to all of the recovery tools, you will need to plug in your Recovery Drive and select the Use A Device option. When you do, your Surface will restart and you’ll get access to all of the tools.

So there you go. You now have a recovery drive just in case the worst happens and your Surface won’t boot. Hopefully, you’ll never need it.

Tim

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Windows 10 File History on Surface

This article is second in a series we’re doing on Windows 10 backup and recovery mechanisms. If you missed it, you can find the first article here: Change Default Save Location to OneDrive in Windows 10 On Surface

In today’s article, I’m going to discuss backing up and recovering files using the File History Feature in Windows 10. I’ll also touch on some caveats with the feature that you’ll need to know.

File History offers “Point in Time” restores which will allow you to restore a file from a particular date and hour (say from 2 days ago). As you can imagine, this is handy if you accidentally deleted a file but can’t remember exactly when it happened.

Let’s get started with how to configure it…

Configure Windows 10 File History

To begin backing up your files, you’ll first need to set up File History and select a save location. You have two choices for the save location: External Drive or Network.

The external drive option has the advantage of coming along with you and providing backups anywhere, whereas the network drive option requires that you to be somewhere where the network share can be opened (i.e. on a network).

Configure Windows 10 File History: External USB Drive

  • Log in with an administrator account.
  • Plug a USB drive into your Surface (Something like this Kingston DataTraveler 101). If you do not have a drive plugged in, the rest of these steps will not work.
  • Search for “File History” and Select the File History (Control Panel) option.

  • Select the Advanced Settings option on the left of the window and change the Keep Saved Versions setting to Until Space is Needed. If you don’t do this, the USB drive will fill up and interrupt the backups.

  • Tap Save changes to get back to the previous screen.
  • Next, tap the Select drive option (if it doesn’t find it automatically).

  • Once you have the proper drive selected, tap Turn On – it may automatically do so when it finds your drive.

These changes will automatically start backing up your files to the USB drive, they will automatically make new backups every hour as long as the USB drive is attached. If you disconnect the USB drive, the File History backups will stop but they will resume when the USB drive is reattached.

TIP FROM TIM: If you have a docking station, plug your USB drive into it, that way each time you dock your Surface, your File History backups will run.

If you want to backup your files manually, go to the main File History window and tap Run Now with the backup USB drive plugged in.

If it is already performing a backup you will get a message indicating that File History is saving copies of your files.

Configure Windows 10 File History : Network Drive

In order to successfully setup File History backups on a network drive, you’ll need a second computer (or NAS) and the ability to create a network share. If you don’t have one or the other, you’ll want to use a USB drive (as described above).

Assuming you already have a network share mapped, tap on Select Drive when the File History window appears.

Next, choose Add Network Location and browse to the network share you want to use as your backup target.

Using the network drive as the backup target has some advantages:

  • You don’t have to worry about losing the USB drive with your backups.
  • It will automatically perform backups when it can see the network drive.

The downside is that you need another computer on your network to serve-out the share.

Restore Using Windows 10 File History:

Knowing how to restore your files is just as important, if not more so, as backing them up. In this section, we’ll go over how to restore your files from a File History backup.

  • Log in with an administrator account.
  • Plug the USB drive with your backups into your Surface (if you used a network share as your backup location, make sure you can connect to it).
  • Search for “File History” and Select the File History (Control Panel) option. File History should be ON. If it’s not, you will not be able to recover files.

  • Choose Restore Personal Files from the left side of the window.
  • Select the files or folders you wish to restore. You can select the date to restore from by swiping left and right or by using the arrows at the bottom of the screen. You can also use the search box in the upper right of the window to find what you need.

  • Select the files you want to restore then tap the Restore button (the big green one at the bottom of the window).

To restore your files or folders to a different location than the original, press and hold (or right-click) the Restore button, then select Restore To, and then choose a different location.

Windows 10 File History: Caveats

File History is powerful and easy to use but it has a couple of downsides you need to keep in mind:

  • You will need a USB drive connected to your Surface or an available network share to do the backups.
  • You need the backup drive/share available, to restore files.
  • If you run out of space on your backup drive or share, the system will automatically start deleting the oldest files to make space for the new backups. This is known as First-in/First-out (FIFO) and may leave some of your older files unprotected.
  • File history will not protect your installed applications or operating system.

These caveats aside, File History remains a powerful data protection tool that you should be using on your Surface to protect your files against loss or corruption.

Next up in our Windows 10 Backup & Recovery for Surface Series: Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

Tim



Change Default Save Location to OneDrive in Windows 10 On Surface

This article is first in a series of five on Windows 10 backup and recovery for Surface tablets.

One of the most important (but often overlooked things) you should do, is take steps to ensure your important files are protected. Unfortunately, many people don’t worry about such things until they’ve already lost data and it’s too late.

There are a lot of excuses people use for not protecting their data (“It’s too much of a pain to do backups“, “I don’t want to change how I use my computer“, “I’ll do it tomorrow“, etc.) but all they’re really doing is putting their irreplaceable files at risk.

Fortunately, Windows 10 offers several easy and “transparent” (meaning you don’t have to do anything special) ways to protect your data. So, you no longer have an excuse for not making sure your data is protected.

One of the easiest of these ways to keep your files safe is to simply put them in your OneDrive folder. This is because OneDrive will automatically sync the files up to the cloud from your Surface (and any other Windows computer you may use with your Microsoft account) when it has an internet connection.

While it’s already pretty simple to save (or copy) files into OneDrive, you can make it even more convenient by setting the save location for your desktop, documents, music, pictures, and video libraries to a OneDrive folder. By default, in Windows 10, all those save to your local drive on the Surface.

Change Default Save Location to OneDrive: How To Do It

To move the default save location to OneDrive, perform the steps below on each document library on your Surface:

  • Open Windows Explorer then tap and hold (right-click) on one of the following folders under the This PC section: Desktop, DocumentsMusic, Pictures or Videos then select Properties from the contextual menu. In this example, I chose the Documents folder.

  • Select the Location tab.

  • Tap Move then browse to your OneDrive folder. If you already have a folder where you want to save to by default, select it, if not, create one and select it by tapping or clicking the Select Folder button.

  • After you tap or click the Select Folder button, you’ll be taken back to the properties screen. Tap or click Apply to make the change. When you do, you’ll be given the option to automatically move your files to the new location. Tap or click Yes.

  • Repeat the process until the documents, music, pictures, and videos save locations have all been moved to OneDrive.

Depending on the folder you select in your OneDrive, you may get a prompt asking if you want to proceed with the folder redirection. This usually happens because you’re trying to merge two system folders like “documents” or “videos”:

If you continue, you will not be able to easily restore the default location for  your document libraries on your Surface.

To avoid needing to make this choice, I recommend you create a folder with the same name as your Surface (or something like “My Surface”) and create sub folders for desktop, documents, music, etc.. under it. This is an especially good idea if you have multiple Windows 10 computers as it will allow you to keep the data from each organized.

Change Default Save Location to OneDrive: Caveats

When changing the default save location to OneDrive is easy, there are a few caveats you need to be aware of in order to get maximum protection for your data:

  • You will need to have enough space on your OneDrive to hold all of the files you wish to backup. You can obtain more space several ways but, purchasing it from Microsoft is the easiest. If you have Office 365 (new Surface 3 gets you a 1 year subscription) then you already have 1TB of OneDrive space included, hence, you probably won’t need to worry about buying additional storage.
  • New or changed files will only be backed up when your Surface is connected to the Internet.
  • Moving the default save location to OneDrive won’t protect the OS or your installed applications.
  • OneDrive only keeps the current version of a file, so, if it becomes corrupted on your Surface, it will become corrupted in the cloud.
  • If you accidentally delete the file on your Surface, it will be deleted from OneDrive as well.

That’s it. By simply changing your default save location in Windows 10 to your OneDrive, you can afford yourself some protection in the event your Surface gets lost, stolen, or broken. Better yet, you don’t really have to change the way you use your Surface. You can keep doing what you were in the past but, now, your files are safely stored on OneDrive.

Next up in our Windows 10 Backup & Recovery for Surface Series: Windows 10 File History For Surface.

Tim



Windows 10 Privacy Concerns on Surface Tablets

If you regret upgrading your Surface to Windows 10, then I’m about to give you another reason to regret it….. privacy concerns.

Turns out many people are unhappy with Windows 10 because of concerns about privacy. If you look in your settings, you’ll see a whole section with various privacy-related options:

By default, most of these settings are configured to share as much information (or access) as possible. While that’s awesome for functionality, it may mean that personal or sensitive data gets sent to Microsoft or shared with an unexpected application – that could land you in a lot of hot water.

For example, let’s say you work in a doctors office in the U.S. and have a Surface 3 with Windows 10. Let’s say you use Cortana to look for a particular patent’s history on your Surface.

Well, now you might have a problem…

You see, U.S. patient records are covered under HIPAA law and its rules are very restrictive. One of the big things you do not want to do with HIPAA data is share it with anyone without explicit permission from the patient.

Guess what? Cortana sends all of your search data to Microsoft to be analyzed and processed, so she can give you an answer (that’s why Cortana doesn’t work when you don’t have internet). Even though it’s been anonymized, you could end up liable for misusing HIPAA data (depending on certain factors).

Keep in mind, this is an extreme example and it is easy to mitigate with policy (“don’t use Cortana, for patient records”) but it highlights how a seemingly innocent thing can become a serious privacy problem.

Windows 10 Privacy Concerns on Surface: What Can I Do About It?

In this section I had a choice. I could either write up this long and complicated checklist of privacy settings with pictures that would end up being huge and unwieldy or, I could tell you about Do Not Spy and be done in just a few minutes. As I write this it’s 5:54 AM on a Sunday morning and I haven’t had my coffee yet so…. Do Not Spy it is.

Besides I’m sure you would appreciate brevity out of me for once, right?

Do Not Spy is a simple program written by pXc-coding that simply puts all of the Windows privacy options (normally spread across multiple locations) into a single window. It is very simple to use and even offers an explanation of what each privacy setting does.

There are a few things to be aware of however…

  • When the program is started, it will ask if you want to make a restore point. DO IT!!! While the program works well, a few settings can’t be turned off by un-checking the box. For example, the Disable and Reset Cortana setting. Letting the program make a restore point will let you back out of your changes, if you need to later.
  • There are two download options (ad-supported and donation)
  • While the ad-supported version does not show ads in the main Window, it will try to include additional products during the installation process. Fortunately, all you have to do is uncheck the box:

  • For a donation (minimum $5 USD) you can get a version that is not ad-supported and does not try to install the additional software. I would recommend you do this if you can spare the $5 because it will help them improve their software offerings.
  • Your anti-virus software may see Do Not Spy as a threat (because it will try to access the registry and create a system restore point); so, you may have to add it to your “whitelist” before you can use it.

As far as what privacy settings you should use, it depends on what you use your Surface for and how much you trust Microsoft. For example, the Disable and Reset Cortana setting will prevent her from working – so if you like Cortana, you won’t want to check that box. Another setting disables OneDrive. Hence, turning it off would be a bad idea if you use OneDrive a lot.

Just take your time and read the description of each setting to make sure you want to change it.

Reminder: Don’t forget to let the program create a system restore point before adjusting the settings.

If using this program makes you uncomfortable, you can just go through the Windows 10 Privacy Settings section and turn off each setting you don’t like individually. In addition, you’ll probably also want to look at the Windows Update settings and Cortana and Search settings – there are several privacy-related items in each.

Windows 10 Privacy Concerns on Surface: Am I Safe Now?

You’ve done all you can at this point but your privacy still may not be safe… Ars Technica used a proxy server to look at what Windows 10 sends on the network and their testing showed that even with certain features disabled and privacy settings activated, Windows 10 continues to send information to Microsoft.

The data seems to be sent from multiple sources including OneDrive, Cortana, and Bing. This even occurs when a local account is used! While much of the traffic is fairly harmless, some of it is a bit concerning. Here’s a couple of examples:

  • Even with OneDrive completely disabled and no Microsoft Account being used, Windows 10 appears to send information back to a server used by OneDrive. Why would it need to do that?
  • When Cortana and searching the Web from the Start menu is disabled, if you open Start and do a search your Surface will send a request to www.bing.com for a file called threshold.appcache which appears to contain some Cortana information (disabled, remember?). The request for this file contains a machine ID that persists across reboots which means that they might be able to see and correlate all search requests for that machine ID.

When asked about this traffic, Microsoft told them:

“As part of delivering Windows 10 as a service, updates may be delivered to provide ongoing new features to Bing search, such as new visual layouts, styles and search code. No query or search usage data is sent to Microsoft, in accordance with the customer’s chosen privacy settings. This also applies to searching offline for items such as apps, files and settings on the device.”

While that is consistent with what they saw (there was no query or search data transmitted), it is counter to a “reasonable person’s” expectations. If Web searching and Cortana are disabled, the inference that most people (including me) would make is that searching from the Start menu wouldn’t use the Internet at all. But it does.

I’ll leave the implications of the persistent machine ID that could be used to track all of your searches up to you.

Windows 10 Privacy Concerns on Surface: Is That Legal?

If you’re starting to wonder how Microsoft can get away with this, it’s because the EULA (which I’ll bet you never read) is so broad it basically gives Microsoft the freedom to do whatever it wants. For example, this excerpt on privacy reads (the highlights are mine):

“We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary”

All of which means that Windows 10 has the right to install whatever it wants on your system without notice and to read and disclose all your personal information and files when it sees fit – even with files you place in private folders. Hmmm….this sounds like Google….

Windows 10 Privacy Concerns on Surface: Tim’s Conclusions

Does all this mean you should avoid or uninstall Windows 10?

I would say – probably not (unless you don’t like Windows 10 for other reasons as well) but you will want to tweak the default settings. I recommend you either use Do Not Spy or manually adjust your privacy settings to set the privacy options to something you’re more comfortable with because the defaults are pretty much wide open.

At this point, you might be asking yourself; “but Tim, what about the EULA language and mysterious traffic you pointed out?”

Frankly, I really doubt Microsoft has any sort of nefarious plan to invade your privacy with Windows 10. Most of the problems, or suspicious activity, I pointed out above really come down to two things…. lawyers and programming shortcuts.

You can bet that Microsoft’s legal department was tasked to make sure Microsoft was protected from lawsuits in just about any situation; so, they wrote the EULA with such broad rules the NSA would wet themselves like an excited puppy if they could get away with just half of what Microsoft can. It doesn’t mean they had plans to access your data all along, it just means they wanted to be protected from liability no matter what.

That’s bad, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t mean getting there was cheesy-spy-movie-type nefarious laughter coming from the boardroom when Windows 10 launched.

As for the mysterious traffic…. well, I’ll bet that’s due to programming shortcuts when Windows 10 was being written, so that the programming teams could meet the requirements while still making whatever deadlines imposed on them. Let’s face it, that’s the reality of the corporate world.

Tim