Monthly Archives: September 2014

Should Windows Upgrades Be Free?

Later today, Microsoft is holding an event in San Francisco to unveil the new Windows operating system and most likely launch some sort of technical preview. We don’t yet know if it will be called Windows 9, Windows Threshold, or simply Windows, but no matter what the official name of the new OS, the price for upgrading to it should be free.

You can thank mobile devices in general, and Apple specifically, for the shift in OS pricing. When the latest greatest version of iOS or Android is released, the issue of cost never comes up. It’s simply expected that the upgrade will be free.

The culture of free upgrades on mobile devices was driven in large part by Apple, and Apple is also the company that extended that model to its desktop OS. Apple was already providing new versions of Mac OS X at a fraction of what Microsoft was charging customers to upgrade to the latest Windows release, but last year, when Apple launched Mac OS X “Mavericks,” it also made the upgrade available for free. I expect the same with the upcoming release of OS X “Yosemite” this fall.

That’s a tough act to follow. Mac OS X is certainly not a threat to Windows, but it has gained much more mainstream relevance and has been chipping away at Microsoft’s share of the desktop OS market. Microsoft can’t really just ignore the fact that Apple is offering Mac OS X upgrades for free and then continue charging hundreds of dollars for the latest version of Windows.

Multiple Windows 9 reports have suggested that Microsoft is considering releasing the upcoming platform as a free download to certain existing Windows users. The Windows 9 upgrade will be available free of charge to all existing Windows 8 users once it’s released. Apparently, users will be able to easily install the Windows 9 update after downloading it from Microsoft, which is how Apple’s OS X updates have been rolled out to Macs for a few years now. For what it’s worth, some of the recent Windows 9 leaks did say that Microsoft already has a tool in place that will allow users to easily perform software updates.

It’s not clear whether other Windows users who are on older versions of the OS will get any other special offers, and actual prices for Windows 9 have yet to be revealed. Microsoft is reportedly interested in moving many people from the older, and no longer supported, Windows XP and offering Windows 9 as a free download might be a great incentive for some.

Recent leaks, including many online videos, have revealed some of the major features coming to Windows 9, including the return of the Start menu, the Cortana voice-based search assistant that’s currently available only on Windows Phone, the Notification Center, support for multiple desktops, and several other user interface enhancements.

Providing a free OS upgrade takes the wind out of the sails of most complaints. One of the biggest protests users have about upgrading isn’t the operating system itself, it’s the idea that they’re being “forced” to upgrade just to line Microsoft’s pockets with cash. There will always be challenging issues with any new operating system — you can’t please everyone — but the backlash would be greatly reduced if no money exchanged hands. Customers would give Microsoft a lot more leeway and be much more forgiving if the latest, greatest version is free.

Operating system adoption is also subject to inertia. When a new version of an operating system is launched, the more people download and install it and the greater market share it wins, the more likely it is that more people will continue to download and install it. If the OS upgrade is available for free, it’s much more likely that demand will be higher, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that drives adoption.

Microsoft doesn’t need to charge for Windows upgrades. Technology changes over time. Hardware crashes and dies. There will be customers who will cling to their 10-year old hardware, but many will still buy new PCs to replace broken hardware, get a faster processor, or take advantage of the latest USB or Wi-Fi components. Microsoft could provide free upgrades to the latest version of Windows for existing owners of licensed copies of Windows but still continue to charge OEM manufacturers for installing the OS in new PCs (Microsoft does give the Windows OS away for free for devices with screens smaller than nine inches).

The latest versions of iOS and Android are free for those with existing iOS and Android devices, but they aren’t available for all existing iOS or Android devices. iOS 8 is only compatible with the iPhone 4s and newer, the iPod Touch 5th generation and newer, and the iPad 2 and newer. Anyone with an older iOS device must now replace their hardware in order to get the benefits of the latest OS.

Microsoft is a corporation that exists to bring in revenue and provide value to its shareholders. It’s not operating as a non-profit. As such, Microsoft has a vested interest in ensuring that as many businesses and consumers around the world continue to depend on the Windows OS so that it can sell its other products and services — and it could help that cause by providing Windows upgrades for free.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts with me….

 

Too Much Spam?

Five Reasons Why Clicking “Unsubscribe” May Be A Bad Idea!

When you get on a mailing list you don’t want to be on, it’s easy to get off – just click on the “unsubscribe” link. But should you? Maybe not. When you unsubscribe, you’re giving the organization that sent you the message information about yourself that you may not want them to have:

1. You have confirmed to the sender that your email address is both valid and in active use.

If the sender is unscrupulous then the volume of email you receive will most likely go up, not down. Worse, now that you have validated your address the spammer can sell it to his friends. So you are probably going to get phishing attacks from them too.

2. By responding to the email, you have positively confirmed that you have opened and read it and may be slightly interested in the subject matter, whether it’s getting money from a foreign prince, a penny stock tip or a diet supplement. That’s very valuable information for the mailer and his pals.

3. If your response goes back via email – perhaps the process requires you to reply with the words “unsubscribe,” or the unsubscribe link in the message opens up an email window – then not only have you confirmed that your address is active, but your return email will leak information about your email software too. Emails contain meta information, known as email headers, and you can tell what kind of email software somebody is using (and imply something about their computer) from the contents and arrangement of the headers.

4. If your response opens up a browser window then you’re giving away even more about yourself. By visiting the spammer’s website you’re giving them information about your geographic location (calculated based on your IP address), your computer operating system and your browser. The sender can also give you a cookie which means that if you visit any other websites they own (perhaps by clicking unsubscribe links in other emails) they’ll be able to identify you personally.

5. The most scary of all: if you visit a website owned by a spammer you’re giving them a chance to install malware on your computer, even if you don’t click anything. These types of attacks, known as drive-by downloads, can be tailored to use exploits the spammer knows you are vulnerable to thanks to the information you’ve shared unwittingly about your operating system and browser.

So how do you avoid unwanted email without unsubscribing?

If the message is unsolicited then mark it as spam.
Marking something as spam not only deletes the message (or puts it into your trash) it also teaches your email software about what you consider spam so that it can better detect and block questionable messages in the future and adapt as the spammers change their tricks.

Good News for Cryptolocker Victims

All 500,000 victims of Cryptolocker can now recover the files encrypted by the malware without paying a ransom. The malicious program encrypted files on Windows computers and the hacker demanded a substantial fee before handing over the key to the scrambled files.

Thanks to security experts and law enforcement, an online portal has been created where victims can get the decryption key for free.

The portal was created after security researchers grabbed the hackers hardware and got a copy of Cryptolocker’s database of victims.

“This time we basically got lucky,” said Michael Sandee, principal analyst at Fox-IT – one of the security firms which helped tackle the cyber-crime group behind Cryptolocker.

The Timeline

In late May 2014, law enforcement agencies and security companies seized a worldwide network of hijacked home computers that was being used to spread both Cryptolocker and another strain of malware known as Gameover Zeus.

This concerted action seems to have prompted an attempt by the gang to ensure one copy of their database of victims did not fall into police hands. What the criminals did not know was that law enforcement personnel  and the security firms were already in control of part of the network and were able to grab the data as it was being sent.

The action also involved the FBI charging a Russian man, Evgeniy Bogachev, aka “lucky12345” and “slavik”, who is accused of being the ring leader of the gang behind Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker.

The Gameover Zeus family of malware targets people who bank online, and is thought to have racked up millions of victims.

Cryptolocker was created by a sub-group inside the larger gang and first appeared in September 2013, since then, it has amassed about 500,000 victims.

Those infected were initially presented with a demand for $400 – $500 or an equivalent amount in the virtual Bitcoin currency. Victims had 72 hours to pay up or the specific keys that would unlock their files would be destroyed.

Analysis of the back-up database indicates that only 1.3% of all the people hit by the malware paid the ransom.

Despite the low response rate, the gang is believed to have netted about $3m from Cryptolocker alone. Many of those caught  did not pay because they were able to restore files from back-ups. However, others are believed to have lost hug amounts of important files and business documents to the cyber-thieves.

Security firms Fox-IT and FireEye – who assisted in the efforts to shut down the Gameover Zeus group – have created a portal called Decrypt Cryptolocker via which any of the 500,000 victims can find the decryption key needed to unlock their files. All they have to do is submit a file that’s been encrypted and from that file we can figure out which encryption key was used,” said Greg Day, chief technology officer at FireEye.

People wishing to use the portal should submit a file that does not contain sensitive information to help verify which key they need.

Here’s the link:

https://www.decryptcryptolocker.com/

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