posted Mar 28, 2001

Microsoft storm warning Privacy from Companies3/28/2001; 2:25:42 PM I've watched the pundits, I've read the articles and whitepaper, and I'm finally ready to say a couple of things about Hailstorm, potentially the biggest privacy boondoggle of the next few years. Scott Rosenberg's Salon article prompted a few observations from me that I haven't seen commented on anywhere else:'For starters, the moment all your data is collected in one place, any failure in security at that place becomes catastrophic. The Microsoft Control Room becomes a classic "single point of failure" -- an Achilles' heel that, once pierced, would give an electronic trespasser uniquely comprehensive access to your preassembled data profile.'I'll go you one further. Even if the Hailstorm servers were 100% secure, the Hailstorm system, which includes your computer, your Hailstorm accessing programs, and most importantly, you, will never be secure. In order to "crack" the Hailstorm system, one need only find a single point of failure. After the initial flurry of bugs in the Hailstorm servers, which Microsoft will eventually close (and Microsoft had better hope that that doesn't require fundamental architecture changes...), the real point of failure will be your system, and possibly even you. Microsoft simply can't guarentee the security of all of the millions of systems connected to Hailstorm. If there's any shared data, like a corporate department, one security failure on a laptop connecting from 2000 miles away could allow a cracker to obtain your entire department's data. If I was going to attack Hailstorm, I'd attack the clients that will be connecting, with all of the well-known techniques doing so, up to and including "social engineering". "Hi, this is Steve from IS, I just e-mailed you a security patch to your Hailstorm client, could you please make sure to apply it?"This is very much an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket kind of thing. Sure, hackers can do this sort of attack now, but Hailstorm makes it that much easier to grab a lot more data, making it that much more attractive to do so... and not even Microsoft is powerful enough to combat the effects of a lack of diversity.'HailStorm is to be built on the foundation of Microsoft's Passport software, ... it also boasts a "Terms of Use" featuring clauses that, were they applied to HailStorm, would make any user blanch.'Try this one on for size: "By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, submitting any feedback or suggestions, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Passport Web Site, you warrant and represent that you own or otherwise control the rights necessary to do so and you are granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies permission to: Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication ... Microsoft is under no obligation to post or use any materials you may provide and may remove such materials at any time in Microsoft's sole discretion."'Scott thinks/hopes that Microsoft will loosen up on this, and I suppose for corporate customers he's right. However, with no particular disrespect towards lawyers, given today's legal climate, esp. with the content companies suing everybody and everything that involves technology invented after 1980, there's no way Microsoft will significantly loosen that clause for "common folk", who will do such nasty things as storing illegal MP3s on the Hailstorm servers. In some sense, they must be given some sort of license to host copyrighted materials that belong to you, and rest assured the lawyers won't settle for a non-transferable limited license. Expect to see Microsoft exert control over the Hailstorm data, even if they never want to. Our legal system is very much in a "if we can control, we must control" mood, and when the content cartels catch whiff of the illegal activities that will occur, they'll be all over Microsoft with lawsuits... lawsuits that in the current environment, they'd almost certainly win.' Today, Microsoft assures us that it "will not mine, target, sell or publish any HailStorm user data without explicit user consent." But once all that data is sitting on Microsoft's servers, the company will face a powerful temptation to tinker with the fine print and "monetize" your data in aggressive ways.'Remember, there is precedent for changing your privacy policy on the fly and lowering the protections. Who's going to stop Microsoft if they try that stunt? They are perhaps the only corporation in the tech industry big enough to tell consumers where they can stuff it, and still expect to make money.'Which is one good reason to store the information where you can keep an eye on it -- on your own hard drive.'Just by way of reference... last weekend I saw a 40GB hard drive for $100. Unless you have an OC3 going straight to your house, it would take days to fill up that drive via your network connection. If you're reading this over a modem, make that months. I still do not understand why I need, in the year 2001, Microsoft to store my data, which will have to travel over a network connection, the second slowest connection my computer has (beat only by my serial port).

 

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