Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve likely noticed that Microsoft has seriously changed up its game and is making bold strides to re-assert its position in the market, empower developers, and not only regain user trust but become the platform of choice for consumers and businesses. To gain a sense of the kind of sea-change that’s occurred within Microsoft under Satya’s leadership in the last year, you can look at some of the absolutely amazing announcements coming out of Microsoft’s BUILD conference in San Francisco last week, or take a look at how Wall Street is reacting to a more vibrant and agile Microsoft. Sadly, however, I fear that Microsoft will fail to capture as much consumer attention as they’re hoping to until and unless they take decisive action to clear up an age-old problem that continues to severely hurt Microsoft as a brand: Malware.
My Latest Tale of Woe
For a few days my wife has been mentioning problems with malware on her laptop. As it so happened, I got to see just how bad this problem was yesterday when I happened to be near my wife’s computer when she was checking Gmail in Chrome. All of a sudden, a new tab popped up, and audio started to tell her that her machine had been infected by viruses, and that she needed to call a 1-800 number to have a trained technician fix the problem. And, of course, there was no way at all to close the tab/page in question.
Needless to say – I was beyond pissed.
Since my last fiasco with Chrome and malware, I’ve been running Malwarebytes (anti-virus) on both of the “family” computers. Imagine my surprise, then, when Malwarebytes didn’t spot ANY malware on my wife’s system at this point. Even after a full scan.
What I did find in very short order, though, was an unwanted extension in Chrome. This one was named proizecoup0n – and turned out to be insanely hard to get rid of. It’s also about as vile as they come – it injects third party ads into sites that you visit, and (in a way that I still can’t understand doesn’t constitute a violation of the law) will download additional malware onto compromised systems without user permission.
Obviously, I went ahead and removed this extension. Then triple checked my Control Panel/Installed Programs for anything out of the ordinary – and ran yet another scan of my machine. But, having been burned before with Chrome’s HORRIBLY CRAPPY security, I went ahead and rebooted.
Sure enough, upon logging back in, the proizecoup0n extension was right back in the list of loaded extensions. Needless to say, Google sucks when it comes to the security of its own browser – when malicious plugins like this can redeploy themselves like this even when users explicitly remove them. Ultimately, I toggled Chrome into “Developer mode” (i.e., there’s a checkbox at the top of the Extensions page) and saw that this extension was loading itself from a folder in C:\Program Data\ - and deleted said folder to finally get rid of this extension, once and for all.
But this experience was beyond vile. It’s also something that Windows users increasingly have to deal with. And it doesn’t appear to be getting any better.
Adware – Malware, but with Lawyers
Once upon a time, bundling malicious software (i.e., anything that would hijack user data and/or intentions) on to unsuspecting users was, at the very least, considered criminal. But not anymore. Today, savvy malware creators have “lawyered up” and now peddle Adware – while trying to pretend that this software is desirable or beneficial in any way, shape or form.
The people who make, distribute, and advertise via these solutions are scum. It would probably be a bit hyperbolic to declare that these people are on par with the same kind of degenerate con artists who scam the elderly out of their pensions or who enslave people and traffic in human flesh. But, by the same token, people who push adware onto unsuspecting users do so by trying to exploit loopholes within the social fabric as well as outright break the law with the hopes that they won’t get caught – all with an eye single to “making a buck” without any care, concern, or sympathy for their victims. As such, I think one of the biggest differences between adware creators (and their lawyers) is that they are brazen and audacious enough to claim that the frustration, victimization, and law-breaking that they do is done in the name of “providing a service” that “helps” people – whereas at least con-artists and slavers usually don’t put up false pretenses about "helping" their victims.
Windows 10 Won’t Resonate with Users if it’s Susceptible to Adware
Windows 10 looks like it’s shaping up to be amazing. The fact that it will be a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 and up is a testament to the fact that Microsoft’s vision has drastically changed. Obviously, the goal behind making Windows 10 a free update is to drive businesses and consumers to a new, consolidated platform – where developers will be able to better reach users and customers as a means of helping Microsoft consolidate market share on to a new, optimized, version of Windows.
But if the bulk of Windows users adopt Windows 10 as quickly as Microsoft is hoping, Adware, Crapware, and Malware are sure to follow. Which will frustrate Windows 10 users to no end – thereby drastically diminishing the Windows 10 experience and decreasing consumer and business trust in Microsoft. As such, Microsoft really has two main options that I can see. Either they can hope that Windows loses enough market share to Apple that Macs become a target of Adware/Malware as well – thus “levelling the playing field” so that Windows no longer looks horrible in comparison to the experience afforded on a Mac, or they can take a strong stand against all forms of Malware and step up to the plate to protect windows users and ensure their safety.
To do this, they need to reshape the culture of their own ecosystem. For starters, Microsoft needs to PUSH partners and hardware vendors to ONLY sell Windows 10 systems that conform to the Windows Signature Edition Program (i.e., crap-ware free PCs from vendors). Likewise, Microsoft needs to stop bundling its own apps, and lead-out in helping to push the industry to do the same – one app, one install. Then, frankly, they need to sue the hell out of Adware vendors (on behalf of Windows users) and completely remove the financial incentives that these scumbags are managing to levy upon the backs of Windows users and at the expense of Microsoft’s own brand. Anything less, and I fear that as great as Windows 10 and the new Microsoft is, Microsoft will still have a long-term problem on their hands securing customer trust and confidence.