Windows 10 calls home a lot; Russia hikes tech tax and intends to switch to Linux

Microsoft? Windows? Apple? Google? Nyet! A thousand times nyet!

german klimenko

German Klimenko

Credit: Germanklimenko / Wikimedia

“We are breeding the cow and they are milking it” - German Klimenko, Vladimir Putin’s new Internet czar on Google, Microsoft, and Apple doing business in Russia 

cow female black white Keith Weller, USDA / Wikimedia

When it comes to high tech, American companies dominate the Russian market and, perhaps not surprisingly, that doesn’t site well with the Russian government which would prefer to see homegrown offerings such as Yandex and Mail.ru get more market traction. The consequence, according to Bloomberg, is a plan by the Russian government to increase the taxes the American tech giants by 18 percent. 

But wait! There’s more! Yep, the Kremlin’s Internet czar,German Klimenko, who’s had his job for just over six weeks, has made it clear that Microsoft and its nasty, capitalist Windows operating system will be out and some 22,000 municipal governments will be switching to Linux forthwith. Why? There are many reasons for such a move the least of which is that it ties Russia to a product that is made by what amounts to the “enemy.”

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But that reason is as nothing nothing compared to the fact that Microsoft is doing its utmost to encourage (force?) users to upgrade to Windows 10, an operating system that has been well documented to obsessively and remarkably frequently “phone home” even when you disable everything that might cause the OS to connect to external resources. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has yet to explain what’s going or even acknowledge that it needs to do so. An excellent Ars Technica article summarized what WIndows 10 is up to:

spying 14023179997 d312ea5b92 z Mike Mozart / Flickr

Some of the traffic looks harmless but feels like it shouldn't be happening. For example, even with no Live tiles pinned to Start (and hence no obvious need to poll for new tile data), Windows 10 seems to download new tile info from MSN's network from time to time, using unencrypted HTTP to do so. While again the requests contain no identifying information, it's not clear why they're occurring at all, given that they have no corresponding tile.

Other traffic looks a little more troublesome. Windows 10 will periodically send data to a Microsoft server named ssw.live.com. This server seems to be used for OneDrive and some other Microsoft services. Windows 10 seems to transmit information to the server even when OneDrive is disabled and logins are using a local account that isn't connected to a Microsoft Account. The exact nature of the information being sent isn't clear—it appears to be referencing telemetry settings—and again, it's not clear why any data is being sent at all. We disabled telemetry on our test machine using group policies.

And finally, some traffic seems quite impenetrable. We configured our test virtual machine to use an HTTP and HTTPS proxy (both as a user-level proxy and a system-wide proxy) so that we could more easily monitor its traffic, but Windows 10 seems to make requests to a content delivery network that bypass the proxy.

Is it any surprise that Russia would be uncomfortable with software that behaves so stealthily and opaquely? For goodness sake, I’m not comfortable with such behavior on my network and, I suspect, many of you won’t be either. 

infidelity 379565 640 Tumisu / Pixabay

Eschewing further agricultural smilies in favor of an ethical parallel, Klimenko said of Windows "It's like a wife seeing her husband with another woman – he can swear an oath afterward, but the trust is lost.”

Microsoft may have gone too far this time and Windows 10 could turn out to be the straw that breaks its market’s back. This is a certainty in Russia and could be the same in the US. It’s no surprise that Russia is saying Do svidaniya! to Windows and Privyet! to Linux. 

Are you finally ready to say "Howdy!" to Linux? Thoughts? Suggestions? Send me feedback via email or comment below then follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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