Windows 10

4 overblown Windows 10 worries

Does Microsoft's new OS really endanger your privacy and security? We examine the four top concerns about Windows 10 -- and what you can do about them.

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Credit: Kaz

Not long after Windows 10 was released late last month, it received a different kind of publicity than Microsoft wanted -- concerns about everything from its privacy practices to fears about a new feature called Wi-Fi Sense to unhappiness with the way updates are delivered, and more.

In all the sound and fury, one thing was lost -- common sense. Some of these concerns had a basis in fact; others were based on rumors that blossomed into complete myths.

So I've decided to try to get to the bottom of things and have taken an in-depth look at the four most common concerns about Windows 10. Read on to find what it's all about.

Concern: Wi-Fi Sense will share all your Wi-Fi passwords.

The worry is that Windows 10's new Wi-Fi Sense feature, which is designed to share your Wi-Fi connection with friends and colleagues, will automatically share all your Wi-Fi passwords with your Outlook and Skype contacts, whether you tell it to or not. And that it will also share them with your Facebook friends -- and with all of your friends' friends as well.

One of the primary sources of this rumor is an article headlined "UH OH: Windows 10 will share your Wi-Fi key with your friends' friends" that appeared on UK tech news site The Register. From there, it went viral, including to the normally clear-sighted Krebs On Security and beyond.

Truth: Wi-Fi Sense will not share your passwords.

I'll start off with an explanation of exactly what Wi-Fi Sense is and how it works, how it can help you connect to Wi-Fi networks -- and how you can turn it off if you want.

The concept behind Wi-Fi Sense is a solid one: To make it easier for visitors to find and connect to Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi Sense lets you share your network with others without seeing the actual network passwords -- the passwords are encrypted and stored on Microsoft's servers so they aren't visible to outside users.

For example, you can share your home network's bandwidth with guests so that they can log onto it automatically, but without having to know the password. And friends and/or colleagues can share access to their networks with you in the same way.

Microsoft didn't invent the idea. The electronic rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation backs a similar idea called the Open Wireless Movement. And in fact, Wi-Fi Sense isn't even new -- it was rolled out to Windows Phone 8.1. But given that relatively few people use Windows Phone, no one paid it much attention.

Also, keep in mind that thousands of people are already doing this without any security issues. If you use a router from Comcast, for example, it automatically creates an extension of your network that any Comcast subscriber can use if they're just passing by. Whenever you see an Xfinity W-Fi hot spot, it's someone who has a Comcast router that is sharing their network bandwidth.

Wi-Fi Sense is turned on by default in Windows 10. But even when it's turned on, it doesn't automatically share your Wi-Fi passwords with anyone's system. You have to take another step to allow access, and you have control over which networks to share -- and with which groups of contacts to share them. And remember, even then, the passwords are encrypted -- and your guest users are blocked from getting to local resources such as computer files or other devices connected to your network.

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You can easily manage all your Wi-Fi Sense settings.

To allow someone to access a network, you go to Settings / Network & Internet / Wi-Fi / Manage Wi-Fi Settings. At the top of the page are the settings that control whether and how to use Wi-Fi Sense; all are turned on by default.

Scroll down, and you'll see "Manage known networks." Listed beneath are all the networks to which you've connected. It isn't until you click the network, then select Share that the network gets shared -- and even then, not necessarily with all of your contacts.

A section labeled "For networks I select, share them with my" offers three checkboxes: contacts, Skype contacts and Facebook friends. Uncheck the boxes for the kinds of contacts you don't want to share access with. If you want to turn Wi-Fi Sense off completely, uncheck the boxes next to all of them.

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You can choose whether to share your network's broadband or not.

Unfortunately, there's no granularity to the way you can share network access to your contacts -- in other words, you can only share with all your friends in, say, Facebook; you can't pick out individuals. It's essentially all or nothing.

I still find this useful, because my Facebook contacts are a different part of my life than my Skype contacts. However, if you've got lots of people in your contacts lists, only a few of whom you'd want to share your network with, this setup won't work for you.

Note: Corporate networks that use the 802.1X Wi-Fi security standard can't be shared using Wi-Fi Sense.

For more information about Wi-Fi Sense, check out Microsoft's FAQ.

Concern: Windows 10 updates are automatically installed on your computer -- and that's a bad thing.

The concern here is that, unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 10 doesn't give you a choice about when (or which) Windows updates will be installed on your computer. What Microsoft sends to you will be installed, whether you like it or not, and as a result, an update could break something on your PC -- for example, a driver for a peripheral like a printer.

This fear actually started with Microsoft. When you agree to install to Windows 10, part of the EULA licensing agreement reads, "Updates. The software periodically checks for system and app updates, and downloads and installs them for you. You may obtain updates only from Microsoft or authorized sources, and Microsoft may need to update your system to provide you with those updates. By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive these types of automatic updates without any additional notice."

Truth: Automatically accepting Windows 10 updates isn't a bad thing. And there are plenty of workarounds.

It's true that if you have the Windows 10 Home edition, you don't have a choice about installing Windows 10 updates -- Microsoft sends them and your system installs them.

But if you have Windows 10 Pro, you do have a choice -- you can defer updates for up to several months. Start by selecting Settings / Update & security / Windows Update / Advanced options. Underneath "Choose how updates are installed" check the box next to "Defer upgrades." Any updates will be deferred for several months, after which time they'll be installed by Windows 10. The advantage to this approach is that, if there is a problematic update, it will be fixed by the time it is installed on your system. Exceptions are security updates, which will be installed without delay.

windows 10 pro updates

Windows 10 Pro users can defer operating system updates for several months.

And auto-updates don't apply at all to businesses running Windows 10 Enterprise.

And while Windows 10 Home users won't see the "Defer upgrades" box, there is a sneaky workaround they can use to defer updates as well.

If you tell Windows 10 that you're using a metered connection -- one in which you're charged for your bandwidth --- you'll be able to defer updates, even if you have Windows 10 Home. (This only works if you're on a Wi-Fi network -- it won't work if you're connected via an Ethernet cable.) Select Settings / Network & Internet / Advanced options, and turn "Metered connection" from Off to On.

Once you do that, Windows Update will tell you when an update is available, but won't download and install it. You'll be able to do that at your leisure, by clicking the Download button underneath the update. Again, this does not include security updates.

You can also uninstall an update that's already been installed if it's causing you problems. Select Settings / Update & security / Advanced Options / View your update history / Uninstall updates. Then select any update and click Uninstall.

installed updates

Windows 10 lets you uninstall any problematic updates.

In fact, Microsoft has a free tool that will check if any updates you've installed are causing any problems, and will then uninstall it and hide it from being installed again. (The tool is at the bottom of this page.)

And let's face it -- automatically installing security updates on people's systems is a good thing. Not only will it keep them safer, but it also helps create a kind of herd immunity effect. Protecting someone's PC isn't just good for that person, but it means that PC won't be able to be used by hackers to launch attacks.

As for automatic installs of non-security updates -- yes, they can be really inconvenient, especially if the update causes an issue with your system. But remember -- you can uninstall them.

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