How the feds asked Microsoft to backdoor BitLocker, their full-disk encryption tool

As the astonishing news that the NSA spent $250M/year on a sabotage program directed against commercial security systems spreads, more details keep emerging. A long and interesting story on Mashable includes an interview with Peter Biddle, an ex-Microsoft security engineer who worked extensively on BitLocker, a full-disk encryption tool with a good reputation that was called into question by the latest leaks. Biddle (disclosure: a friend of mine) describes how he was approached to add a backdoor to BitLocker, and how he rebuffed various government agencies. Read the rest

Six million instantly obsolete Surface tablets poised to flood the retail channel

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a $900 million writedown triggered by the failure of their Surface tablets. According to David Gilbert at the International Business Times, this means there are about six million unsold tablets in inventory, shortly to flood the market at deep discounts. What should we do with these? Jailbreak 'em, install a free/open operating system, and use them as control systems for projects too complex for Raspberry Pi or Arduino? (via /.) Read the rest

Microsoft does a 180 on DRM in the Xbox 360++

As the specifications for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One have emerged, more and more gamers have expressed, forcefully, their dismay at the developing picture of a console that is totally built around DRM, taking away cherished customer rights like lending or selling their games. Microsoft has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that this might even be a problem (see their talking points memo for an example of the lengths the company was prepared to go to in order to dodge this question), but the pressure appears to have built to a breaking point. Yesterday, the company abruptly announced a complete 180' reversal from its rigid DRM commitment, such that the Xbox One will have about the same level of DRM as its predecessor, the Xbox 360 (which, it must be said, is DRMed up to the eyeballs).

“After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One,” Xbox executive Don Mattrick wrote in a blog post, “you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.” Mattrick added that Xbox One would be region-free; any Xbox One disc would function in any Xbox One console.

Additionally, Mattrick wrote, players will be able to “trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today. There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.”

Xbox 180: Microsoft Fully Reverses Xbox One’s DRM Policies [Ryan Rigney/Wired] Read the rest

Xbox One will divide EU into different markets

Microsoft's new XBox One will ship with region-locks that divide the world; yours will only work if it connects to the DRM server from one of 21 selected countries. The countries include some, but not all, EU nations, which is almost certainly illegal under the EU's strict common market rules. Here's hoping that Redmond gets a punitive fine big enough to clobber the program and scare the shit out of any other company contemplating similar idiocy.

Notably this "region coding" splits up the EU - most countries are in but some are out - and it also excludes Poland, the development home of The Witcher game series, a title Microsoft touted in its E3 launch presentation. Yes, that's right, the developers of this Xbox launch title will not be able to play the game they developed. I generally find it wise to assume that Microsoft are not stupid, but whatever their plan is, it's eluding me here. Sony was quick to announce that its competitive product, the PS4, would not be region-locked.

MSFT to Region-Lock Xbox One on Launch [Alan Wexelblat/Copyfight] Read the rest

Microsoft patents spying on you with your TV's camera and fining you if there are too many people watching

Kotaku's Luke Plunkett delves into a newly disclosed Microsoft patent that covers spying on people in their homes using cameras attached to their TVs, in order to levy fines against them for allowing too many people to watch movies at once:

Basically, when you buy or rent something like a movie, you’ll only be granted a “license” for a certain number of people to watch it. If Kinect detects more people in the room than you had a licence for, it can stop the movie, and even charge you extra.

So if Microsoft has its way, you won’t just be renting movies any more. You’ll have to decide how many people are watching, and no doubt pay more. And if one extra person turns up to your movie night? So help you God, you are going to pay.

Of course, big companies patent all sorts of stupid ideas, many of which never get incorporated into products. But hey, now you know that researchers at Microsoft sit around spitballing ideas like, "Wouldn't it be awesome to spy on our customers in their homes so that we could fine them for having too many people over to watch movies? Wonder if anyone is Hollywood would give us preferential access to movies if we could promise them that they could do nose-counts of people in their own homes?"

This Kinect Patent Is Terrifying, Wants To Charge You For License Violation Read the rest

Anti-security company VUPEN claims to have broken Windows 8 & Explorer 10, will sell exploits to cops, governments & wiretapping vendors

VUPEN is an anti-security company that roots out vulnerabilities in common operating systems and programs and sells these vulnerabilities to governments, police forces and others who want to use them to build malicious software to let them spy on people (we've written about them before). Now they claim to have found vulnerabilities in Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10, and have put these up for sale to customers who want to use them to hijack other peoples' computers.

Security firm VUPEN claims to have hacked Windows 8 and IE10

(via /.) Read the rest

Broke-ass Washington state set to give MSFT $100M annual tax cut and amnesty for $1B in evasion

Jeff sez:

Facing a $2.8 billion deficit and pending insolvency, Washington State's House Bill 3176 proposes changes to its B&O Royalty tax that would give Microsoft an estimated $100 million tax cut annually and possible amnesty for more than a billion dollars in past tax evasion.

Under current law, all of Microsoft's worldwide licensing revenues of approximately $20.7 billion annually are taxable at .484 percent or ~$100.1 million. Under the new law, only the portion of software licenses sold to Washington state customers would be taxable - perhaps resulting in less than a million annually in royalty tax from the company.

The lead sponsor of HB3176 is Democratic Representative Ross Hunter, who represents Medina, home to Bill Gates and a number of current and former Microsoft billionaires and multi-millionaires, and other areas around Microsoft's corporate campus.

Washington to Give Microsoft a $100 Million Annual Tax Cut...and Possible Amnesty on Past Tax Evasion

(Image: WEB DEVELOPERS!, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Nick, Programmerman's photostream)

Previously: Washington State to Microsoft: why aren't you paying your taxes? Boing Boing: Girls Gone Wild tycoon charged with tax evasion Read the rest

Washington State to Microsoft: why aren't you paying your taxes?

Jeff sez,

Last week, Microsoft told Seattle's KUOW: 'We pay all our tax obligations everywhere we are, properly.' Today, Microsoft Tax Dodge, a new website focused on the company's royalty tax dodge, challenged CEO Steve Ballmer today to live up to his spoken commitment to transparent business practices: 'At this point, I think it's reasonable to ask Microsoft to back up that claim with a public explanation of the company's licensing operations. In that spirit, will you tell the public how it is that Microsoft has avoided paying Washington State's B&O Royalty Tax for the past 12 years?' Washington State currently faces a projected $2.6 billion deficit. In addition to the ethical and public relations issues that crumbling bridges and overcrowded schools (Seattle recently considered making D a passing grade) present to the state's most profitable company, the compa ny also faces deeper scrutiny of the legality of its tax practice.

An Open Letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: Quit Dodging Washington Taxes

(Thanks, Jeff!)

(Image: WEB DEVELOPERS!, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Nick, Programmerman's photostream)

Previously: Mexico: 'net advocates protest internet tax with ... Solution to AIG bonuses: a 90% tax on people who receive them ... Video of Steve Ballmer getting egged - Boing Boing EFF to Ballmer: You owe MSN Music customers an apology, a refund ... Boing Boing: Ballmer: Linux users are patent-crooks Boing Boing: Ballmer: iPod users are thieves Steve Ballmer's iPod ad - Boing Boing Steve Ballmer's modest office - Boing Boing Read the rest