Microsoft wants admin privileges on your PC

Originally published July 1, 2002. Updated July 4. New links added July 29.

This is probably the most outrageous thing that has so far happened in the computer world.

It's official now: Microsoft wants to control your computer. Supplying the operating system and therefore indirectly controlling 95% of the world's computers apparently isn't enough, what MS wants now is direct control, the ability to directly access your computer, install any software that it pleases and furthermore control which software you can install and run on your computer.

The End User Licence Agreement (EULA), which you accept when you install the latest security update, which fixes a blatant and potentially dangerous security leak in Windows Media Player, states explicitly:

You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights management ('Secure Content'), Microsoft may provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer.

Under the guise of security measures you therefore grant Microsoft the right to install any software on your computer that MS pleases to -- even software that "may disable your ability to ... use other software on your computer". While this may be targeted at pirated or virus-infected software, the EULA does not exclude the possibility that legally acquired software from vendors other than Microsoft can be disabled as well. In short, you are handing over the decision as to which software runs on your computer to Microsoft.

So much about Microsoft's pledges that they will never abuse their monopoly power. I hope that everybody in the various antitrust committees in the U.S. and E.U. takes notice of this, the most outrageous act from Microsoft so far.

Read more about this on the following web sites:

The next step: Palladium

The new Microsoft EULA is nicely in tune with MS's Palladium project. Palladium is Microsoft's way of making computing 'trustworthy' again, a response to all the (mostly web-related) security issues that have arisen lately (isn't it ironic that the security hype started mostly because Microsoft seems to be unable to write secure software?). Palladium uses hardware encryption and certificates to decide which software you may run and which you won't be able to run; and of course it's Microsoft, who decides which code is good and which is bad. Future versions of Palladium-based software will consequently restrict your access to your own computer by not letting you run software that has not been certified by Microsoft and possibly may lock you out of non-MS-certifued internet sites as well.

Read about Palladium and how it will change computing forever on the following websites:

  • InfoWarrior: Preparing For The Digital Dark Age
    "The computer will essentially become an appliance and tool of control over users, rather than a tool of innovation, communication, and enlightenment for users."
  • I, Cringely: I Told You So
    "Under Palladium as I understand it, the Internet goes from being ours to being theirs."
  • The Register: MS Palladium protects IT vendors, not you - paper
    "Aside from providing the music business with workable DRM, it would also allow software companies to lock in their users."
  • Ross Anderson: TCPA / Palladium Frequently Asked Questions
    "The fundamental issue is that whoever controls the Fritz chips will acquire a huge amount of power. There are many ways in which this power could be abused."
  • The Tweney report: Broken trust
    "You don't get to decide what runs on your computer -- Microsoft does. You can't even open files unless you've been authorized by Microsoft."
  • osOpinion: In Palladium We Trust
    "The only downside is the fact that you will completely and utterly lose control of your computer."
  • Geek.com: Palladium: Microsoft's big plan for the PC
    "The only downside is the fact that you will completely and utterly lose control of your computer."
  • InfoWorld: Palladium concerns Microsoft's competitors, not lawyers
    "Microsoft is proposing reduced consumer freedom over their computer and their media while cleverly disguising it as improved privacy."
  • EPIC: Microsoft Palladium: Hailstorm 2.0
    "Through software and hardware controls, Palladium would place Microsoft as the gatekeeper of identification and authentication."
  • ZDNet: Microsoft teases 'Trustworthy Computing'
    "Palladium will also aim to protect information at the hardware level."
  • ZDNet: MS: Why we can't trust your 'trustworthy' OS
    "Is the world ready to trust Microsoft on something it has such a hard time explaining? "
  • Wired: EU Warns Microsoft on New Plan
    "Technologists and consumer advocates ... wonder whether a file encrypted using Palladium would be accessible on computers running Apple's Macintosh ... or the free Linux operating system. "
  • Slashdot.org: Coursey on Palladium
    "[It] reminds me of something I read about an imaginary day in the not-too-distant future, where you can no longer install Linux on your own box because you don't have the necessary rights."
  • Slashdot.org: Eavesblogging the Internet Law Program
    "If you choose [to ignore the current developments], don't complain when you suddenly find that only Palladium/DRM capable/compliant hardware is for sale [and] you have to pay each time you open Microsoft Word, or boot your computer, or open an MP3."
  • BBC: Do you trust your computer?
    "Suppose Microsoft decide that someone else's e-mail program is too similar to Outlook and sues them. What is to stop them disabling that program on every trusted PC during the court case?"
  • Internet News: Is Microsoft's Palladium a Trojan Horse?
    "Many of the desirable elements [of Palladium] can be obtained without a system of authentication and control. The way Microsoft wants to solve these problems is to be the gatekeeper of identity."
  • Salon.com: Can we trust Microsoft's Palladium?
    "Could Palladium function as a kind of technological straitjacket, a Redmond-operated remote control over your data and, in consequence, your life? According to those who've looked closely at the proposal, the answer is a definite, unhelpful 'maybe'."
  • Salon.com: U.S. prepares to invade your hard drive
    "A bill before Congress would mandate built-in copy-protection on all digital devices. But even technology experts who really want to protect intellectual property think it's a lousy idea."
  • VGamesNet Forum: Microsoft changing the Internet as we know it and more
    "If Palladium ever becomes widespread enough, the internet as we know it today will be dead. Instead of being controlled by us, it will be controlled by Microsoft, and you will have no choice to do exectly what they say."

Thanks to Ross Anderson and everybody who contributed to the debate.

Editorial note May 2003: Welcome readers from Open for Business. You may find that this article is now almost a year old. The issue is still valid, however. I haven't updated this article since July 2002, but you can find ongoing and frequently updated coverage of Microsoft's dire plans over at my other website, The Evil Empire.

The opinions expressed here are those of Horst Prillinger and his only. Please note that while he is taking great care to ensure that all the information displayed here is correct, he cannot be made responsible for any factual errors that may occur. Under no circumstances is his employer in any way responsible for anything published on this site. Links posted on this page are here for information purposes only. Under no circumstances can the owner of this web site, Horst Prillinger, be made responsible for any content on the linked pages.

© Copyright 2003  Horst Prillinger, 

Last update: 27.06.2003; 18:19:28

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