The Windows Doomsday Switch

The Windows Doomsday Switch.

ZDNet's Ed Bott posted a scary article indicating that Microsoft may well implement a “doomsday switch” on Windows this fall. The details are unclear, but the gist of it is that WGA will be made mandatory, and if people refuse to install it (you can opt out of WGA now if you want) MS can flip the Doomsday Switch, and after 30 more days, your copy of Windows will croak.

An MS support rep is reported to have said this:

“In the fall, having the latest WGA will become mandatory and if it's not installed, Windows will give a 30 day warning and when the 30 days is up and WGA isn't installed, Windows will stop working, so you might as well install WGA now.”

The funny part about this (and even Bott doesn't mention it) is that this implies that the switch is in there already. If this is true, it will be interesting to see what module the switch is in, and when it was implemented. I'd guess the very first update for WGA.

The whole thing leaves me a little aghast, and while it's always possible that reports like this are hoaxes spread to discredit Microsoft, I was similarly skeptical that they could implement WPA and make it stick. They did.

Bott provides examples of WGA not working correctly and shutting down legitimate Windows instances, and I've seen incidents like that mentioned elsewhere. This implies that we're getting to the point where the risk of not installing Microsoft's security updates is being outweighed by the risks of trusting a piece of Microsoft code that can shut down your computer.

The Triple Entente of having a software firewall, being behind a router, and not using IE are actually pretty strong protection against Windows security exploits, along with good Internet habits like not surfing porn sites or installing warez. If you're running Windows in a VM snapshot, you have the further defense that if the bad guys get to you somehow, you simply shut down the compromised snapshot and launch another. Skipping Windows updates is not the end of the world, especially now that the updates themselves are gradually becoming indistinguishable from the malware they're supposedly defending us against.

I'm not sure what's going to happen this fall, but with Steve Ballmer basically running things up there, nothing is beyond imagining. I had dinner with him once, back in 1986, along with the rest of the staff at PC Tech Journal. He's the quintessential Right Man. Annoying customers is much less important here than getting his way, and nothing annoys Right Men more than the suspicion that somewhere, somebody might be ripping them off.

I sure wish they'd hurry up with ReactOS.  [Jeff Duntemann's ContraPositive Diary]

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