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Kill Switches: The implications for Windows® users

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A Kill Switch in an operating system is not a new thing. But the introduction of a Kill Switch in the newly launched Windows 8 Consumer Preview has got the tech enthusiasts talking about it. Earlier, Microsoft had included this feature in the mobile operating system Windows Phone 7 as well. And several years ago, it was also there in Windows Vista.

Kill Switches in Windows Phone 7 and Windows Vista

Windows Phone 7 users might not be aware that their mobile has a Kill Switch. This feature was introduced in Windows Phone 7 so that Microsoft could scan the apps that are available for the mobile OS. But wait, there’s more that can be done with a Kill Switch. If Microsoft detects that the app is malicious and can harm the phone, it can remotely remove the application from the handset. This is what Microsoft officials had to say when they came up with the idea of a Kill Switch in Windows Phone 7, “We don’t really talk about it publicly because the focus is on testing of apps to make sure they’re okay, but in the rare event that we need to, we have the tools to take action”.

In 2007, Microsoft decided to do away with the Kill Switch in Windows Vista, which was basically there to disable certain features on a PC if the operating system was not activated within 30 days of its installation.

The objective of the Kill Switch in both Windows Phone 7 and Windows Vista was for the benefit of users and of course, to stop piracy. But such a feature could also have certain disadvantages.

Kill Switches could be misused by hackers

If hackers gain access to a Kill Switch, they can remotely control a PC or a phone as the case may be. They can also spread viruses or steal personal and confidential information. So, what was intended to be a security feature could really turn out to a security risk.

Some analysts are of the view that the governments are asking companies to introduce Kill Switches so that they always have a mechanism in place to block certain computers if the need arises. If that is the case, this technology can be used to repress free speech.


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