Keeping your operating system and applications up to date has a big impact on keeping your devices safe. Unfortunately, since about March of 2015, Microsoft updates have become questionable and may not be something you want to immediately apply when they become available.
In preparation for the Windows 10 Upgrade, Microsoft has been releasing compatibility updates to make the transition a smooth experience. Unfortunately, there have been many missteps along the way from reissuing the same updates several times that can crash your system, to causing performance issues with your computer when the background update process is scanning your system to determine what it needs to update. On my Windows 7 computer, this update scan was taking an hour to complete and I was helpless to do anything on my system until it was done. Also the Windows Compatibility Updates were downloading over 4 gigs of storage space on Windows 7 computers in preparation for the upgrade. Since I did not intent to upgrade to Windows 10, at least not for a while, I did not want all this data taking up space on my computer. As a result, I began screening the Microsoft updates back in May and hiding those I don’t want. To help sort through the updates, I have been using web sites like “Ask Woody” to monitor Windows Updates and to provide guidelines to which updates to avoid.
Ask Woody - (http://www.askwoody.com/)
Woody’s site brings together a community of followers interested in helping each other with the task of avoiding Windows update issues that is so common with Microsoft update releases. He has developed a rating system called MS-DEFCON that lets his followers know when it’s safe to install patches. His articles and user comments help me to understand if there are isolated problems with current patches, so I can hide them and not install them by mistake and when it is safe to install all patches. Read the latest update recommendations at (http://www.askwoody.com/2016/ms-defcon-2-partys-over-make-sure-youre-locked-down/).
Windows 10 nagware and data telemetry
For the past several months Microsoft has been preparing to release Windows 10 and as we have discovered has also increased the amount of information it collects. Many in the security community are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency from Microsoft in explaining what data is being collected and how, exactly, is it used. If you want to understand more about the recent change in Microsoft privacy behavior, read “Attempting to answer whether Microsoft is snooping” by Susan Bradley, a Microsoft MVP (http://windowssecrets.com/top-story/attempting-to-answer-whether-ms-is-snooping/).
On top of the data collection issues, Microsoft has also pushed a Windows 10 nagware icon on to most Windows systems to try and get you to move to the new operating system. They have so far refused to provide an easy way to remove it.
The following are update setting I use to help control my computer updates. This allows you to postpone updates until they are known to be safe and ready to install and to allow you to selectively choose the recommended and optional updates to install. If you subscribe to Ask Woody’s recommendations than these setting will change based on the current update conditions.
1. Go into “Windows Update” and in the left pane, click Change settings.
2. Under “Important updates”, select the following:
Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them
Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates
The following are programs I use to remove the Windows 10 nagware and to prevent the data telemetry until I am ready to upgrade.
1. GWX Control Panel – Guide (http://blog.ultimateoutsider.com/2015/08/using-gwx-stopper-to-permanently-remove.html)
This is a passive standalone tool that can remove and disable the 'Get Windows 10' notification icon on Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10. It also can disable the 'Upgrade to Windows 10' behavior in the Windows Update control panel. See the User Guide link above at the Ultimate Outsider blog.
2. Spybot Anti-Beacon – (https://www.safer-networking.org/spybot-anti-beacon/)
This is a passive standalone tool which was designed to block and stop the various tracking (telemetry) issues present in Windows 10 and similar tracking functionality in Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 operating systems.
Anti-Beacon was created to address the privacy concerns of users of Windows 10 who do not wish to have information about their PC usage sent to Microsoft. Simply clicking “Immunize” on the main screen of Anti-Beacon will immediately disable any known tracking features included by Microsoft in the operating system. If any issues occur with your PC while using Anti-Beacon, undoing the changes made can be done by clicking the “Undo” button in the main window. This will re-enable all tracking services.
Note: The “Telemetry Host” and “Telemetry Host Option” features will write URLs into the HOSTS file to block them from access. I have noticed a bug that sometimes removes the “Telemetry Host” URLs when the Telemetry Host Option is applied, so I recommend checking the HOSTS file with a text editor to make sure that both URL lists are present. The HOSTS file is located in C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc folder. If the HOSTS file is not viewable, then you may have to unhide the files. This How To Geek site will show you how to make hidden files visible. http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/show-hidden-files-and-folders-in-windows-vista/