Recently Bought a Windows Computer? Microsoft Probably Has Your Encryption Key

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  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Micah Lee / The Intercept:
    Windows 10 disk encryption keys are uploaded to Microsoft; Home users can delete copy from account, only Pro and Enterprise users can opt out when re-encrypting — Recently Bought a Windows Computer? Microsoft Probably Has Your Encryption Key — One of the excellent features …

    Recently Bought a Windows Computer? Microsoft Probably Has Your Encryption Key

    ONE OF THE EXCELLENT FEATURES of new Windows devices is that disk encryption is built-in and turned on by default, protecting your data in case your device is lost or stolen. But what is less well-known is that, if you are like most users and login to Windows 10 using your Microsoft account, your computer automatically uploaded a copy of your recovery key — which can be used to unlock your encrypted disk — to Microsoft’s servers, probably without your knowledge and without an option to opt out.

    The fact that new Windows devices require users to backup their recovery key on Microsoft’s servers is remarkably similar to a key escrow system, but with an important difference. Users can choose to delete recovery keys from their Microsoft accounts

    “The gold standard in disk encryption is end-to-end encryption, where only you can unlock your disk. This is what most companies use, and it seems to work well,” says Matthew Green, professor of cryptography at Johns Hopkins University. “There are certainly cases where it’s helpful to have a backup of your key or password. In those cases you might opt in to have a company store that information. But handing your keys to a company like Microsoft fundamentally changes the security properties of a disk encryption system.”

    As soon as your recovery key leaves your computer, you have no way of knowing its fate. A hacker could have already hacked your Microsoft account and can make a copy of your recovery key before you have time to delete it. Or Microsoft itself could get hacked, or could have hired a rogue employee with access to user data. Or a law enforcement or spy agency could send Microsoft a request for all data in your account, which would legally compel it to hand over your recovery key, which it could do even if the first thing you do after setting up your computer is delete it.

    As Green puts it, “Your computer is now only as secure as that database of keys held by Microsoft, which means it may be vulnerable to hackers, foreign governments, and people who can extort Microsoft employees.”

    Of course, keeping a backup of your recovery key in your Microsoft account is genuinely useful for probably the majority of Windows users, which is why Microsoft designed the encryption scheme, known as “device encryption,” this way. If something goes wrong and your encrypted Windows computer breaks, you’re going to need this recovery key to gain access to any of your files. Microsoft would rather give their customers crippled disk encryption than risk their data.

    “When a device goes into recovery mode, and the user doesn’t have access to the recovery key, the data on the drive will become permanently inaccessible. Based on the possibility of this outcome and a broad survey of customer feedback we chose to automatically backup the user recovery key,” a Microsoft spokesperson told me. “The recovery key requires physical access to the user device and is not useful without it.”

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Upset Microsoft stores hard drive encryption keys in OneDrive?
    Let’s have a chat about that


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