Microsoft AI “Recall” feature records everything, secures far less

Developing an AI-powered threat to security, privacy, and identity is certainly a choice, but it’s one that Microsoft was willing to make this week at its “Build” developer conference.

On Monday, the computing giant unveiled a new line of PCs that integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to promise faster speeds, enhanced productivity, and a powerful data collection and search tool that screenshots a device’s activity—including password entry—every few seconds.

This is “Recall,” a much-advertised feature within what Microsoft is calling its “Copilot+ PCs,” a reference to the AI assistant and companion which the company released in late 2023. With Recall on the new Copilot+ PCs, users no longer need to manage and remember their own browsing and chat activity. Instead, by regularly taking and storing screenshots of a user’s activity, the Copilot+ PCs can comb through that visual data to deliver answers to natural language questions, such as “Find the site with the white sneakers,” and “blue pantsuit with a sequin lace from abuelita.”

As any regularly updated repository of device activity poses an enormous security threat—imagine hackers getting access to a Recall database and looking for, say, Social Security Numbers, bank account info, and addresses—Microsoft has said that all Recall screenshots are encrypted and stored locally on a device.

But, in terms of security, that’s about all users will get, as Recall will not detect and obscure passwords, shy away from recording pornographic material, or turn a blind eye to sensitive information.

According to Microsoft:

“Note that Recall does not perform content moderation. It will not hide information such as passwords or financial account numbers. That data may be in snapshots that are stored on your device, especially when sites do not follow standard internet protocols like cloaking password entry.”

The consequences of such a system could be enormous.

With Recall, a CEO’s personal laptop could become an even more enticing target for hackers equipped with infostealers, a journalist’s protected sources could be within closer grasp of an oppressive government that isn’t afraid to target dissidents with malware, and entire identities could be abused and impersonated by a separate device user.

In fact, Recall seems to only work best in a one-device-per-person world. Though Microsoft explained that its Copilot+ PCs will only record Recall snapshots to specific device accounts, plenty of people share devices and accounts. For the domestic abuse survivor who is forced to share an account with their abuser, for the victim of theft who—like many people—used a weak device passcode that can easily be cracked, and for the teenager who questions their identity on the family computer, Recall could be more of a burden than a benefit.

For Malwarebytes General Manager of Consumer Business Unit Mark Beare, Recall raises yet another issue:

“I worry that we are heading to a social media 2.0 like world.”

When users first raced to upload massive quantities of sensitive, personal data onto social media platforms more than 10 years ago, they couldn’t predict how that data would be scrutinized in the future, or how it would be scoured and weaponized by cybercriminals, Beare said.

“With AI there will be a strong pull to put your full self into a model (so it knows you),” Beare said. “I don’t think it’s easy to understand all the negative aspects of what can happen from doing that and how bad actors can benefit.”

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Article Link: Microsoft AI "Recall" feature records everything, secures far less | Malwarebytes