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Illustration of Microsoft's Copilot+ Recall feature highlighting enhanced privacy and security measures. The image features encryption icons, biometric security symbols (fingerprint and facial recognition), and a depiction of a secure database. A computer with the Copilot+ feature is prominently displayed in the center, with abstract representations of cybersecurity such as shields, locks, and secure connections in the background

Author: Alicia Shapiro

Read Time: 3 minutes

Microsoft Enhances Privacy and Security for Copilot+ Recall Feature After Criticism

In response to intense scrutiny from security researchers, Microsoft has unveiled significant privacy and security enhancements to its new Copilot+ PCs. The key feature, Microsoft Recall, will now include robust encryption and improved measures to protect user data from unauthorized access.

Last month, Microsoft introduced Copilot+ PCs, highlighting the AI-powered Microsoft Recall aimed at simplifying tasks for millions of users. However, the launch faced severe backlash due to privacy concerns and potential vulnerabilities, highlighted by the tech community.

Security experts, who had early access to the feature, raised major concerns. Kevin Beaumont, a prominent security researcher, criticized the implementation and rollout, suggesting it could damage Microsoft's reputation and harm users.

In response, Microsoft quickly announced comprehensive changes. In a blog post titled "Update on the Recall preview feature for Copilot+ PCs," Corporate VP Pavan Davuluri acknowledged the feedback and outlined the new measures: "We have heard a clear signal that we can improve privacy and security safeguards. With that in mind, we are announcing updates that will go into effect before Recall (preview) ships to customers on June 18."

The key updates include:

Opt-In Setup: Users will now have a clear choice to opt-in for saving snapshots using Recall. The feature will be off by default and can only be enabled by the user.

Windows Hello Enrollment: Enabling Recall will require biometric authentication through Windows Hello, ensuring secure user identity verification. Additionally, "proof of presence" will be needed to access the Recall timeline and search its contents.

Enhanced Data Protection: The database will receive an extra layer of protection with "just in time" decryption, secured by Windows Hello Enhanced Sign-in Security (ESS). The search index database will also be encrypted.

The "just in time" decryption feature is a critical improvement. It ensures that Recall snapshots are protected by a second encryption layer using Windows Hello ESS. Even if attackers access the database, they cannot decrypt its contents without secure authentication on a Windows Hello-enabled device.

These changes are designed to significantly hinder unauthorized access to the Recall database. Malware will find the database's contents encrypted and unreadable. Even administrators on a Windows 11 PC cannot access another user's database without biometric proof.

Interestingly, these changes are being implemented before the product's official release. Security researchers based their critiques on a preview build of Windows and OEM packages, unlocked through developer methods. Detailed reverse engineering processes are documented in articles like those on Tom's Hardware.

When Copilot+ PCs launch on June 18, the Recall feature will still be in preview, with no set date for the official release. This preview period allows Microsoft developers to gather more feedback from early adopters.

Microsoft also emphasized that Recall will be opt-in and will require biometric login for activation. The database containing screenshots will be encrypted, addressing concerns raised by security experts and early testers.

The Recall feature enables users to search for information they've seen on their computer by taking frequent screenshots, scanning text and images, and storing the data locally. Importantly, Recall does not send data to the cloud and only operates on Copilot+ PCs. Users can choose which apps or websites are excluded from screenshots.

With these changes, Microsoft aims to balance innovation with user privacy and security, addressing the concerns of the tech community and ensuring a safer experience for all users.