But to turn it off entirely would be to throw away a solid diagnostic tool, Watson argued. ERS can provide insights not only to hackers and spying eavesdroppers, but also the IT departments.
"[ERS] does the legwork, and can let [IT] see where vulnerabilities might exist, or whether rogue software or malware is on the network," Watson said. "It can also show the uptake on BYOD [bring your own device] policies," he added, referring to the automatic USB device reports.
Microsoft should encrypt all ERS data that's sent from customer PCs to its servers, Watson asserted.
A Microsoft spokesperson asked to comment on the Websense and Der Spiegel" reports said, "Microsoft does not provide any government with direct or unfettered access to our customer's data. We would have significant concerns if the allegations about government actions are true."
The spokesperson added that, "Secure Socket Layer connections are regularly established to communicate details contained in Windows error reports," which is only partially true, as Stage 1 reports are not encrypted, a fact that Microsoft's own documentation makes clear.
"The software 'parameters' information, which includes such information as the application name and version, module name and version, and exception code, is not encrypted," Microsoft acknowledged in a document about ERS.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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