Recall: The 50 Gigabyte Data Bomb

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Why companies should do without “Recall” to protect their IT security

Copilot+ PCs are Windows 11-capable computers based on ARM processors that are equipped with a special Neural Processing Unit (NPU). Microsoft has announced that a new feature called “Recall” will be rolled out in Windows 11, initially for these and later also for Intel- and AMD-based PCs.

Recall is intended to retrieve content that was viewed (!), but not necessarily stored, on the Copilot+ PC device. This is made possible by Recall taking screenshots every few seconds and evaluating and indexing them using AI. By default, the last 90 days of such “snapshots” are stored, which requires around 50 gigabytes of local space. The “snapshots” are (fortunately enough) not transferred to Microsoft or a cloud.

From an IT security and data protection perspective, the introduction of Recall in a company would lead to considerable legal risks for the company. Companies, at least the ones of a certain size, are increasingly investing in their IT infrastructure in order to improve data security. In this context, role and rights concepts and access restrictions are inherently important in order to make it as difficult as possible for both internal and external attackers. However, these are effectively circumvented by the approach practiced by Recall.

On the one hand, there is a legitimate expectation that no employee – not even a malicious one – will take screenshots of the content they see every few seconds (which they do not necessarily have immediate access to, e.g. if it is only presented to them during a meeting). However, this data is now always available locally on the employee’s computer and could, in principle, be accessed by the employee.

More importantly, modern IT security concepts must always assume that individual IT systems (such as laptops of individual employees) will be compromised. Nevertheless, modern IT infrastructures must be able to protect at least the majority of their data by detecting such an attack as quickly as possible and limiting the attacker’s options as much as possible in the meantime. However, such limitations are circumvented if the attacker finds a treasure trove of data from the last 90 days on the compromised laptop and only needs to exfiltrate it. The attacker would not even have to touch any of the systems in the rest of the IT landscape and would therefore not trigger any alarms.

In addition to IT security, there are a variety of other issues, such as copyright for works that are automatically copied using screenshots, the protection of (business) secrets and aspects of data protection law if people are photographed without their knowledge, e.g. in meetings.

The use of Recall or similar systems should therefore be carefully considered and the benefits and risks weighed up beforehand.