Today, it’s common to see businesses going out of their way to meet the socially conscious nature of their customers. Organic farming, manufacturing goods from recycled materials, and ethically sourcing labor are just a few ways companies are meeting the needs of consumers.
Considering how traditional financial institutions were formed decades ago, to meet the needs of large businesses, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. In order to sincerely put consumer interests first, financial institutions need to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Aspiration is a financial firm, launched in 2015, that makes it possible for consumers to potentially save money while also doing good for the planet. The Aspiration Spend & Save Account is their primary offering that provides consumers with attractive features, including five ATM fee reimbursements each month, cash back rewards on debit card purchases, and up to 0.25% APY on account balances.
What sets Aspiration apart from legacy financial institutions is that they’re built on fairness and they guarantee that 100% of customer deposits will not be used to fund harmful industries such as: fossil fuels, private prisons, or firearm manufacturers.
It doesn’t hurt that Aspiration accounts also have a transparent fee schedule. Overdrafts, check deposits, inactive accounts, and debit cards all fall under that umbrella. They also use a “pay what you think is fair” model, meaning customers choose their monthly account fees, even if it’s zero.
Going beyond cash management, Aspiration helps businesses and consumers quantify their impact on the planet with the Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM) feature. AIM scores are based on multiple factors such as CO2 emissions, renewable energy usage, employee benefits, and diversity.
Although Aspiration is relatively new compared to traditional financial firms, they currently have over 1.5 million users, and Aspiration Spend & Save accounts are FDIC Insured for up to $2 million.
You can get set up with an Aspiration account today with just a $10 deposit. You can find out more here.
Microsoft today extended the support lifespan of Windows 10 Enterprise 1709 and Windows 10 Education 1709 by six months, pushing their retirements to Oct. 13. The original end-of-support date had been fixed as April 14.
Microsoft cited the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, which in just the U.S. has ranged from massive business closings and multi-county lockdowns to a broad movement of companies telling white-collar employees to work from home. By midday March 19, 171 deaths in the U.S. had been attributed to the virus. Globally, deaths approached 10,000.
“We have been evaluating the public health situation, and we understand the impact this is having on you,” wrote John Cable, director of program management, in a March 19 post to a company blog. “To ease one of the many burdens you are currently facing, and based on customer feedback, we have decided to delay the scheduled end of service date for the Enterprise, Education, and IoT Enterprise editions of Windows 10, version 1709.”
Three years of support for 1709
Windows 10 1709 launched in October 2017, and although the Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro editions of the release received just 18 months of support — until April 9, 2019 — Enterprise and Education got 30 months of updates. Microsoft split customers into 18- and 30-month groups in September 2018, when it created the latter support lifespan for its most important customers, larger businesses and organizations.
Under Microsoft’s 18/30 scheme, Enterprise and Education receive two and a half years of support only for the fall feature upgrade, the one labeled yy09 in the firm’s four-digit format. The spring upgrade, yy03, provides only 18 months of support to everyone and every SKU (stock-keeping unit).
The six-month extension for 1709 will supply customers security updates through the usual channels, including Windows Update, Windows Update for Business, Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and the Microsoft Update Catalog. Cable also promised that update management processes would not need to change during the added months. “All supported versions of Microsoft Configuration Manager (current branch) will continue to support Windows 10, version 1709 until October 13, 2020,” Cable said.
By tacking on six months to 1709’s support lifecycle, Microsoft will make it the first version of Windows 10 to receive 36 months, or three years, of support. Three years is somewhat of a magic stretch in Windows, as it was the long considered the ideal interval between OS upgrades, as in Windows 7 (2009) releasing three years after its Vista (2006) predecessor and three years before its Windows 8 (2012) successor.
By giving enterprises six more months to migrate from 1709 — when IT was staring at a deadline of less than a month — Microsoft has reduced the pressure on admins of laggardly firms to keep client systems protected. Instead of trying to hustle during a time when everything has been disrupted if not thrown into complete chaos, IT staff, likely with a lower headcount and if not, then on a lower productivity level, can work without panicking.
Unsettled release and support calendars could be the new normal
Putting off upgrades, whether suspending them as Google did this week when it paused Chrome refreshes, or delaying support deadlines as Microsoft has done, may be the smart move under current conditions. There’s no reason to hew to an established schedule at a time when upgrading hundreds or thousands of systems should be among the lesser worries of a business. Time spent dealing with upgrades and the inevitable questions and problems workers pose and report afterward is time wasted when keeping the business in business is dominant.
In fact, it would be a surprise if the Wednesday announcement was the last of its kind from the Redmond, Wash. company, or if Microsoft and Google were the only software makers to do this. If COVID-19’s impact hasn’t lessened in several months, Microsoft may simply shove 1709’s date back even more, then add the next in line, Windows 10 1803, to a growing list of postponements. (The Windows 10 1803 Enterprise and Education SKUs are now due to fall out of support Nov. 10.)
Likewise, there’s no reason Microsoft couldn’t delay the launch of its next feature upgrade, Windows 10 2004, from the expected April to, well, much later this year. Or cancel the year’s fall refresh, which under normal circumstances would be pegged 2009, altogether.
All release and support calendars are, if not moot, then certainly unsettled.
There are important accounts to secure, and then there are important accounts to secure. Your Google account falls into that second category, maybe even with a couple of asterisks and some neon orange highlighting added in for good measure.
I mean, really: When you stop and think about how much stuff is associated with that single sign-in — your email, your documents, your photos, your files, your search history, maybe even your contacts, text messages, and location history, if you use Android — saying it’s a “sensitive account” seems like an understatement. Whether you’re using Google for business, personal purposes, or some combination of the two, you want to do everything you possibly can to keep all of that information locked down and completely under your control.
And guess what? Having a password that you hastily set seven years ago isn’t enough. With something as priceless as your personal data, that single key is only the start of a smart security setup. And even it might be due for an upgrade.
Take 10 minutes to go through these steps, then rest easy knowing your Google account is as guarded as can be.
Part I: Reinforce your front door
Step 1: Check up on your Google account password
We’ll start with something simple but supremely important — that aforementioned Google account password. Consider the following questions:
Is your Google password based on your name, the name of your partner or child, your birthday, your street address, or anything else someone could easily figure out by Googling you?
Does your Google password revolve around a common word or easily guessable pattern?
Is your Google password short — less than eight characters, at a minimum?
Do you use your Google password (or any variation of it) to sign into any other app, website, or service?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, first, bop yourself firmly on the nose. Then use this link to go change your password immediately — preferably to something long, complex, and not involving any easily discoverable personal info, any common words or patterns, or anything you use anywhere else.
Got it? Good. Next:
Step 2: Give your Google account a second layer of protection
No matter how strong your Google account password is, there’s always still the chance someone could crack it — but you can exponentially reduce the risk of anyone actually getting into your virtual property by enabling two-factor authentication on your account.
With two-factor authentication, you’ll be prompted for a second form of security in addition to your password — ideally something that requires a physical object that’d only ever be in your presence. In its simplest effective form, that could be a prompt or a code generated by your phone. If you want to get really fancy, it could be a button pressed on an actual key you carry (which could be a special USB- or Bluetooth-based dongle or even something built into your phone). There’s also an option to have codes sent to you via text message, but that method is relatively easy to hijack and thus not generally advisable to use.
Whatever path you choose, having that second layer in place will make it incredibly difficult for anyone to get into your Google account, even if they do somehow know your password.
Step 3: Make sure you’re prepared to prove your identity
If Google ever detects some sort of suspicious activity on your account, it might require you to verify your identity before it lets you sign in. And if you haven’t looked at your account verification settings in a while (or ever, for that matter), there’s a decent chance the necessary info might be out of date or missing altogether.
Take a minute now to open up Google’s account security site and look in the section labeled “Ways we can verify it’s you.” There, you should see two options:
If the value next to either option is not current and correct, click it and update it immediately.
And with that, we’re ready to move on to our next level of Google account protection.
Part II: Clamp down on connections
Step 4: Review the third-party services with access to your account
When you set up an app that interacts with Google in some way — on your phone, on your computer, or even within a Google service such as Gmail or Docs — that app gets granted a certain level of access to your Google account data.
Depending on the situation, that could mean it’s able to see some of your activity within specific Google services; it could mean it’s able to see everything in your Gmail, Google Calendar, or Google Drive; or it could mean it’s able to see everything across your entire Google account.
It’s all too easy to click through confirmation boxes without giving it careful thought — so look back now and see exactly what apps have access to what types of information. Visit Google’s third-party app access overview and look through the list of connected services. If you see anything there you no longer use or don’t recognize, click its line and then click the button to remove it.
Allowing apps you know and trust to access your account is perfectly fine, but you want to be sure to revisit the list regularly and keep it as current and concise as possible.
Step 5: Review the devices with access to your account
In addition to apps, you’ve almost certainly signed into your Google account on a variety of physical devices over the past several months (and beyond). And often, once you’ve signed in at the system level, a device remains connected to your account and able to access it — no matter how long it’s been since you’ve actually used the thing.
You can close that loop and take back control by going to Google’s device activity page. If you see any device there that you no longer use or don’t recognize, click the three-dot menu icon within its box and sign it out of your account right then and there.
Step 6: Look over app permissions on your phone
Another important app-related consideration: If you’re using Android, some system-level permissions — such as those connected to your contacts and calendar — can effectively control access to areas of your Google account data, since services such as Google Contacts and Google Calendar sync that data between your phone and the cloud.
Head into the Privacy section of your phone’s system settings and look for the line labeled “Permission manager” (or something along those lines; the exact phrasing and presentation may vary from one Android version and device-maker to the next). There, you can look through each type of permission and see which apps are authorized to access it — and, with a couple more taps, revoke the permission from any apps where that level of access doesn’t seem necessary.
Step 7: Look over extension permissions in your browser
On the desktop, extensions added into Chrome have the potential to expand your browser’s capabilities — but they also have the potential to put your privacy at risk.
Up until late 2018, y’see, Chrome desktop extensions that needed to view any part of your online activity were forced to request a blanket permission to read and change data on every website you visit. That means an extension that does something as simple as enhancing the Gmail interface or allowing you to save articles for later would invariably have access to everything you do in your browser — despite the fact that such programs actually only need access on a limited level (either to the Gmail website, in the first case, or only when you click the icon to activate the extension, in the second).
At this point, Google allows extensions to request browsing data access on a more sensible, nuanced basis — but it’s a slow-moving transition, and plenty of extensions still stick with the old all-or-nothing arrangement by default.
That means it’s up to you to seek out the setting for every extension you have installed and confirm it’s no broader than it needs to be. Otherwise, all of your browsing activity within Chrome — something that’s typically kept under lock and key inside your Google account — could be shared with external companies for no legitimate reason.
All you have to do is type chrome:extensions into your browser’s address bar and then click the Details box for every extension on the page. Anytime you see a line labeled “Site access,” think carefully about the level of access that’s granted and whether it’s genuinely needed — or whether it’d make sense to bring it down a notch.
Step 8: Get rid of any mobile apps and browser extensions you don’t need
While you’re thinking about third-party add-ons for your computer and phone, take a moment to review everything you have installed on both fronts and consider how many of those programs you actually still use. The fewer cracked windows you allow on your Google account, the better — and if you aren’t even using something, there’s no reason to keep it connected.
And with that, we’re ready for our final two parts of account-protecting possibilities.
Part III: Plan for the worst
Step 9: Set up or confirm your virtual Google will
Thinking about worst-case scenarios is never particularly pleasant — I’d much rather be eating crumpets, myself — but just as it’s important to have a plan in place for your physical and financial possessions, creating a virtual will for your Google account will make matters infinitely easier for your loved ones if and when you ever develop a mild case of death.
Google has a simple system in place to manage this: Open up the Inactive Account Manager, and you’ll find tools for determining exactly what should happen if your account ever becomes inactive for a certain period of time. You can specify the number of months that must go by without any sign of your presence, along with the email addresses and phone numbers Google should use to contact you for confirmation. And then, you can give Google the email addresses of any people you want to be notified once it’s clear that you’re no longer available.
From there, you can specify exactly what types of information your chosen contacts will be able to access. You’ll even be able to leave a message for those people, if you want, and optionally create a broad autoreply that’ll be sent to anyone who emails you once your inactive period has begun (creepy!).
Even if you’ve gone through this process before, it’s worth going back in and revisiting your preferences occasionally to confirm the info is all still complete and accurate. When I looked at mine just now, for instance — a few years after initially setting up the system — a handful of newer account-related areas were not selected to be shared, presumably because they didn’t exist when I last reviewed the options. I had to manually check them all to be sure they’d be included in any post-consciousness account sharing.
Part IV: Turn your protection up to the max
Step 10: Think about Google’s Advanced Protection Program
Last but not least is a step that won’t be right for everyone but could be hugely consequential for certain types of Google users. For anyone at a higher risk of a targeted attack, Google offers an elevated form of account security called the Advanced Protection Program.
The program is described as being appropriate for business leaders, IT admins, activists, journalists, and anyone else who’s in the public eye and likely to be sought out by someone looking to do damage. It puts a series of heavy-duty restrictions on your Google account to make it especially difficult for anyone else to gain access — but as a result, it also makes things a bit more difficult for you.
The core part of the Advanced Protection Program is a requirement to have a physical security key the first time you sign into your account on any new device. That means in addition to your password, you’ll need that specific form of two-factor authentication — either an approved key built into your phone or a standalone dongle — in order to access your email, documents, or any other area of your Google account.
As part of the added security, you also won’t be able to connect most third-party apps to your Google account — including those that require access to your Gmail or Google Drive in order to operate. That could create some challenges (such as signing into an Android TV device, curiously enough) and require some compromises (such as no longer being able to use most third-party email clients with Gmail). And if you ever can’t get into your account for any reason, you’ll have to go through an extra-involved, multiday recovery process in order to restore access. You can read more about what the Advanced Protection Program is like to live with in this thoughtful overview.
Ultimately, only you can decide if the added inconveniences are worth the extra assurance. If you want the utmost in security for your Google account, though — and particularly if you’re someone who’s at a higher-than-average risk of being targeted — it’s something well worth considering.
We tested this out with the latest stable version of Windows 10. That’s version 1903, also known as the May 2019 Update. You’ll have to go through this setup process after installing Windows 10 yourself or if you get a new PC with Windows 10 installed.
Windows 10 Home: Disconnect From the Internet
The Home version of Windows 10 doesn’t have a visible option to set up Windows without a Microsoft account while you’re connected to the internet.
To create a local user account anyway, you’ll want to disconnect from the internet at this point in this installer. If you’re connected via a wired connection, unplug the Ethernet cable.
If you use Wi-Fi, you can skip the Wi-Fi connection process at the beginning of the setup wizard (click the back icon on the top toolbar in Windows 10 Setup to go back). You could also press the Airplane Mode key on your laptop to disconnect—this may be one of the function keys above the number keys on your laptop’s keyboard. If all else fails, you can always just unplug your wireless router for a minute. It’s drastic, but it’ll work.
If you try to create a Microsoft account while disconnected, Windows 10 will show an error message and give you a “Skip” button. This button will skip the Microsoft account screen and let you set up a local user a account.
Windows 10 Pro: Domain Join
If you’re using Windows 10 Pro, you can reportedly select the confusingly named “Domain Join” option at the bottom-left corner of the Microsoft account setup screen to create a local account.
If you don’t see this option for some reason, don’t worry—the same “disconnect from the internet” trick that works on Windows 10 Home also works on Windows 10 Professional. While disconnected, you’ll be prompted to create a local account.
After Setup: Switch to a Local Account
If you’ve already created a Microsoft account during the setup process, you can convert it to a local user account afterward. In fact, this is what Microsoft officially recommends during the installation process—just signing in with a Microsoft account and removing it later.
To do this, head to Settings > Accounts > Your Info in Windows 10. Click “Sign in with a local account instead” and Windows 10 will guide you through switching from a Microsoft account to a local user account.
If you like Microsoft accounts—great, that’s fine, we use them on many of our PCs, too. But, if you don’t want to use a Microsoft account, you should have the option. And Microsoft should make the option easier to find and stop hiding it with dark patterns.
Windows 10 Home now forces you to sign in with a Microsoft account—unless you disconnect from the internet first. Microsoft has always wanted you to sign in with a Microsoft account, but now it’s going even further.
The option to sign in with a classic local Windows account was always rather hidden behind an “Offline Account” option. Now, we’ve confirmed that it’s vanished entirely from Windows 10’s setup process.
How Windows 10 Home Forces a Microsoft Account
The screenshots in this article were taken while installing Windows 10 version 1903 Home—that’s the current stable version of Windows 10, also known as the May 2019 Update.
During the first-time setup process—either after you install Windows 10 yourself or while setting up a new PC with Windows 10—you’re now prompted to “Sign in with Microsoft” and there are no alternate options.
On Windows 10 Professional, there’s reportedly a “Domain Join Instead” option that will create a local user account. But that’s only on Windows 10 Professional. Windows 10 Home doesn’t have this option at all.
If you try to click “Next” or “Create account,” Windows 10 will ask you for “a valid email address, phone number, or Skype name.” There’s no apparent way around it.
You might click “Learn More” to find more information about the account creation process. If you do, Windows 10’s Setup says this is how you can avoid signing in with a Microsoft account:
If you’d prefer not to have a Microsoft account associated with your device, you can remove it. Finish going through Windows setup, then select the Start button and go to Settings > Accounts > Your info and select Sign in with a local account instead.
That’s right—if you don’t want a Microsoft account, Microsoft says you need to sign in with one anyway and then remove it later. Windows 10 offers no option to create a local account from within the setup process.
How to Create a Local User Account Instead
Thankfully, there is one hidden way around this process on Windows 10 Home: You can disconnect your computer from the network.
If you have a computer with an Ethernet cable, unplug it. If you’re connected to Wi-Fi, disconnect.
After you do, try creating a Microsoft account and you’ll see a “Something went wrong” error message. You can then click “Skip” to skip the Microsoft account creation process.
Once you’ve skipped the Microsoft account creation, the old “Who’s going to use this PC?” screen will appear. You can now create an offline account and sign in to Windows 10 without a Microsoft account—the option was there all along.
Even if you have a laptop with Wi-Fi, Windows 10 asks you to connect to your wireless network before reaching this part of the process. Most people will connect to the network and think a Microsoft account is required.
Perhaps a future version of Windows 10 will refuse to allow account creation until you’re connected to the internet. “After all,” Microsoft might say, “Telemetry shows most people just create Microsoft accounts.”