Microsoft Ending Windows 10 Free Accessibility Upgrades Dec. 31

Today’s topics include Digmine malware stealing computer power to mine crypto-currency; Microsoft’s Windows 10 free accessibility upgrade ending Dec. 31; Microsoft releasing an assessment tool to help companies prepare for the GDPR deadline; and analysts predicting smartphones will become even smarter in 2018.

New malware was discovered this week that mines crypto-currency in the background of victims’ computers as well as sends out infected links to their contacts.

The crypto-currency mining malware, called Digmine, spreads via Facebook Messenger using a Google Chrome browser extension. Once installed, Digmine invites a victim’s Facebook friends to open a supposed video file that contains the malware.

Meanwhile, the other part of the malware begins operations by mining crypto-coins. Crypto-currency is a long random number that’s calculated to create a unit of the currency. Several such units create a blockchain of the currency.

The mining operation involves the calculation of the required number and the accounting process in the blockchain. The malware hijacks as much of a computer’s CPU as it can, resulting in reduced performance, stability problems and, in some cases, additional malware that can cause data loss.

Time is running out for Windows users to upgrade to Windows 10 at no cost, provided they use the operating system's assistive technologies.

Officially, the last day to grab a free Windows 10 upgrade was July 29, but Microsoft extended the deadline to Dec. 31 for users relying on Windows' screen reader, magnifier, high-contrast settings and other accessibility-enhancing features.

According to Microsoft, users with disabilities and other conditions who encounter difficulties with the stock Windows experience will find plenty of compelling reasons to upgrade to Windows 10.

The operating system’s text-to-speech engine, for example, got a major upgrade, now able to handle roughly 800 words per minute—twice the former limit of about 400 words per minute. Microsoft is not restricting the offer to any specific use of its accessibility features.

With the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect on May 25, 2018, Microsoft has rolled out a tool to help partner organizations ensure their customers are in compliance.

Microsoft’s GDPR Detailed Assessment "tool provides an in-depth analysis of an organization's readiness and offers actionable guidance on how to prepare for compliance, including how Microsoft products and features can help simplify the journey," explained Daniel Grabski, executive security advisor at Microsoft Enterprise Cybersecurity Group.

GDPR is a set of stringent data privacy and security regulations that apply to organizations that do business in Europe, even if they are based elsewhere. Penalties can reach as high as four percent of a company’s global revenue if it mishandles the personally identifiable information of users in the region.

While today’s smartphones already include cutting edge capabilities, eWEEK asked a group of IT analysts what might be the biggest new features in smartphones in 2018. The consensus was that phones will have more augmented reality and artificial intelligence features in 2018.

According to Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group, "the 'next big thing' will be phones with augmented reality." Tuong H. Nguyen of Gartner said he sees the big push in 2018 being in AI, particularly in using the technology with smartphone cameras to recognize objects, words and maps.

The idea of flexible or bendable handset displays, however, garnered mixed opinions. Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, said "it's extremely difficult to project how consumers will respond to the idea” of flexible or bendable handset displays, while Avi Greengart of GlobalData doesn't see them catching on.