Microsoft Protection Racket

Pull up a chair. I’m going to let you in on a family legend.

One day in the 1930s, a sales rep of the Abe Reles organization came into my grandfather’s candy store on Saratoga and Riverdale, in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He didn’t ask for an egg cream or a Mello-Roll ice cream. He came to collect protection.

“Protection” was a specialized form of property insurance — much like giving a mugger your wallet is a form of life insurance. The salesmen for the industry didn’t go to Dale Carnegie school. They had a fairly standard sales pitch:

“This here is a nice place. It would be a shame if sumthin’ wuz ta happen ta it!”

My uncle Harry, who was minding the store that day, was blessed with more guts than sechel. He said no.

Mr. Reles’ organization was known by its company name: Murder Incorporated. That wasn’t a creative name they chose for marketing. That’s just how they were known in the street… and by their strategic partners — the Mafia.

People didn’t say no to them. But Harry did. The salesman tried to persuade him. In the industry term of art, he “leaned on him.” In the ensuing fistfight, Harry won.

Now, here’s where the story takes on the aura of legend:

A few days later, Harry was playing ball in the schoolyard. Suddenly, a long black limousine pulled up and Harry saw Abe Reles get out, followed by a few assistants, aka “torpedoes.” The retinue included the salesman who hadn’t convinced Harry to buy protection.

Reles walked up to Harry, and got right to the point:

“You beat this guy up?”

It was a rhetorical question, but Harry answered, “Yes.”

“Let me see you do it again!”

And, with Reles looking on, Harry beat the guy up again.

Reles pursed his lips, nodded and told Harry, “You’re a good boy.” And he left.

That’s where the story ended… at least for Uncle Harry. As for Mr. Reles, he would have another, more spectacular exit. In 1941, he had been staying at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island as the guest of Brooklyn district attorney Burton Kaplan, to whom Reles was recounting company history. Some of Reles’ associates considered his sharing company secrets to be highly unprofessional.

On November 12, 1941, just hours before he was to testify against his old partner Albert Anastasia, Abe Reles checked out of the hotel. But he didn’t check out at the front desk. Despite being under guard by six police officers, Reles checked out through the window… of room 623. It was a historic solo flight.

I was reminded of the story of Uncle Harry and Abe Reles after Microsoft discontinued security updates for its Windows XP operating system.

Security updates are fixes and patches for problems that could leave computers open to attacks. Because of the constant threat of hackers seeking to steal information or vandalize systems, Microsoft sends out updates every month for Windows, Office and other programs.

For months, Microsoft has been announcing that, as of April 2014, they will no longer offer updates to Windows XP.

On the surface, that sounds fair enough. The XP operating system is more than 12 years old. Hey, I also have a hard time finding needles for my record player. (I winced when my friend’s grandson asked me, “What are records?” Even worse was when the cashier in the supermarket asked, “What’s film?”)

So how can I expect MS to devote resources to maintaining an outdated system, right?


There is a fundamental difference between 35mm cameras and XP computers. If Kodak stops making film — or goes out of business — the worst that could happen to me is missing a Kodak Moment.

Once my computer stopped getting security updates, it became a target for every hacker from Brooklyn to Beijing.

Okay, but why is XP different from any old car that gives up the ghost? Why not just buy a new computer?

Actually I did. I’m writing this on my new Windows 7 box (I’m a last adopter). But I’m still running the old PC on XP and, thank Heaven, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of its death are an exaggeration.

The euthanasia of XP isn’t comparable to junking a dying car. There is nothing wrong with the system — except for the fact that Microsoft wants you to buy a new one. It would be more like your smoothly running car suddenly not starting because the manufacturer decided it’s time to buy a new model. Talk about planned obsolescence!

Like Mr. Reles’ company, Microsoft sells Protection.

When Microsoft says, “Your Windows XP computer isn’t as secure as it used to be. As of 8th April 2014, support and security updates for Windows XP are no longer available. Don’t let your PC go unprotected. …” what I hear is, “Hey, this here old computer? Really important information you got here. It would be a shame if sumthin’ wuz ta happen to it. Kapish?”

What was that you said? “Extortion”?

But the issue is deeper and wider than strong-arm business tactics. Windows expert Woody Leonhard reported in InfoWorld that there are estimates of up to 30% of all PCs in operation still running Windows XP. But nobody outside of Microsoft knows whether the real numbers are 10 million — or as many as 500 million computers.

There is an interesting phenomenon called a “Typhoid Mary” — a carrier or transmitter of something harmful or even catastrophic. The expression comes from Mary Mallon, who worked as a cook and seemed healthy, but was a carrier of typhoid. Mary infected anywhere from 20 to 60 people before she was quarantined in 1914.

Now why, I ask, is Microsoft being allowed to turn millions of unprotected XP machines into cyber-Typhoid Marys, spreading malware throughout the internet?

Did I hear you say “Reckless endangerment”?

Windows-operated computers aren’t clunker cars or antique record players. They are functioning PCs running on Windows. And all versions of Windows are operating systems with defects. Sometimes it takes years for the defects to be discovered and corrected.But those defects make all computers running Windows vulnerable. And that’s why Microsoft sends out updates every month.

But no longer for Windows XP.

Now I’d like to know, if GM had to recall even 10-year-old cars, why doesn’t Microsoft have to ensure the safety of millions of XP users?

What was that you said? “Criminal negligence”?

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d take it even further. Why isn’t Homeland Security looking into this?

While the police watch the bridges and tunnels … and the TSA takes away bottles of water and cans of deodorant at the airports … Microsoft has gone and put out a welcome mat and invited terrorists into the information superhighway.

Close the door. They’re coming through the Windows — Windows XP.

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