The problemI have Windows 8 running on my laptop.
A couple of weeks ago I started getting some oddities with Outlook 2013, Windows Store and Windows Smartscreen. I noticed 2013 refusing to load images and that Windows Store & Smartscreen were "uncontactable" (or some similar wording).
I rarely use any Modern apps, only flicking to the Start Screen occasionally. When I do, however, I'll apply any updates waiting in Windows Store. Consequently I wasn't too bothered.
The Outlook images problem wasn't really getting in my way either; I use a desktop to access my mail most of the time.
The solutionLast night I sat down and worked through the Outlook bug. My first thought was that the firewall was blocking stuff. Turning it off briefly made no difference, so it wasn't that.
[Google, Google, Google]
I made a couple of false starts including a Microsoft "fix-it", clearing out the image cache, changing the registry keys for image security and deleting the account from 2013. Then I stumbled on a reminder that the Internet Explorer engine is used to render emails in Outlook.
I fired up Internet Explorer and was faced with a page telling me that "The Proxy Server isn't responding". Eh? A proxy server?
Off to Internet Settings. Sure enough, "Use Proxy" was ticked but there wasn't an entry in the address box. Off with the tick and back to Internet Explorer. The page loaded. Back to Outlook. The images loaded.
Back to the start screen to check Windows Store. Bingo, that was also back in action.
[thinks] Where did the proxy entry come from?
[thinks a bit more]
A few weeks before I'd installed "Panel Plus" from Ipsos Mori. That had acted as a proxy server to monitor my web browsing. It came off as soon as it went on when I discovered that. So, I assume, it didn't do a very good job of removing itself from Windows 8.
The wider problemI had to grant Panel Plus permission to install. Fair enough, I'm a big lad, I'll take responsibility for that. However, I don't remember being warned that it would install a proxy. If the warning is there, but in the small print, then that's a rather deceitful thing to do. Either way, that's resolved.
But this has made me think about what else you could do with a proxy. In it's simplest form you can effectively disable Smartscreen. I doubt there's many users out there that won't install software because they're warned it's currently not available. So that's an easy way to stop it in its tracks. Finally, does this mean you could use a proxy to divert users to a faux Windows Store?