Microsoft: AI support in Microsoft Office already partially active

After Microsoft allowed artificial intelligence to move into Bing, Edge or Skype, the developers are now continuing the integration into Microsoft Office. Newer Office versions have already received the necessary files for the AI ​​connection via update. Initial reports from IT security researchers now show that AI support has been partially activated.

Microsoft announced support in the form of a ChatGPT-based assistant called Copilot about a month ago. It should have its own icon in a sidebar and be accessible there to create texts or presentations according to user specifications. However, the AI ​​files that have now been found do not appear to be the announced co-pilot.

IT researcher Greg Linares has now pointed out on Twitter that Microsoft has apparently already activated AI learning in Microsoft Office. As evidence, he provides a screenshot from the task manager that shows the Microsoft Word task composed of two processes: once winword.exewhich the task manager resolves as “Microsoft Word”, and once the “Artificial Intelligence (AI) Host for the Microsoft Windows Operating System and Platform x64”, behind which apparently ai.exe hides.

It is currently unclear exactly what the files and the processes started from them do. The distribution of the files and their activation varies depending on the Office version and possibly the user’s location.

There is no AI file on a system with Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2019 Version 1808 with the current patch status. The folder C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\vfs\ProgramFilesCommonX64\Microsoft Shared\OFFICE16 contains one from Microsoft Office LTSC Standard 2021 Version 2108 ai.dll from 02/07/2023 and mlg.dll (Machine Learning Group, Version vom 06.07.2022). Microsoft Office 365 Apps for Business Version 2208 bringt zudem ai.exe and aimgr.exe as well as aitrx.dll with that along with ai.dll bear the version number and date 01/26/2023 (mlg.dll differs from version – everything at the time of the report of April 11, 2023.

New AI files in Explorer

New AI files in Explorer

Microsoft Office 365 Apps for Business now includes at least three AI-related files.

(Bild: Screenshot/dmk)

In the new Office versions with the supplied AI files, no other AI process starts on our systems with Word, as shown in the Linares screenshot. There is also no Copilot button in Word or Powerpoint, for example. There are also no indications of AI support in the Office settings and options.

Strings from the ai.exe

Strings from the ai.exe

An excerpt with strings from the ai.exe returns some functions and character strings that indicate, for example, network activities by the AI ​​components.

(Bild: Screenshot/dmk)

Microsoft has not yet provided any explanations for the partially active processes. An answer to the request from heise online is also still pending.

In the ai.exe there are some strings that the Strings command can extract. They indicate that the AI ​​components want to make use of the Internet. The evaluation therefore presumably takes place on the servers of the artificial intelligence. Since OpenAI’s ChatGPT essentially runs on Microsoft’s server farms in the Azure universe, the network connection would be quite understandable here.

When the announcement was made a month ago, Microsoft said that the Copilot was not just based on an integration of ChatGPT. It originates from a combination of the Microsoft 365 apps plus Microsoft’s graph including the users’ own data and a large language model – which it is, however, was not mentioned.

It is currently unclear under what circumstances the artificial office intelligence will be activated and whether and to what extent data will flow to the Microsoft servers. A geographical limitation is conceivable, for example, since the US data protection laws are less biting than the GDPR here.

If you want to be on the safe side, you can simply stop the potentially silent AI activation. Greg Linares has successfully tested the three ai files ai.dll, ai.exe and aimgr.exe simply rename from the above directory. Office no longer loads them afterwards, but documents can still be opened and edited normally. So far no negative side effects are known. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, the files should only be renamed so that they can be easily restored in the event of an error.

ChatGPT had a data leak about two weeks ago. This allowed strangers to see information such as the payment information of ChatGPT Plus subscribers. Italy therefore had ChatGPT blocked at the end of March due to data protection concerns. The Canadian data protection authority is now also scrutinizing OpenAI, as the company may be collecting and processing unauthorized data.


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