[ISN] What Billg's new security effort will cost

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Jan 24 2002 - 00:12:13 PST

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    By Thomas C Greene in Washington
    Posted: 23/01/2002 at 11:08 GMT
    If Chairman Gates actually meant what he said in his recent memo
    calling for dramatically improved security in all MS products, then
    there are going to be some immense changes going on in Redmond.  
    Changes in how software is created; changes in how features are
    integrated into them; changes in product development schedules;  
    changes in disclosure practices. Indeed, we can determine just how
    serious Microsoft is by tracking the metamorphosis which a real shift
    towards security will necessitate.
    We spoke recently with Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce
    Schneier, who has a pretty clear idea what a security-serious
    Microsoft would look like.
    Schneier is cautiously optimistic, and for now would give MS the
    benefit of the doubt. Microsoft can do this, he says. But it will be
    difficult, and it will require an extraordinary shift in the Redmond
    For one thing, Schneier says, MS is simply going to have to open its
    protocols to evaluation and peer review. They simply won't succeed
    "I'm not talking about making it open source, but rather public
    source," he told us. "There is no way to achieve trustworthiness other
    than publication."
    Next, the EULA (End User License Agreement), which absolves the
    company of all liability, "will simply have to go." Schneier reckons
    that a lot of what motivated Gates to take on security is the looming
    threat of liability litigation.
    Now, Billg himself has said that product features will have to take a
    back seat to security for the company to earn the trust of consumers.  
    But this will be exceptionally painful to MS software designers
    accustomed to working into their projects every slick bell and whistle
    they can think of.
    "Putting security ahead of features is not easy," Schneier says.  
    "Microsoft is going to have to say things like, 'We're going to put
    the entire .NET initiative on hold, probably for years, while we work
    the security problems out.' They're going to have to stop all
    development on operating system features while they go through their
    existing code, line by line, fixing vulnerabilities, eliminating
    insecure functionality, and adding security features."
    Another mark of MS' commitment to security will be visible when the
    company ceases to treat vulnerabilities as a public relations problem,
    and deals with them openly and honestly.
    Microsoft's most recent inclination has been to discourage
    vulnerability disclosure, and persuade customers to make use of
    auto-update, which patches the system behind their backs. The user
    never knows what was wrong, or whether the fix being applied is
    effective. This is obviously not a way to cultivate trust, and it will
    have to be abandoned if MS really wants a shiny new reputation
    suggestive of good security.
    "When Netscape was serious about public scrutiny, they paid $1,000 for
    each security bug reported to them. Microsoft can no longer threaten,
    insult, or belittle independent researchers who find vulnerabilities
    in their products," Schneier observed.
    This all sounds like a radically different Microsoft from the one we
    know and love, and that's just the point. The company quite simply
    cannot achieve the goals set forth in the Billg security declaration
    and remain unchanged.
    It's undeniable that MS has the resources, both human and financial,
    to accomplish what it sets out to do. It's also undeniable that the
    company has an almost neo-Confucian tendency to substitute form for
    But as Schneier points out, there will be signs that can't be faked,
    and which will indicate just how serious the Beast is with its Trusted
    Computing initiative. The question remains, is this a PR stunt, or is
    it news?
    We will see.
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