[ISN] Ballmer to crackers: this PC ain't big enough for the both of us

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Sep 17 2003 - 01:21:24 PDT

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    By John Leyden
    Posted: 16/09/2003 
    The recent deluge of Internet worms and security vulnerabilities
    affecting Windows will not affect Microsoft's ability to "innovate",
    CEO Steve Ballmer pledged yesterday.
    Ballmer told an audience at the Churchill Club in Santa Clara,
    California, that "better security and constant innovation go hand in
    hand". Essentially this was a message for the markets- all these
    security problems are not going to slow our production of newer,
    bigger, more expensive stuff.
    On the plus side, Ballmer acknowledged that Blaster and the like are
    causing customers "pain" and that patching is a problem. He said
    Microsoft felt "humbled by the events of the last few weeks".
    Against this he failed to demonstrate much of an understanding about
    managing risk, the core of the security problem.
    Instead Ballmer compared IT companies to town marshals (or safe
    manufacturers?) facing down the threat of various black hat hackers in
    the pursuit of protect homesteaders / boosting shareholder returns.
    "Today we're faced with, I think, another new and growing challenge to
    innovation, and that's the need for the highest levels of security in
    a world that frankly is full of thieves, con artists, terrorists and
    hackers," he said.
    Warming to his theme, Ballmer came up with a Wild West analogy.
    "In the Old West the banks didn't shut down because of the bank
    robbers; they improved the banks, they improved law enforcement, they
    went after it," said Sheriff Ballmer.
    "Issues of safety have not stopped innovation in the auto industry.  
    They continue to move forward innovation and safety, and they've even
    helped spur many of the better technologies like air bags and ABS
    brake systems," he added.
    [Memo to Steve - We've said this to you before: drop the car /
    computer analogies. It makes people think of crashes.]
    Ballmer is mindful of the fact IT spending has decreased even as the
    US economy as a whole expanded 2.4 per cent last year. Much of his
    speech concentrates on the value that IT developments bring to the
    wider economy. Thinking about IT as a cost centre is short-sighted, he
    Post Dotcom Bubble, companies are more cautious about spending,
    Ballmer acknoweldges. But argues that companies which fail to invest
    in IT risk getting left behind by their competitors.
    He rejects any idea that IT as a "transforming technology has really
    reached the end of the road.
    "Cutting costs is very important but doing it without thinking about
    long-term productivity will certainly, in my perspective, be a
    shortsighted decision," he said.
    Wither Trustworthy Computing?
    Returning to security, Ballmer refers to the progress of Microsoft's
    Trustworthy Computing initiative, the programme launched last year
    with the aim of making Microsoft's products more secure.
    He argues that Microsoft is making progress but admits there is "not
    enough evidence of progress".
    Ballmer argues, counter-intuitively in our opinion, that all the
    vulnerabilities recently discovered in Windows might be a good thing
    in helping Redmond develop more secure code.
    "One area of investment that we're pursuing is what's called
    post-processing of source code to find vulnerabilities, so you
    actually go back and you have tools that look through the source code
    and help identify potential vulnerabilities. And it is true that those
    tools do get dramatically better with each vulnerability as we learn
    and can teach them to help spot whole new classes of attacks that come
    from hackers," Ballmer said.
    "We're working to determine how we can take those tools and make them
    available to other independent software vendors in the industry as
    well as corporate developers to help everybody raise their performance
    in this issue," he added.
    Ballmer said the software giant is working with law enforcement in
    tracking down attackers; and it is seeking to make applying patches
    far easier. Microsoft is working with industry partners in promoting
    better security among end users. Security is more than just a question
    of software vulnerabilities, Ballmer argued.
    "There are many ways to work this problem: shields up, as well as
    improving the basic security and quality in the products," he said.
    By way of example, Ballmer referred to the Internet connection
    firewall built into XP but neatly avoided mentioning that this is not
    enabled by default. If it was enabled by default the effect of the
    worm would have been greatly diminished.
    That's one example of the conflict between functionality and security
    in Microsoft's development efforts which lies behind so many security
    problems (e.g. worms that exploit flaws with the preview function in
    Outlook to execute).
    Unless and until Microsoft finds a way of applying the security
    philosophy behind Windows Server 2003 (secure by default, design and
    deployment) to its earlier products its software will remain
    fundamentally insecure.
    And how are organisations going to find the time to innovate when they
    are engaged in constant firefighting?
    There's also a sound business case for Microsoft to make its products
    more secure. There's only so much pain Windows users will take from
    security problems before they look for other options.
    With every Windows worm, the alternatives (such as Linux on the
    desktop) look that little bit more attractive. The rich variety of
    applications available for Windows is its trump card and will keep
    many tied to the platform, at least over the shorter term. But longer
    term, Microsoft is right to be worried, since any move to open source
    software would be very difficult to reverse.
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