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Win-XP denounced as terrorism tool

The security's too good, a forensics 'expert' laments

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A computer forensics specialist warns that default security features in Windows-XP might bring civilization to its knees at the hands of pedophiles, tax cheats, and, of course, international terrorists.

Forensics outfit New Technologies' President, Michael Anderson, a former Fed himself, is claiming that the secure file-wipe feature in Win-XP Pro is going to "make it impossible for federal agents and law enforcement to find and reconstruct digital evidence buried on computers, particularly those seized from terrorists," according to an article by Network World. [my emphasis]

Of course there's BCWipe, Norton Wipeinfo, Evidence Eraser, the PGP wipe feature, and so on. But these require crooks to lift a finger; and as we all know, the 'science' of computer forensics depends on really dumb criminals who think deleting a file is the same as erasing it.

Arguably, there would be no computer forensics cottage industry if naive point-and-drool crooks didn't screw up so often. Real forensics tools cost real money and require qualified (i.e., expensive) technicians. Our Anderson is clearly hoping to get away with using EZ tools like Norton Diskedit to sell 'expert' testimony for a fast buck.

Perhaps the Network World article's touchingly un-skeptical author, Senior Editor John Fontana, might have troubled to take a peek at the New Technologies' Web site. There, in a welcome message, we're told up-front that the company subsists on "the exploitation of the security weaknesses in DOS, Windows, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT and Windows 2000 to find computer evidence and computer security data leakage."

That's right, the company freely admits that it feeds on intrinsic security weaknesses, and naturally is appalled that Microsoft should do anything so unpatriotic as mass-market a more secure OS which would require them to know their stuff to stay competitive.

Clearly, Anderson's lament has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, and everything to do with preserving the crummy security status-quo that earns him and his employees a living. Like most bottom-feeders on the WTC atrocity, he lays on the Stars-and-Stripes anti-terror rhetoric with a trowel.

"This is an intelligence issue....the government and Microsoft need to think this thing through," Anderson warns. He wants the US government (presumably the now-panicky DoJ) to delay the 25 October XP retail launch until he and his geeks can figure out a way to defeat its file-wipe feature.

How long that might take is anyone's guess. Naturally, if the cottage forensics industry has been living off the slack they've been given, they're in a poor position to gear up for an effective assault on readily-available, decent file security.

Or maybe Anderson's company is simply worse than most at recovering data not attributable to 'security weaknesses'. Either way, he's a damnable bastard for trading on the WTC outrage to muscle the DoJ into accommodating his rickety cash cow.

There are good reasons to use secure file wiping, especially in e-commerce and financial settings -- indeed, wherever sensitive data needs to be kept under control.

"Secure deletion....like cryptography, provides more benefit than harm," @Stake Research Director Chris Wysopal notes. "Companies should be practicing positive data destruction to limit the information they hold to only what is required to run their business. Holding on to sensitive information, such as customer records, past its usefulness, gives attackers more booty to steal, increasing risk."

Sound advice. It's taken Microsoft quite some time to acknowledge the security shortcomings of its professional products. The last thing we need is some flag-waving opportunist trying to derail this development because he hasn't got the technical savvy, equipment, or qualified staff needed to stay in business otherwise.

It's ironic. First we had tiring propellerhead Steve Gibson claiming hysterically that the inadequate security measures in Windows-XP would bring the Internet to its knees at the hands of sociopathic teenage brats. Now we've got a would-be profiteer telling us that civilization is in mortal danger from terrorists exploiting the superior security measures in Windows-XP.

What are we to make of it all? ®

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