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MS rolls out security obscurity bribe program

A glittering treasure chest for your silence

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MS has rolled out its Faustian bargain for security vendors. Sign up with the Microsoft Certified Security Partner Program and saddle up with a heap of free software and deep discounts worth many thousands of dollars.

Just look at these giveaways:

Up to five licenses for Visio 2002 Pro and Project 2002 Pro
Up to ten licenses for Office XP Developer Edition
Up to twenty licenses for Windows XP Pro
One SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Server
Ten SQL Server 2000 CALs (Client Access Licenses)
One Exchange 2000 Enterprise Server
Ten Exchange 2000 Server CALs
One SharePoint Portal Server
Ten SharePoint Portal Server CALs
One Small Business Server
Five Small Business Server CALs
One Windows 2000 Advanced Server
One Project 2002 Server
Ten Microsoft Project 2002 CALs

But wait, there's more. You also get:

Windows XP -- buy one get one free for a maximum of ten.
Visual Studio.NET -- buy one get one free for a maximum of five.
Visio 2002 Pro -- buy one get one free for a maximum of five.
Project 2002 Professional -- buy one get one free for a maximum of five.
SharePoint Portal Server -- buy one get one free.
SharePoint Portal Server CALs -- buy one get one free for a maximum of ten.

On top of that, you'll get "the program plaque, the Identity Kit, which contains Microsoft Certified Partner Logo materials and Logo Guidelines, and technical, sales and marketing materials."

And what will this cost, you ask? Why, a mere $1450.00 per year. Quite a bargain. All you have to do is keep silent about any Microsoft security bugs you might discover, until Redmond authorizes you to speak.

Oh, and you have to employ at least two exclusive Microsoft Certified Professionals, such as MCSEs.

Go for the gold

Now if you want even more -- and let's face it, who doesn't -- you can apply for the Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Program for Security Solutions. This entitles you to "elite brand identification, prioritized access to advanced training opportunities, increased product licenses and MSDN access, prioritized listing on referrals and business engagements, an exclusive Web site, and differentiated marketing materials."

For this you'll have to employ at least four MCSEs and/or MCSDs. And of course you'll have to pay MS for their further technical enlightenment, as "exam 70-220 is likely to become mandatory for the Security Solutions category by July 2002."

Oath of allegiance

Of course you'll have to be duly sworn in. Partners "shall follow a code of conduct regarding the responsible handling of security vulnerabilities," Redmond decrees.

"This code of conduct is intended to allow a product vendor to address any individual vulnerability and issue a patch, workaround or other response to the public. Microsoft Gold Certified Security Solutions Partners shall take reasonable steps to ensure that they do not publicly disclose details that would directly allow an outside party to develop or execute an attack exploiting the vulnerability."

Interestingly, this self-serving 'code' from bugware central may well be in conflict with the ISC2 (International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium), a highly-respected trade organization which administers the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) program.

Their code of ethics, incredibly, requires practitioners to "tell the truth." It also requires one to "discourage unsafe practices," such as security through obscurity, for one example we're fond of.

"There is a requirement to disclose vulnerabilities to vulnerable parties... Ethically, the first duty is always to the vulnerable party," Sierra Systems senior security consultant Jon Espenschied (CISSP) told us.

"I find it disturbing that MS' Code of Conduct would require someone to report a software vulnerability to MS before notifying a client of, for example, a gaping security hole in an IIS-based healthcare application that exposes patient information in violation of federal HIPAA privacy rules."

"While the ISC2 Code of Ethics rightly prohibits scare mongering, it does not say 'protect a vendor's reputation at the expense of clients' property and livelihood,'" Espenschied adds.

The company has already demonstrated its inclination to sacrifice the public's security and privacy to sidestep negative PR, as it did when it attempted, unsuccessfully, to sweep under the carpet an exploitable hole in Passport which would have left millions of users' personal details and credit card data vulnerable.

In this case the party at risk was the general public, precisely the group MS would leave in the dark and unable to take steps to protect themselves. Hence the glittering giveaway to tempt security vendors' loyalties away from the public and towards the company's interests.

Tantalizing stuff, we must allow. Only one question remains: do you really need your soul? ®

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