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Microsoft outlines 3D progress to Trustworthiness

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp senior vice president, chief technology officer and security czar Craig Mundie claims the software company is on track in its Trustworthy Computing initiative with a series of near-term security developments known as SD-cubed. The moniker refers to Microsoft systems that are to be secured by design, by default and in deployment.

Software design practices are been re-evaluated and overhauled to reduce the number and extent of vulnerabilities that are to be found in Microsoft code, he said, outlining the SD3 scheme as part of a key note address to 1,500 executives at the opening of the RSA Security Inc talk-fest in Paris, France.

Fundamental changes are also being proposed to reduce the "attack surface area" of Microsoft programs by switching off unused software features by default. And "more aggressive" use is to be made of the internet to update and apply patches automatically, and to provide feedback on software problems, he claimed. The error-reporting features that already are to be found in Windows XP will become more commonplace in other Microsoft products.

Mundie confirmed that the Trustworthy Computing initiative goes beyond data security to include aspects such as system reliability, user privacy and business integrity. "There are tensions that exist between these parameters and there are many changes that are needed to the ways we do business before we can build a level of trust." He went on to outline some of the practical steps Microsoft is taking to move nearer to its near-term goals.

All Microsoft engineers are now being put through security training programs. Security code reviews are much more rigorous than before, and can involve the use of formal threat modeling procedures. In software releases, no sample code is being installed by default, VBScript is turned off by default in Office XP Service Pack 1, and Internet Information Server web server is switched off by default in Visual Studio .NET.

However, there are few signs of immediate improvements. Since Bill Gates announced the Trustworthy Computing proposal in January, as many as 15 major vulnerabilities have been identified and patched in Microsoft software. But the software vendor can only claim credit for discovering one of these vulnerabilities, which was discovered during a Redmond security audit.

Mundie admitted that the company can only go so far. "It cost $100m to stop all Windows developments for two months to give us time to assess all code bases. What will it take to address the business integrity goal?" One of the biggest challenges facing Microsoft might be how far it is to take its trustworthy efforts. There are estimated to be between 300 million and 400 million active machines running some form of Windows, making for a large tail of products that were designed for isolated deployment, but which are typically now part of an interconnected and largely unsecured infrastructure.

In a passing swipe at Linux, Mundie suggested that Open Source is unlikely to be any more secure. "There is no evidence that it is, and some logic that it could not be," he said, adding that the operating system alternative is vulnerable to poor accountability. His line is that although Open Source code is subject to lots of attention, with lots of eyeballs constantly looking at the code base this does not necessarily mean that every line of code is checked.

© ComputerWire

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