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MS gets top security rating for Win2k, makes big noise

Reality check - it's still as secure as it was

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After three years of waiting, Microsoft has achieved Common Criteria certification for Windows 2000, so it's probably handy that the company decided not to start pulling the plugs on the OS before last from next April. Common Criteria certification, since you ask, is an effort to establish an internationally recognised set of security evaluation criteria - Win2k getting achieving certification, since you also ask that, does not mean that the product is any more secure this week than it was last week. It does mean it'll be a lot easier for it to sell into secure defence and government establishments, without having to get special clearance.

But you'd be forgiven for getting led astray, if you listened to some people. Over at the Microsoft FAQ we have:

Q: How does this improve the security of Windows 2000?
A: By providing a globally accepted ISO standard for evaluating the security features and capabilities of IT products, the CC certification enables customers worldwide to better compare their security requirements with those of other available products. The Common Criteria certification provides customers with a higher level of assurance that the security of Windows 2000 as evaluated meets the security requirements set forth by the Common Criteria.

Which we think boils down to, it doesn't. The process has affirmed that Win2k meets Common Criteria standards, and this of itself does not improve the security of Win2k. The FAQ also tells us that the evaluated configuration was "Windows 2000 [insert version here] with Service Pack 3 and Hotfix Q326886." Service Pack 3 you'll recall as being quite recent, and Hotfix Q326886 ("Network Connection Manager Patch") was issued on the 14th of August. One perhaps gets a hint of why it might have taken three years, but as Microsoft itself says, possibly risking a plagiarism suit from Steve Jobs, "security is a journey, not a destination."

Richard 'Electronic Pearl Harbor' Clarke, chair of the White House Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, commented that "Windows 2000 certification is a great step forward that provides customers in the government and the private sector with a higher level of assurance." But we presume he said this while giving out the award, at the Federal Information Assurance Conference earlier this week.

Microsoft says Win2k has now achieved the highest level of security evaluation of any commercial operating system, but it isn't the only one. Win2k has achieved Evaluation Assurance Level 4 (EAL4), and if you check the list here, you'll see Solaris 8 got this two years ago. Perplexingly, Solaris 8 is also in the pending list. We know not why. ®

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