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Seven Steps to Software Security

OK, so our headline isn't exactly an accurate summation of a Forrester briefing document on security which received widespread coverage this week.

But then again other articles on the report aren't exactly on the money either.

IT managers don't trust MS scream the headlines, repeating Forrester's bullet point summation but not a more detailed summary (contained in a press release) of the report, which states:

Windows security has long been a main concern for IT professionals and users. Forrester surveyed 35 IT security experts at $1 billion-plus firms to better understand these concerns. Seventy-seven percent of respondents cited security as their top concern when deploying Windows applications.

Does that mean 23 per cent of IT managers (in this small sample - eight out of 35) trust the security of Microsoft products? No - because that wasn't the question asked. IT managers were asked to rate security among other issues in deploying Windows, such as return on investment, not to what extent do use trust Microsoft products to be secure? (yes we know even that isn't a very good question, just stick with us here)

Maybe Microsoft deserves this kind of rough handling by the media after bizarrely planning to run ads (alright, only in South Africa) to say that its technology is so secure that it makes "hackers" extinct.

Or maybe not.

Rather than over-spinning an analyst report in to a case against Microsoft, we reserve criticism for when its performance on security falls below reasonable expectations - such as its questionable decision not to patch NT4 against a potential DoS risk because it's "too difficult to fix"; or recent critical risks.

Forrester's release begins by taking about the Windows security dilemma which has "plagued users for years".

"The Klez virus last year cost businesses $9 billion worldwide in lost productivity," Forrester baldly suggests - ignoring the fact that's its notoriously hard to gauge the economic impact of viruses, even when virus writers come to be sentenced in court.

Forrester's analysis picks up from that point and it goes on to give some interesting insights about the problems users face in deploying security patches.

Despite the fact that 89 percent of the survey respondents run sensitive applications, such as financial transaction systems and medical records systems, firms do not deploy security patches. Firms lack the time and resources to apply security patches, and they worry that implementing them will destabilise production systems.

We asked Microsoft UK Chief Security Officer Stuart Okin what he made of the report.

He said it was a "good thing people that worry about security, which is a key focus for Microsoft too".

"The report looked at what pressing concerns people had. Security is one of those but customers are also interested in what return on investment they'll get from deploying technology."

"Customers are generally more interested in the business case, we find, particularly in the current economic environment," Okin told us.

Just because customers raise security as an issue it'd be wrong to conclude people don't trust Microsoft, Okin argue.

Security is also an issue when organisations consider deploying a competitive production environments, he added. ®

Forrester Research Asks, 'Can Microsoft Be Secure?'; Report Recommends A Collaborative Approach To Windows Security

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 31, 2003--The Microsoft Windows security dilemma has plagued users for years. In 2001, the Nimda worm spread worldwide in 30 minutes. The Klez virus last year cost businesses $9 billion worldwide in lost productivity. "Can Microsoft Be Secure?" is a new report from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) that examines Windows' security issues and makes recommendations to Microsoft, users, and independent software vendors (ISVs) for improving Windows security.

Windows security has long been a main concern for IT professionals and users. Forrester surveyed 35 IT security experts at $1 billion-plus firms to better understand these concerns. Seventy-seven percent of respondents cited security as their top concern when deploying Windows applications. The same percentage had experienced Windows security problems in the past year. Users blame Microsoft for its Windows security incidents, although it has been doing a much better job at security than it has received credit for. Microsoft's patches for the last nine high-profile Windows security incidents predated the attacks by an average of 305 days.

If Microsoft is not solely to blame, where does the problem lie? According to Forrester, the solution to seamless Windows security involves three parties. The answer is to build a partnership that connects Microsoft, ISVs, and users throughout the development, deployment, and operations phases of the platform life cycle. Despite the fact that 89 percent of the survey respondents run sensitive applications, such as financial transaction systems and medical records systems, firms do not deploy security patches. Firms lack the time and resources to apply security patches, and they worry that implementing them will destabilize production systems.

"Microsoft is doing a good job tackling security issues, but it needs to do more. Together, ISVs, Microsoft, and end users must work to establish a process that guarantees that security efforts will pay off," says Forrester Research Analyst Laura Koetzle. "We will not see a change in the Windows security landscape unless these three groups work together to establish standard practices."

In addition to outlining the role that Microsoft, ISVs, and end users should play, the report offers specific detailed suggestions for all three groups. The key to successful platform security involves simple, consistent patch-management tools from Microsoft. ISVs need to validate their applications against patched platforms to ensure that their users will not lose application support. Finally, end users must use server provisioning and virtualization software to test and deploy security patches systematically.

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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