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RSA Bill Gates today announced Microsoft's latest plans to make Windows systems more resilient against worms and other security threats.

In a keynote address at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, the Microsoft chairman showed security improvements that will come with Windows XP SP2.

These include: Windows Security Centre; automatically turning on Windows Firewall; and browsing enhancements to Internet Explorer (providing far more control of ActiveX, for example). Security Centre will let users check the status of their firewall, anti-virus protection and automatic software updates from a single point.

Microsoft also showcased alpha code for Active Protection Technology, a behaviour blocker. The idea is to limit the ability of worms to cause damage to a computer or spread through a network. Such technology is already available from Cisco and a clutch of intrusion prevention vendors.

In his keynote Gates discussed building firewall and behaviour blocking technologies deeper into Windows, but disclosed nothing of Microsoft's plans for GeCAD Software, the anti-virus software vendor it bought last June.

According to Gates, no single technology can protect against the many types of attacks that companies face. Active protection technologies, such as those in development at Microsoft, are some of the defences that companies can use to bolster security.

If less is more, think how much more more would be

This is the first time Gates has appeared at the RSA Conference, now entering its thirteenth year. His well-received speech also discussed Microsoft's research in developing tamper-resistant biometric IDs, and outlined the company's plans to reduce the spam tsunami.

But security experts attending the conference raised concerns about Microsoft's entire design philosophy.

Microsoft will increase the complexity of Windows with any extra security feature it incorporates into the operating system, Paul Kocher, chief scientist at Cryptographic Research, argues.

Complexity is the enemy of security (the more there is the more there is to go wrong) so Microsoft is going the wrong way, he said: "Ultimately we should be trying to simplify things." ®

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