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Windows leak dangers ‘exaggerated’

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RSA Don't worry: last month's leak of Windows source code will not compromise your IT security - any more than it is already.

Some commentators (from example here and here) have talked up the danger of million of lines of Microsoft Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 source code becoming available to crackers, virus writers and other cyber criminals.

But security specialists on the cryptographer's panel at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last week characterise the leak as a "minor data point in the open source debate", rather than a serious security calamity.

None thought it would make much difference in the number of vulnerabilities or exploits affecting Windows. However, the incident drew some unfavourable comparisons between open source and closed source security models.

Paul Kocher, chief scientist at Cryptographic Research, expressed irritation that security researchers couldn't examine the code for legal reasons: "We can't look at the code to help defend against attacks but the bad guys can. It's the worst of all possible worlds."

Adi Shamir, professor at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science and noted cryptographer, disagreed with him. He didn't want to pore through millions of lines of source code - legally or not - because this would be "incredibly boring".

The application of the latest code-inspection tools on portions of the three year-old code might highlight new vulnerabilities. So making the leaked code public would be good from a security perspective - at least in theory.

Nobody expects Microsoft to do this. Even if it did, it wouldn't make any difference to elite hackers, according to Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at Counterpane Internet Security.

"Any intelligence service worth its salt already has access to the source code," he said. ®

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