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Security firm punctures Vista's Patchguard

Bun fight over kernel protection lumbers on

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Analysis Security vendor Authentium has discovered a mechanism to get around Microsoft's controversial Patchguard kernel protection technology, which is due to ship in the 64-bit version of its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.

Microsoft has criticised the move, claiming it puts Windows customers at risk, and vows to modify its technology to block the approach. Security firms ought to work with the APIs provided by Redmond rather than going it alone, it said

"We continue to encourage all software vendors to work with Microsoft on supported design approaches that work with Kernel Patch Protection to ensure that customers can have a secure and reliable computing experience on Windows Vista and Windows XP 64-bit systems, rather than putting customers at risk by developing approaches to try to bypass Kernel Patch Protection and as a result reduce the security protection of Windows," Adrien Robinson, director of Microsoft's Security Technology Unit, told eWeek.

The spat marks the latest flare up in a high profile row between security vendors and Microsoft over Patchguard, technology designed to prevent root kits from hooking into the Windows kernel that some security vendors claim is leaving them locked out too. Symantec was among the first to criticise the technology before McAfee picked up the baton with a full page advert in the Financial Times decrying Microsoft's approach.

Anti-virus vendors are far from united in opposition to Patchguard, however. Russian-based anti-virus developer Kaspersky Labs was the first to say it had no problems with Microsoft on the issue. UK-based Sophos followed up with a much more strongly worded statement essentially portraying Patchguard-naysayers as security ninnies who needed to grow up and stop throwing their toys out of the pram. Symantec and McAfee should have prepared better for Microsoft Windows Vista, Sophos said.

Anti-spyware firm Sunbelt dismissed Sophos's posture as a PR stunt. "Sophos tapped into that angry mob user resentment in a brilliant PR move — after having drunk the Microsoft KoolAid from a fire hydrant, they openly embraced PatchGuard. In one fell swoop, they're positioning themselves as Microsoft-friendly, happy-dancing, API-loving people. At the same time, they positioned the rest of the industry as a bunch of moronic crybabies," it said.

McAfee hit back at Sophos's barb by patronisingly suggesting it hadn't experienced problems with Patchguard only because its product portfolio was small. "Single-product vendors, like Sophos, may well not have an issue with Microsoft. However, for an innovative security risk management vendor like McAfee, that offers its customers comprehensive security protection, full and unfettered access to the kernel is vital if we are to protect users as they are currently protected with XP," it said.

All this might leave you thinking Patchguard is new to 64-bit Vista, but the PatchGuard technology actually debuted in the x64 edition of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and Windows XP Professional x64 editions. Not that that's going to stop the current row, of course, which is rapidly descending towards custard pies at dawn. ®

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