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The National Security Agency helped Microsoft harden Windows 7 against attacks and is providing similar assistance to Apple, Sun Microsystems and Red Hat too, an agency official said.

The admission came in prepared remarks delivered Tuesday by Richard Schaeffer, the NSA's information assurance director, at a hearing before the Senate's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

"Working in partnership with Microsoft and elements of the DoD, NSA leveraged our unique expertise and operational knowledge of system threats and vulnerabilities to enhance Microsoft's operating system security guide without constraining the user's ability to perform their everyday tasks, whether those tasks are being performed in the public or private sector," Schaeffer stated.

"All this was done in coordination with the product release, not months or years later during the product lifecycle."

Microsoft has acknowledged help from the NSA before. The ultra-secretive agency provided assistance in shoring up Windows Vista, The Washington Post reported in 2007. The same article says Microsoft tapped the NSA for help with Windows XP and Server 2003 as well.

The latest assistance includes unclassified security checklists that protect against various threats and standards for cataloging computer vulnerabilities. It also involved the release of a "security configuration guide" for Windows 7.

The NSA is working with Apple, Sun, and Red Hat "to develop secure baselines for their products," he added.

"More and more, we find that protecting national security systems demands teaming with public and private institutions to raise the information assurance level of products and services more broadly," Schaeffer stated. "If done correctly, this is a win-win situation that benefits the whole spectrum of information technology users, from warfighters and policymakers, to federal, state, local and tribal governments, to the operators of critical infrastructure and the nation's major arteries of commerce."

A PDF of Schaeffer's remarks is here. His comments about Windows 7 was reported earlier by IDG News. ®

This article was updated to correct the year The Washington Post story was published.

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