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Microsoft wants to put infected PCs in rubber room

And while you're at it, watch out for the cloud

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RSA A top Microsoft executive is floating the idea of creating mandatory quarantines for computers with malware infections that pose a risk to internet users.

The informal proposal, made Tuesday by Microsoft Vice President of Trustworthy Computing Scott Charney, was short on specifics, such as who would be responsible for monitoring and isolating malware-riddled machines. But he laid out his case for keeping them away from the general populace, comparing such a move to laws that have gone into effect over the past 20 years banning cigarette smoking in public.

"The [Environmental Protection Agency] comes out with second hand smoke and suddenly smoking is banned everywhere," he said during a keynote at the RSA security conference in San Francisco. "You have a right to infect and give yourself illness. You don't have the right to infect your neighbor. Computers are the same way."

Charney is the latest to champion the idea that infected PC users should be put in their own rubber room, so the malware, spam, and other attacks they generate can't harm others. The logistics of such a plan remain woefully unformed. While many say ISPs should monitor subscribers for infections, there's considerable disagreement about how providers should carry out and pay for such a system.

The risk that comes from infected users is just one threat Charney warned about during his 40-minute speech. Cloud-based computing also poses privacy challenges to users and corporations alike.

"Everything will go to the cloud if the vision is right - your health records, your tax records, your diary, which you'll want to be able to access from all sorts of different devices," he said. "As we move more and more of this data to the cloud, it means governments, litigants can go to the cloud and get that data without ever coming to the citizen. The question is: Is that the right place to be or not?"

Charney used his cloud discussion to once again pitch identity management technology known as U-Prove. It could allow students, employees, and others to have multiple identities when authenticating themselves on computer networks. That would allow them to limit the data they turn over. An individual, for instance, may prove she is an online student and therefore is permitted to access certain networks, but still remain anonymous.

U-Prove is being used to help the German government roll out a prototype of its electronic ID card system, Charney said.

He also said Microsoft on Tuesday released the patented U-Prove cryptography algorithms under open specifications. The company is also making reference tools that implement the algorithms under the FreeBSD license.

"The key is to get more people to embrace these kinds of technologies so we can create the identity metasystem we've been talking about for quite a while," he said. ®

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