Feeds

Microsoft: NSA snooping? Code backdoors? Our hands are clean!

Mass spying would be 'nuts', 'economic suicide'

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

RSA 2014 Microsoft's isn't involved in mass spying or putting backdoors in its software, Redmond's VP of Trustworthy Computing Group Scott Charney told the RSA conference. Why? Because it's unethical and bad for business, he said.

"We've not been concerned about the Snowden disclosures because we've been principled," he said. "We do defense, not offence. We never do bulk data collection."

Charney said that Microsoft was happy to help law enforcement – up to a point. It has the Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor (COFEE) tool which can be installed on a USB key and used to investigate Microsoft systems. But Redmond would not participate in illegal searches, Charney said, and would fight in the courts against such orders.

He also denied that Microsoft was putting backdoors into code. He mentioned the NSA Key saga, when in 1999 a researcher found an encryption key in Windows NT called _NSAKEY. Microsoft has always maintained that the key was so named because the NSA oversaw encryption export controls, and Charney reaffirmed that today – commenting that if Microsoft had put a backdoor in its code, it wouldn't have called it NSA Key.

"If I put a backdoor in our product, our market capitalization goes from $260bn to zero overnight. I can't even sell it. It's nuts! Economic suicide! So no backdoors," he said.

In order to reassure foreign governments that Microsoft's code is secure from such shenanigans, Redmond makes its source code available to other country's governments for checking. If they find flaws, they are fixed at Microsoft, but it's another way of reassuring customers, Charney said.

Charney echoed Art Coviello's call for a ban on software weaponry, saying that it was counterproductive to all concerned and had a huge potential for blowback damage on the sender, since it always leaks out.

He cited Stuxnet as a case in point. The code may have slowed down Iran's efforts to process uranium, but the software itself was picked up by researchers and malware authors and examined. The Stuxnet code used multiple zero-day attacks to get its job done, and as a result millions of computer users were put at risk and had to update their systems.

While Charney is obviously sincere in his beliefs that Microsoft is on the side of the angels, others are less sure.

"The best Microsoft can say is that we are secure except for the vulnerabilities that we don't know about and the ones we are prohibited by law from telling you about," security expert and CTO of CO3 Bruce Schneier told The Register.

"This is the problem. Microsoft might be 100 per cent truthful about this, but they have no way of proving it. Because the NSA has poisoned the environment, we have no reason to believe them." ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
Hackers thrash Bash Shellshock bug: World races to cover hole
Update your gear now to avoid early attacks hitting the web
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
Ello? ello? ello?: Facebook challenger in DDoS KNOCKOUT
Gets back up again after half an hour though
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.