Microsofts Real Claims

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-01-08 Print this article Print

If you want a good perspective on what Microsoft really says about security for Vista read the Windows Vista Security Blog. Youll find claims there to be a lot more conservative and restrained than youd expect from a lot of the reporting on the matter. The most prominent example of this phenomenon is what happened to poor Jim Allchin when he discussed, at a time before Vistas release when no release-level anti-virus protection was available from anyone, how his own 7-year-old sons system had no anti-virus protection. Allchin had locked down the system in so many other ways (using parental controls, user access control, and lack of access to e-mail and instant messaging) that he was comfortable allowing his son to run without anti-virus.
Competitors and knee-jerk critics turned this into a "claim of invulnerability" by Microsoft, as if Allchin had said that Vista didnt need anti-virus protection. No doubt when the first threat to Vista that can addressed by anti-virus comes along these same people will point back to this claim Microsoft never made and the failure it supposedly represents.
But dig past the misrepresentations and you see in the core of Allchins statement that Microsoft understands the fragility of every individual security feature, and that the security of the system is defined by all of them acting together. Consider the recent revelation of a vulnerability affecting Vista and other versions of Windows. As detailed in a recent Symantec Security Response blog, the bug is very hard to exploit on Vista. And it goes beyond that. A well-administered system would have other protections against the introduction of this exploit, including e-mail blocks on executable attachments, warnings against unsigned code, even anti-virus software. Vulnerabilities in a secure system dont automatically translate into exploits. Underground hackers are hawking zero-day exploits for Microsofts new Windows Vista operating system at $50,000 a pop, according to computer security researchers at Trend Micro. Click here to read more. So a year from now how will we be able to judge if Vista has met reasonable expectations for security? One obvious answer is that if enough significant vulnerabilities are revealed—really critical ones as opposed to the moderate one above—Such developments would undermine Microsofts claims for its security development life cycle. Another measure will be whether significant numbers of Vista users become compromised. This could be tough to judge, at least for business, since there may not be significant enough numbers of users by years end. But I think that well all have a good sense of things by then anyway. IT managers will know whether their Vista systems are more resilient and trustworthy than their Windows XP systems or, for that matter, Linux and Mac boxes. All kinds of things are possible. And if a consensus emerges about that by the end of the year, that will be the big story of 2007. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Ryan Naraines eWEEK Security Watch blog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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