Security is now Microsofts top priority, according to Ballmer, who outlined some of the companys plans for improved products later this year. "All of us in the IT business are permanently in the security business as well," he said in a speech Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A "significant percentage" of Microsofts research and development investment is dedicated to developing technology to combat security problems, he said, adding that attention is being focused on "isolation and resiliency."
In the next few months, the Redmond, Wash., company will release a service pack for Windows XP with a number of advances, including a firewall that will be turned on automatically but can be turned off by users and an automatic pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer.
The company also will launch a new Windows security center for notifying users about security risks. Later in the year, similar protections will be available for Windows Server 2003.
Microsoft is also developing a stronger firewall for corporate and government networks and technology to block malicious e-mail and junk mail, both planned for release later this year, Ballmer said. The company also is working on its Network Quarantine, which inspects PCs to ensure that they are secure before connecting to a corporate network, and Active Protection Technology, which includes a behavior-blocking capability that intercepts suspicious-looking code.
"The computer can look at it and say, This doesnt smell right to me," Ballmer said at the event, which was co-sponsored by CSIS and the Business Software Alliance.
Apart from isolation and resiliency technologies under development, Microsoft is also working to make it easier for users to keep their software up-to-date and to make it easier for developers to write more secure code.
"Were committed to shipping more secure products," Ballmer said. "Were committed to working with industry and law enforcement to stop cybercrime at its source."
At present, the company does not have plans to integrate antivirus software into the operating system, but Ballmer said it remains open to the idea.
One area where Microsoft may change its policy is in delivering free patches to users who do not properly license products, Ballmer said, adding that he does not expect to charge licensed customers for patches.
"Do we continue to provide patches for free to people who have pirated our software?" Ballmer said. "I cant commit that I would expect to see that extend forever."
Noting that the stakes are high in network security, Ballmer said he sees considerable challenges ahead.
"I believe that this challenge is also an opportunity," he said. "The prospect to change the world through software is greater than ever."