Microsoft Launches Government Security Program

In reaction to foreign governments' move to Linux, Microsoft forms a security initiative that provides governments with access to Windows source code.

Microsoft Corp., moving to stem the tide of foreign governments embracing the Linux open-source operating system, on Tuesday announced it has formed a global initiative to provide governments around the world with access to Windows source code.

The new security initiative, the Government Security Program (GSP), has been designed to "address the unique security requirements of governments and international organizations throughout the world," said Craig Mundie, Microsofts chief technology officer.

"We view governments that utilize our software as trusted partners. The GSP will provide governments with the opportunity to assess the security and integrity of the Microsoft products they deploy. … We are also providing technical documentation, methods for troubleshooting, access to cryptographic tools subject to export controls, and access to Microsoft expert support technicians who can collaborate with governments on how they use this source code access," he said.

Microsoft has been concerned by the interest a number of foreign governments and agencies are showing in Linux. Last June, the German government said it was moving to standardize on Linux and an open-source IT model at the federal, state and communal levels.

As part of this move, it signed a contract of support with IBM that would facilitate moving its agencies to Linux and helping develop innovative IT solutions based on open standards. Otto Schily, the German minister of the Interior, said at that time that the contract with IBM enabled the administration to buy IBM hardware and software running Linux under competitive pricing conditions.

"Linux offers the best potential as an alternative to Windows for server operating systems to reach more heterogeneity in the area of software. The fact that we have an alternative to Windows with Linux gives us more independence as a large software customer and is a major contribution to the economic use of IT in the administration," he said.

The German governments move to IBM and Linux followed more than 75 other government customers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force and Pinellas County, Fla., are all using Linux, as are agencies in the governments of China, Singapore and Australia.

While Mundie made no direct mention of the Linux threat on Tuesday, he said national governments and their principal agencies face greater security threats than technology consumers, and have to place security at the top of their technology requirements. Russia and NATO have already signed GSP agreements, and Microsoft is talking to more than 20 other countries about their interest in the program.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Microsoft admitted that it is providing "controlled access to the Windows source code and other technical information," adding that the no-fee initiative enables program participants to review Windows source code using a code review tool, which is subject to certain undisclosed license restrictions.

The perception that Linux and other open-source software are more secure than Windows has enraged Microsoft executives, who claim that this is not the case. That sentiment was shared in a November research note from two analysts at the Aberdeen Group, who said open-source software and Linux distributions were the "2002 poster children for security problems."

Of the 29 advisories issued through October by the CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, 16 addressed vulnerabilities in open-source or Linux products. Seven of the advisories were related to Microsoft products.

"Open source software is now the major source of elevated security vulnerabilities for IT buyers," the Aberdeen report says. "The poster child for security glitches is no longer Microsoft; this label now belongs to open source and Linux software suppliers."

The GSP follows other Microsoft moves to share code and make its products more secure. As first reported by eWEEK in March 2001, Microsoft launched the Shared Source Initiative, which was followed in January 2002 with the Redmond, Wash., companys Trustworthy Computing initiative, which placed security at the core of all Windows development efforts.

Mundie said the GSP also supports and was built on the Common Criteria certification, which Windows 2000 achieved last October.