Microsoft Responds to Google's Windows Ban

Microsoft responds to unconfirmed reports that Google is moving its employees off of Windows-based systems for security reasons by pointing out Windows 7's security features. Google has blamed a January security breach, which resulted in the theft of intellectual property, on a vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Microsoft officials are highlighting the security of Windows in response to Google's reported plans to transition its employees away from Windows-based systems because of security issues. Google executives are said to have pushed the search engine giant's 20,000 employees to switch to either Macs or Linux-based machines, following a January security breach that took advantage of an Internet Explorer vulnerability to steal some of Google's intellectual property.

Google itself may have been reluctant to confirm the reports-a spokesperson told eWEEK June 1, "We're always working to improve the efficiency of our business," while refusing to comment on specific operational matters-but Microsoft decided that confrontation was the best policy.

"There's been some coverage overnight about the security of Windows and whether or not one particular company is reducing its use of Windows," Brandon LeBlanc, a spokesperson for Microsoft, wrote June 1 on the official Windows blog. "When it comes to security, even hackers admit we're doing a better job making our products more secure than anyone else. And it's not just the hackers; third-party influentials and industry leaders like Cisco tell us regularly that our focus and investment [continue] to surpass others."

After citing an article that "discusses how Macs are under attack by high-risk malware," LeBlanc describes the steps taken by Microsoft to make its customers' systems more secure. Among them: shipping software and security updates regularly through Windows Update and Microsoft Update, encouraging Automatic Update to protect from attacks, and adding improvements to BitLocker and Windows Firewall. Windows 7 also "uses Address Space Layout Randomization ... as well by randomizing data in memory" to improve security, he said.

The possibility exists that Google enacted its alleged Windows ban not because of security concerns, but to clear the way internally for its Chrome OS, a cloud-based operating system that will be released to the general public later in 2010. In that way, Google would be following in the footsteps of Microsoft itself, where employees generally use Windows, or Apple, where Macs are obviously the system of corporate choice.

"I have to wonder how much of this is due to competitive drivers versus genuine desire to secure Google," IDC analyst Al Hilwa told eWEEK. "After all, Google has operating systems, browsers, tools and productivity software that [are] head-to-head competitive with Microsoft, and so this may make sense for them."

That being said, Hilwa did see some utility in a company embracing more uncommon software for its IT infrastructure.

"There is such a thing as security through obscurity," Hilwa said, "and it can be quite effective in certain settings. If I wanted to have the least attractive stack for virus and malware attacks, I would use the most obscure stack I can find, potentially including custom-developed components."

Given the increased competition between Microsoft and Google, executives for the latter company may have seen a natural shift to Chrome OS as an opportunity to fire a public broadside at their rival's primary software offering. Microsoft's response highlights how much the company depends on Windows being perceived as armor-clad.