SAN FRANCISCO—There is a small group of true lifers in the security industry, and Dave Aucsmith is one of them. He began working on signal security several decades ago during his time in the military and then spent several years as the chief security architect at Intel Corp. Add to that his deep knowledge of cryptography and the 27 patents he holds, and you see why Microsoft Corp. hired him last August as a security architect in the new Security Business Unit. Aucsmith is now that groups chief technology officer and is responsible for the overall security architecture of all of Microsofts products. Senior Editor Dennis Fisher caught up with Aucsmith at the RSA Conference here to talk about the SBU, Trustworthy Computing and the Next Generation Secure Computing Base, the technology formerly known as Palladium.
eWEEK: Tell me a little bit about what youre trying to accomplish inside the SBU.
Aucsmith: My job is to put a unified architecture in place underneath all of these various security products and technologies. I try to combat the problem of all of the utter confusion that we give to our customers, developers and users. That problem developed historically, over time. It wasnt until very recently that the whole became important to us. It takes us about a year or 18 months to develop a new operating system, and were running pretty fast. We really cant push it much faster than that because of all of the testing we have to do. But the bad guys are running much faster than us. Out of the gate, theres a disparity in the way we can respond to changing threats. We use patch management. But the second part is what I call remedial security, which is things like anti-virus. We want to make it easier for other vendors to protect software and users by using things like the APIs we just put into Exchange. We want to make sure theres a ripe and productive community of people adding security to these products.
eWEEK: What kinds of things are you doing on a daily basis to make products more secure?
Aucsmith: One big thing is continuing to submit our products to the government for Common Criteria testing. I think theres real value in that because for one thing customers are asking for it. And for another, it forces us to do what were supposed to do. Our belief is that the market will reward us for that. If it doesnt, then well turn around and try something else.
eWEEK: Whats the next thing that the SBU will be working on?
Aucsmith: If you look forward, most of the security development will be around security management, how we go about specifying the security policies that you want these technologies to use. Thats where a lot of the work and effort will be. But at any one time, were working on any number of things.
eWEEK: Theres a lot of talk and concern about both Palladium and the upcoming Rights Management Server. How will those things play out for users?
Aucsmith: The evolution of Palladium as it relates to rights management is very important. Were changing the PCs architecture, which has in the past been a fundamentally open architecture. A good example of what youll be able to do is with signing documents digitally. Right now, how do you know that the document you see on the screen is the one that youre actually signing? You dont. That will change.
eWEEK: In general, do you think the company is improving as far as security goes? Are things getting better?
Aucsmith: Absolutely. Were making progress. I would not have gone to work there had they not been serious about it. Some of the recent hires weve made, like [Chief Security Strategist] Scott Charney, knowing him personally, I dont think he wouldve taken the job if he didnt think this was real. From what Ive seen, its definitely real. I havent been at Microsoft for a tremendously long amount of time, but my impression is that Microsoft makes very few dramatic paradigm statements like this. Saying that the Internet was it was one. I think the level of investment in security is at least as great as the level for when they decided to focus on the Internet. The processes we use to write secure code, the emphasis on every group thinking about security, thats all progress. The real measure will be Windows Server 2003. Thats the ultimate proof.
eWEEK: If that comes out and it turns out to be really vulnerable, what happens?
Aucsmith: If it flops, that means the model we came up with is wrong. It doesnt mean we failed. But I honestly believe that the model we use is the best known practices. I do expect it to show some significant progress. Im feeling pretty good about it, but I fully expect the bad guys to be very innovative in attacking it. Im sure over time well have to respond [to some vulnerabilities]. It is an arms race.
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