Microsoft Gets DHS Contract

Deal could influence security policies.

The federal government last week awarded a $90 million contract to Microsoft Corp. to provide the Department of Homeland Security with desktop and server software.

The move could send a signal to enterprises and other software vendors that the government is happy with Microsofts progress in improving the security of its software. As part of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, which the Bush administration unveiled last year, officials in all agencies of the federal government are supposed to be using their purchasing power to pressure vendors into producing more secure software.

The message is meant to be: Make better software, or well take our business elsewhere. Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., has apparently received that message. It has begun a companywide initiative to upgrade the security of its software and has put its Windows 2000 operating system through the governments stringent Common Criteria certification process.

The five-year contract establishes Microsoft as the primary technology provider to DHS and consolidates existing Microsoft contracts at the federal agencies that were incorporated into the new department.

The agreement covers approximately 140,000 desktops, which will include standard configuration, Windows XP, Microsoft Office Professional and Core Client Access licenses. According to the department, it will provide for a more standard computing environment and reduce deployment, implementation and maintenance costs.

Some security industry observers say the contract could give the department and the government in general a way to influence Microsofts security policies from close range.

"Now that they have the contract, they can maybe use it to influence Microsoft to configure its software more securely," said Mark Rasch, senior vice president and chief security counsel at Solutionary Inc., in Omaha, Neb. "Theres always a trade-off in terms of functionality, but [the government] has talked a lot about leading by example. Heres their chance."

Besides, Rasch said, the DHS really didnt have many other options for this purchase.

"Were they going to go out and buy Linux? I dont think so," Rasch said.