Microsoft Secures Vista With LSD

Polish security researchers placed on payroll to perform 'simulated hacks'.

Remember the last stage of Delirium hacking group?

In 2003, the group of four Polish security researchers discovered the vulnerability that would later be used by others to unleash the Blaster worm, but because of distrust over Microsofts willingness to address software flaws at the time, members had to be coaxed into sharing their findings.

The group, known as LSD, is now on Microsofts payroll working on what is being hailed as the "largest ever penetration test" of an operating system coming out of Redmond, Wash.

According to John Lambert, senior group manager in Microsofts SWI (Secure Windows Initiative), LSD members are part of an "internal team of hackers" conducting simulated attacks against Windows Vista.

The groups members are all computer science graduates of Poznan University of Technology and have worked as the security team at the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center, in Poznan, Poland.

The hiring of third-party security research outfits and independent hackers is significant on several fronts. It underscores Microsofts public push to embrace the hacking community and helps repair the companys poor image and track record on security.

The list of external security consultants hired to audit the Vista code to look for weaknesses, technical flaws and vulnerabilities reads like a whos who in the research community. Lambert said about 20 well-known researchers who regularly appear at Microsofts annual Blue Hat conference have been given access to the full source code, specs and threat models for review.

"Were not blocking them from looking anywhere. They have access to everything. [They can] go everywhere and find all the bugs [they] absolutely can," said Lambert.

The pen testers had full access to product team members and security engineers in Redmond and spent between one week and two months hacking and trying to break potential targets within Vista.

Lambert said the tests were diagnostic in nature and included remediation where necessary.

At the Black Hat Briefings here, Lambert shared a sampling of the pen test results, which he said yielded "rabbit holes" and a wide range of contradictions in security assumptions.

The code review also turned up what Lambert called "failure of imagination," process handicaps, and several comical and unwise file names.

Austin Wilson, director of Windows product management, said the company also retained 10 outside consultancies to help with the implementation of the SDL (Security Development Lifecyle), Microsofts mandatory cradle-to-grave principles that cover every stage of software creation.

Microsoft has also retained research companies including Matasano Security, a New York-based startup staffed by several high-profile security experts, and NGSSoftware, or Next Generation Security Software, in Surrey, England, a database security outfit renowned for its work uncovering flaws in Oracle products, to test Vista security.