Microsoft Takes Security Defense

Microsoft's newfound security zeal is shaping up to become one of the company's main weapons in its ongoing antitrust battle.

Microsoft Corp.s newfound security zeal is shaping up to become one of the companys main weapons in its ongoing antitrust battle.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker launched its Trustworthy Computing initiative in January, claiming security would trump all other development concerns—including functionality and backward compatibility—going forward.

The move came just as nine states and the District of Columbia began gathering evidence from industry rivals seeking interoperability as part of expanded remedies to thwart the companys monopolistic ways.

While outside the Washington, D.C., District Court Microsoft is pressing ahead with security efforts, inside the courtroom the company is pitting security against so-called code sharing. In cross-examining states witnesses, Microsoft has set up a zero-sum game in which more interoperability will mean less security.

Microsoft is banking on security concerns winning out, but the duality suggests that the company would have cause to rein in its Trustworthy Computing initiative if the interoperability argument does not sway the court, according to insiders.

Users, even some who applauded the Trustworthy Computing initiative, said that using security concerns as a loophole to skirt code-sharing requirements could mean less interoperability among Windows, .Net, and third-party applications and platforms, resulting in major headaches for developers trying to tie disparate systems together.

"They are afraid that if someone sees the code, it will allow people entrance into the fortress," said Eric Stromberg, a senior electrical engineer at Dow Chemical Co., in Midland, Mich. "In so saying, they have revealed that the walls around the fortress have holes big enough for people to crawl through. Microsoft not wanting to show their code is a smoke screen. They will come up with whatever excuse they can not to do it."

Indeed, observers say that until Microsoft stops pitting interoperability against security and finds a way to reconcile both needs, little will change.

"Security goes against the very thing that theyre designing for, which is openness [to other applications]," said Steve Raber, president and chief operating officer of CipherTrust Inc., an e-mail security company in Alpharetta, Ga., and a Microsoft partner. "Its like trying to make sure a net doesnt leak. But opening their code isnt going to hurt them."

"We are moving ahead with Trustworthy Computing; its a company imperative, and we want to be very upfront about how much of a priority this is for us as a company," said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler.

Microsoft linked security to the issue of interoperability via interface disclosures in the settlement it inked with the Department of Justice in November. The deal requires certain API disclosures, but it allows Microsoft to refuse those disclosures given a sufficiently important security concern, which Microsoft alone would determine. The so-called security carve-out was among the issues that led dissenting states to reject the deal and pursue tougher remedies.

On the witness stand late last month, Red Hat Inc. Chief Technology Officer Michael Tiemann said the DOJ settlement will leave Microsoft many ways to avoid the disclosures necessary to permit Linux to attempt interoperability. "[Microsoft] could argue that due to some nondisclosable security reason, they will not disclose key interfaces," Tiemann said. "And under that security [carve-out], there would be no further recourse."

In addition to the API disclosure proposals, Microsoft remains concerned about security risks in a proposed requirement for a modular version of Windows, said Microsofts Desler.

"The challenge becomes exponentially greater, given the support needs and testing requirements for the thousands of different versions of Windows that would be required if the states remedies pass," he said.

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