Security Bugs Microsoft

Vulnerability in company's first stand-alone security product tarnishes its claims for improvements.

It seems Microsoft Corp. cant shake its problems with security. Having formally announced earlier this month that it had rededicated itself to building security into its products, Microsoft last week was dealt an embarrassing blow when a vulnerability was discovered in its first stand-alone security product.

Although the Redmond, Wash., company quickly issued a patch for the DoS (denial-of-service) bug in the Internet Security and Acceleration Server, the fact remains that many CIOs and IT managers are fed up with regression errors in Microsoft patches—so much so that theyve stopped installing them altogether, preferring to take their chances with a vulnerable system, according to Steve Gibson, of Gibson Research Corp., in Laguna Hills, Calif.

Microsofts problems highlight the larger issue of mainstream vendors getting into the security business: While there is plenty of demand for security products, and therefore a lot of money to be made, creating the products is no simple task.

"All of these vendors are waking up to the fact that theres money to be made in security, but it seems like a real mistake for a company that isnt committed to security to get into this," said Gibson, who recently surveyed a group of Fortune 100 CIOs, many of whom said they had quit installing Microsoft patches due to continued security problems with them.

Microsofts ISA Server problem is not a good start for a company that was hoping to muscle its way into security. The ISA Server, launched in February, was touted as an enterprise-class firewall and proxy server and the security foundation of the companys .Net platform.

Last week, however, a Canadian security company announced that the ISA Server is vulnerable to a remote DoS attack under certain conditions. Although the attack does not allow the intruder access to the network, it does shut down the Web Proxy service, denying access to legitimate users.

Specifically, if an attacker sends a series of long Web commands to the Web Proxy service on the ISA Server, the service will fail and disrupt all incoming and outgoing traffic to the server.

In order for an attacker to exploit the vulnerability remotely, the Web Publishing service would have to be enabled.

To be sure, Microsoft is far from the only mainstream vendor to encounter problems when it ventures into the security market. Cisco Systems Inc.s PIX firewalls have suffered from a string of problems; the most recent was a DoS vulnerability in the 515 and 520 models, discovered this month.

Despite the problems these vendors have faced, some security professionals said they believe its still ultimately the customers responsibility to ensure the security of their networks.

"If theres a security patch, and youre not testing it and putting it into production, then you deserve to have your system compromised," said a security administrator, who asked to remain anonymous. "As we get into software with millions of lines of code, there will be many more risks. Its our job as security professionals to keep up with those risks and keep our proprietary information just that—proprietary."