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Microsoft, Ballmer say Windows is safer than you think

October 6, 2005

By Georgina Prodhan

MUNICH (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp. launched a trust-building initiative on Thursday designed to show its commitment and progress to date in making its frequently attacked Windows computer operating system more secure from hackers.

Microsoft, which is moving increasingly into the territory of specialist security software companies such as McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp., said it planned a string of product launches designed to combat cybercrime.

The world’s biggest software company said it planned to release a preliminary, or beta, version by the end of this year of new software to protect corporate computers running Windows against viruses, worms and other attacks.

“It’s a unified product. You don’t have to pick whose anti-virus solution you think is the best,” Chief Executive Steve Ballmer told a news conference in Munich. “The threats we see do need more than secure software.”

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, which already offers security software for networked server computers and desktops, said the new software, called Client Protection, would be aimed at large companies.

It will offer tools for system administrators to keep users’ computers from being infected by viruses and other malicious software and would be integrated with Microsoft’s technology used to track user accounts and logons.

But Mike Nash, Microsoft’s vice president for security technology, said the new software would not eliminate the need for other security products.

“Does it mean that we’re going to solve all problems immediately? No,” he told Reuters in an interview. “There are customers that will choose to use competitors’ products.”

Microsoft currently offers server-based security software to protect corporate networks from hackers and is testing an anti-virus and security software service called Windows OneCare.

The company also said it had set up an alliance of 30 firms including Symantec and VeriSign to work on security products for the Microsoft platform, uniting and expanding on previous partnerships.

CULTURE SHIFT

Microsoft has battled for years against the perception that its software is not secure. It also presented data on Thursday which it said showed Microsoft was safer than rival open-source operating system Linux.

“This is an area we’ll continue to invest in the long term,” Nash said.

He added he had seen a culture change since Chairman Bill Gates said three years ago security would be a top priority.

“I used to be begging people to pay attention to security. Now they get it. Security is part of everyone’s job.”

He said the Blaster worm outbreak of 2003, which targeted Microsoft software and devastated hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, was also a spur to action.

“When Blaster happened, I spent a lot of time on the phone. It was very focusing for the company,” he said.

In the last year, Microsoft has also bought a series of companies including anti-virus software maker Sybari to shore up security in its Windows and e-mail software.

Asked whether more acquisitions were in the works, Nash said: “There’s nothing specific in a plan.”

But he said Microsoft asks the question: “Are there great things out there that are important to our portfolio?”

Nash also said he was seeing cybercrime increasingly motivated by financial gain rather than by pure vandalism as hackers use more and more sophisticated tools to trick users into revealing personal information or simply to steal data.

“Look at the guy who wrote the Sasser worm. He did it to see if he could,” Nash said. “It’s different now.”

(Additional reporting by Reed Stevenson in Seattle)




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