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Security, or Lack Thereof

By John Virata
Dec. 31, 2001

As we say goodbye to the year that changed everything, it is time to reflect back on what has been and what should be. The terror attacks of Sept. 11 have changed everything in the way we work, the way we travel, and essentially the way we enjoy our lives.


Traveling back to California from a long hiatus in Hawaii, I encountered not more than four security checkpoints at the airport, (the last time I had witnessed armed military men at any airport was in 1985 when I was traveling in the Philippines) checking everything from notebook computers, to cell phones to cameras, a lot of things were scrutinized. And a lot of things were not. Potential gaping holes abounded, and random security checks of passengers (including my family, hardly the terrorist profile), just isn't going to cut it. It appears that security at the nation's airports is going to have to be extended and enhanced to minimize any potential disasters that evil doers would want to wreak on the United States. Which brings me to the security, or lack thereof, of Microsoft's XP operating system.

If any company can dodge bullets, it is Microsoft. The company, for the most part, has successfully dodged the hawks (that have turned to Doves with Bush2) at the Department of Justice and has appeared to come away virtually unscathed in what many had deemed the biggest antitrust case since Standard Oil. Though the case is far from settled, with nine states agreeing to disagree with the DOJ and nine other states on remedies for Microsoft's anticompetitive behavior, we can expect extended delays.

Not only is Microsoft intact as a company, having dodged the DOJ's filet knife (which morphed into an ice cream scoop), it gets to ship Windows XP, its "latest and greatest" with a known security risk not only to business users, but to consumers as well. All you have to do is log onto the Internet and any potential hack can take control of your computer. A patch (or bug fix, or Service Pak or whatever you want to call it) is not good enough in this case. If this were the car business, or the baby seat business, or any other business, a recall would have been ordered. Heck a recall should be ordered. There are millions of PCs running the Windows XPerience that have this security feature. Why did it take a security firm to find this feature after the software shipped?

With all the resources available to One Microsoft Way, it is unconscionable that a major security flaw that can wipe the contents of your hard drive (or install images of a prurient nature, or basically take control of your PC) by merely going online, was allowed to pass through Microsoft's bug patrol. As I said before in a previous column, as part of a remedy to Microsoft breaking the law, the DOJ should order the company that produces "great software" to go through the zillions of lines of code to not only get rid of the wasted bytes, but to ensure that the computing public in all sectors of society that use the Windows OS (in any flavor) are assured a compelling, secure, and crash-free XPerience. The company has the resources to mitigate virtually any non performing assets in the code, it should use those resources rather than ship out operating systems with security flaws. I can just imagine what the executives at Microsoft said:

Microsoft minion "Uh, your Eminence, XP has a major security flaw, we can't ship yet. Eminence: Ship it now. Our stock price is not performing. We'll just issue a patch once someone finds out about it, but keep mum on this.

Just imagine if the Office of Homeland Security is running Windows XP, and some unknowing agent logs onto the Internet via a critical terminal and BAM, all the lists of suspected evil doers is gone. Poorly written code could open the door to cyber attacks on America's national security interests.

The year 2002 stands to fare better than 2001.The country stands poised to rebound from the recession of 2001 that was exacerbated by the evil attacks of Sept. 11. The last thing that we need to worry about is an operating system that lacks security features.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:operating system, antitrust

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