Microsoft announced last Thursday that it is instituting a number of new security initiatives that should help it better survive virus and worm onslaughts similar to the ones created by the Blaster.D worm. According to CEO Steve Ballmer, the new security features on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 would deliver a simplified patch distribution and educational process. The announcement came in New Orleans at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference.
Included with the new security enhancements will be what Microsoft called "safety technologies" that will arrive with service packs for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Once the service packs are installed, the operating systems should better protect the customer's computer even if future service patches are not installed. In particular, better prevention of attacks through buffer overruns--a common vulnerability that's been continuously exploited by hackers--should significantly reduce the impact of worms and viruses, according to Microsoft. Microsoft has upgraded its compilers to better check against such overruns as the operating system is constructed.
Microsoft couldn't commit to how such security enhancements might impact its Outlook and Exchange email products.
As a part of the service packs for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, a more powerful software firewall will be included.
Automatic patch management will move to a monthly cycle, instead of the current weekly cycle that customers have found so cumbersome, Microsoft said. For imminent threats or risks, however, patches will be released for manual implementation as soon as they become available, on a case-by-case basis, depending upon Microsoft's assessment of the danger. In addition, Microsoft will consolidate the number of patch installation software vehicles, bringing the number down from eight installers to two: one for the applications and one for the operating system kernel.
The company also says it will market new seminars and courses to teach customers how to secure their Microsoft products and networks.
The patch services are for Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server systems. Microsoft says it's working with a number of third-party vendors to secure Windows 2000 and earlier operating systems that don't have the Internet Connection Firewall and Automatic Update features for security.
Microsoft says it will begin the Windows XP and 2003 enhancements beginning in 2004.
Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor In Chief of MC Press.