Microsoft on Its Security Response
</i>MCP Magazine<i> asked Stephen Toulouse, security program manager, Microsoft Security Response Center, about the flaw and resulting controversy about the time delay.
Microsoft has been hit hard by the revelation of possibly the biggest
security flaw ever found in its products. A number of security experts,
including Marc Maiffret of eEye security, whose company discovered the
vulnerability, have scolded Redmond for waiting so long to reveal the
flaw and release a patch.
MCP Magazine asked Stephen Toulouse,
security program manager, Microsoft Security Response Center, about the
flaw and resulting controversy about the time delay.
Is the discovery of the ASN.1 flaw a big setback for Microsoft, considering
its Trustworthy Computing efforts over the last two years?
Stephen Toulouse: The Security Business and Technology
Unit is working across Microsoft to help improve software security by
making it more secure by design, by default and in deployment, but we
never expected to perfect security overnight. The results of Microsoft's
commitment are clearly evident in the newest versions of Microsoft's flagship
Windows, Office and Exchange products and these products are yielding
fewer vulnerabilities than previous versions.
A Microsoft spokesperson was quoted in a news story as saying, "Security
response requires a delicate balance of speed and quality." But,
according to Marc Maiffret of eEye Digital Security, the vulnerability
was reported to Microsoft more than six months ago. A) Is Maiffret's estimate
of when the vulnerability was reported accurate? B) Has it ever taken
Microsoft this long to come out with a patch for a vulnerability? C) What
special circumstances required such a long wait?
A) Yes. eEye reported this vulnerability to Microsoft in late July of
B) Each vulnerability is different, and therefore the time to produce
an update is likewise, different. When a vulnerability is reported to
Microsoft, we investigate the breadth of the technology affected and its
impact on customers. We then begin an engineering phase that aims to achieve
a comprehensive and quality fix. For a technology as integral to Windows
as ASN.1, we felt it was important to take as much time as necessary to
ensure we produced a quality fix to protect customers.
C) This investigation required us to evaluate several aspects and instances
of this functionality in order for our engineers to create a comprehensive
and high quality fix. This was an instance in which due diligence required
us to very carefully evaluate the broadest possible implications of a
single anomaly reported to us. The investigation, in combination with
testing to ensure the fix was quality, resulted in the overall length
of time spent on this update. We appreciate that eEye worked with us responsibly
during this entire process so that customers could be protected.
Can we assume that this flaw will be fixed in Windows XP Service Pack
Yes, this update will be included with Windows XP Service Pack 2.
If Windows Server 2003 was built "from the ground up" with
security in mind, how did this flaw get in the code and evade the $200
million code review of several years ago?
We never expected to perfect security overnight. Windows Server 2003
has already demonstrated that the code review made significant improvements
to security, as evidenced by the reduced number of bulletins issued compared
to Windows 2000. Windows Server 2003 is more secure by default, includes
innovative security features such as IE hardening, and continues to yield
fewer vulnerabilities than previous operating systems.
How do you answer people who say "Microsoft talks a good game
about security, but these sorts of things keep popping up constantly.
I don't trust them."
Security is not a quick fix solution—we realize that improving
security requires a fundamental shift in the way we develop code and build
products. This is a long-term initiative and change does not happen overnight.
In fact, industry analysts have cited Microsoft's commitment to a long-term
strategy as evidence of our sincerity. We have every confidence that our
efforts will result in more secure code. This is just the beginning. You
should continue to watch for changes over time.
Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.