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Microsoft fortifies Web services security

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Highlighting efforts to comply with its pledge to improve security, Microsoft at the RSA Conference 2002 this week unveiled sample code for an XML filter to fortify Web services environments.

Designed as a plug-in for Microsoft's enterprise firewall, Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, the software is designed to protect Web services transactions from potential XML-based outside attacks and drop inadequate or suspicious message requests, said Zachary Gutt, technical product manager of ISA Server for Microsoft.

"The key for [Web services security] is that anytime the message is requested, the bad traffic never makes it into your network," said Gutt.

Built through Visual Studio.Net and extending the application-layer filtering capability of ISA Server, Gutt said the XML filter will help customers establish a trusted framework to authenticate users, route and authorize Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) messages, and verify the integrity of XML data transmissions.

Security analyst Chris Christiansen, program director of Internet security at IDC, suggests that escalating levels of XML traffic will open the door for hybrid attacks that could disrupt or overpower Web services, by methods such as buffer overflow or denial-of-service bombardments.

During the RSA Conference, Microsoft has made pains to express its sincere "trustworthy computing" effort to clean up its security act, which has taken a public image thrashing over the past year. A huge part of that push, said Gutt, involves getting raw code into the hands of developers to tinker with sooner rather than later.

"It's going to be a huge culture switch at Microsoft," Gutt remarked.

During his keynote address on Wednesday, Craig Mundie, vice president and CTO for strategic programs at Microsoft, said that the software giant would make immediately available specifications to its Kerberos implementation to allow developers to build interoperable software.

Microsoft has said it will add support for Kerberos in its Passport .Net authentication mechanism to extend application interoperability. Kerberos, a network-authentication protocol using strong secret-key cryptography, is already embedded in a variety of Microsoft products and operating systems.

Mundie said Microsoft will grant a royalty-free license to the Group Membership Privilege Access Certificate (PAC) specifications. This will allow developers to interpret and use Kerberos authorization data. The license and download should appear on Microsoft's Web site in the near future, he added.

The sample XML filter employs a simple algorithm to decide whether an XML request is valid, if the user is allowed to access the Web service behind the firewall, and if the structure and content of the XML document are valid.

The free filter is available for download at Microsoft's ISA Server Web site.

InfoWorldFor more enterprise computing news, visit Infoworld.com Copyright © 2002 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc.

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