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Security begins at home

Apr 26, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoftSecurity

* Why you should improve security yourself rather than ask Microsoft to do it

Network World Senior Editor John Fontana reported last week (link below) that attendees at a city on Microsoft’s Security Summit road show indicated they wanted the company to make new security tools – such as the Internet Connection Firewall (link below) – run with older versions of its operating systems.

Evidently, IT managers realize that Windows 98 and other “vintage” systems are a lot less secure than current versions (XP Professional, for example). They also want the new Windows Update Service (WUS) – destined to only work with Windows XP Professional, Win 2000, Windows Server 2003, Office XP, Office 2003, SQL Server 2000, MSDE 2000, and Exchange 2003 – to be made compatible with all of the older versions they have installed.

Maybe you feel this way, too.

After all, budgets aren’t what they were in the go-go days of the late 1990s and upgrades seem to be hard to justify (“if it still works, don’t replace it”). But instead of berating Microsoft and asking the company to make its software less secure (more about that in a moment), users should be beating on their own beancounters to open up the corporate coffers and shell out the dough needed to make their computer networks efficient, effective and secure. How much is it worth to protect the corporate data?

As I’ve said many times (see for one instance), many of the potential security problems with Windows operating systems are caused by backward compatibility with older desktop, server and network operating systems and applications.

Windows 98, out of the box, was about as secure as a house with no doors in the doorways and no glass in the windows. Getting these new, secure applications to run on Win98 would require keeping some of those doors and windows open. You can’t simply take Windows XP security and bolt it on to Win98. However, you could make massive changes to the Win98 core operating system (rather than modify the new applications). In other words, the only way new security and update applications, intended for Windows XP, will work on Windows 98 is if you change the Win98 operating system so that it’s the same as XP. In other words – you need to upgrade the system.

The users at the Security Summit simply want Microsoft to give them a free upgrade so they can use the new tools. They didn’t say it that way, but that’s the net effect of what they did say. Folks, it just ain’t going to happen. Microsoft isn’t in the business of handing out free operating system upgrades just so that you can download and run free security software. Start working on your next budget right now.