Microsoft, Inc. is an excellent example of the negative impact
and vulnerability of monopoly capitalist developed technology
where profit is prime and all else is rendered- at best- secondary.
Microsoft Windows: Insecure by Design
By Rob Pegoraro
The Washington Post
Sunday, August 24, 2003; Page F07
Between the Blaster worm and the Sobig virus, it's been a long
two weeks for Windows users. But nobody with a Mac or a Linux
PC has had to lose a moment of sleep over these outbreaks --
just like in earlier "malware" epidemics.
This is not a coincidence.
The usual theory has been that Windows gets all the attacks because
almost everybody uses it. But millions of people do use Mac OS
X and Linux, a sufficiently big market for plenty of legitimate
software developers -- so why do the authors of viruses and worms
rarely take aim at either system?
Even if that changed, Windows would still be an easier target.
In its default setup, Windows XP on the Internet amounts to a
car parked in a bad part of town, with the doors unlocked, the
key in the ignition and a Post-It note on the dashboard saying,
"Please don't steal this."
Not opening strange e-mail attachments helps to keep Windows
secure (not to mention it's plain common sense), but it isn't
The vulnerabilities built in: Security starts with closing doors
that don't need to be open. On a PC, these doors are called "ports"
-- channels to the Internet reserved for specific tasks, such
as publishing a Web page.
These ports are what network worms like Blaster crawl in through,
exploiting bugs in an operating system to implant themselves.
(Viruses can't move on their own and need other mechanisms, such
as e-mail or floppy disks, to spread.) It's canonical among security
experts that unneeded ports should be closed.
Windows XP Home Edition, however, ships with five ports open,
behind which run "services" that serve no purpose except on a
"Messenger Service," for instance, is designed to listen for
alerts sent out by a network's owner, but on a home computer
all it does is receive ads broadcast by spammers. The "Remote
Procedure Call" feature exploited by Blaster is, to quote a Microsoft
advisory, "not intended to be used in hostile environments such
as the Internet."
Jeff Jones, Microsoft's senior director for "trustworthy computing,"
said the company was heeding user requests when XP was designed:
"What customers were demanding was network compatibility, application
But they weren't asking for easily cracked PCs either. Now, Jones
said, Microsoft believes it's better to leave ports shut until
users open the ones they need. But any change to this dangerous
default configuration will only come in some future update.
In comparison, Mac OS X ships with zero ports open to the Internet.
The firewall that's down: A firewall provides further defense
against worms, rejecting dangerous Internet traffic.
Windows XP includes basic firewall software (it doesn't monitor
outgoing connections), but it's inactive unless you use its "wizard"
software to set up a broadband connection. Turning it on is a
five-step task in Microsoft's directions (www.microsoft.com/protect)
that must be repeated for every Internet connection on a PC.
Mac OS X's firewall isn't enabled by default either, but it's
much simpler to enable. Red Hat Linux is better yet: Its firewall
is on from the start.
The patches that aren't downloaded: Windows is better than most
operating systems at easing the drudgery of staying on top of
patches and bug fixes, since it can automatically download them.
A PC kept current with Microsoft's security updates would have
survived this week unscathed.
But hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Windows systems
still got Blasted, even though the patch to stop this worm was
released weeks ago.
Part of this is users' fault. "Critical updates" are called that
for a reason, and it's foolish to ignore them. (The same goes
for not installing and updating anti-virus software.)
The chance of a patch wrecking Windows is dwarfed by the odds
that an unpatched PC will get hit. And for those saying they
don't trust Microsoft to fix their systems, I have one question:
If you don't trust this company, why did you give it your money?
Microsoft, however, must share blame, too. Windows XP's pop-up
invitations to use Windows Update must compete for attention
with all of XP's other, less important nags -- get a Passport
account, take a tour of XP, hide unused desktop icons, blah,
Microsoft's critical updates also are absent from retail copies
of Windows XP, forcing buyers into lengthy Windows Update sessions
to get the fixes since last year's Service Pack 1 upgrade. At
least the version of XP provided to PC manufacturers is refreshed
once a quarter or so -- and Microsoft says it's working to shorten
The lack of any limit to damage: Windows XP, by default, provides
unrestricted, "administrator" access to a computer. This sounds
like a good thing but is not, because any program, worms and
viruses included, also has unrestricted access.
Yet administrator mode is the only realistic choice: XP Home's
"limited account," the only other option, doesn't even let you
adjust a PC's clock.
Mac OS X and Linux get this right: Users get broad rights, but
critical system tasks require entering a password. If, for instance,
a virus wants to install a "backdoor" for further intrusions,
you'll have to authorize it. This fail-safe isn't immune to user
gullibility and still allows the total loss or theft of your
data, but it beats Windows' anything-goes approach.
Because Microsoft blew off security concerns for so long, millions
of PCs remain unpatched, ready for the next Windows-transmitted
disease. Microsoft needs to do more than order up another round
of "Protect Your PC" ads.
Here's a modest proposal: Microsoft should use some of its $49
billion hoard to mail an update CD to anybody who wants one.
At $3 a pop (a liberal estimate), it could ship a disc to every
human being on Earth -- and still have $30 billion in the bank.
Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at
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