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"In the past we have not made it easy for customers to get secure," said Karen Cross, group server marketing manager for Microsoft. "The new Strategic Technology Protection Programme (STPP) will see us making a concerted effort to make it easy for all of customers to get secure and stay secure."
Microsoft will be offering a set of software tools via the Internet or a free CD-ROM, which, once installed, will automatically detect and apply patches to Microsoft applications on Windows NT and 2000 platforms.
However, Microsoft has not clarified whether the programme will cover desktop operating systems and applications such as Windows 9x and Office. In the UK, Microsoft account managers will also work with their customers to help with securing systems.
"I don't think that we are perfect and there is always room for improvement," Cross said. "But as the biggest software vendor we are the prime target for hackers and virus writers, our hot-fix programme will counter the rise of new threats."
Microsoft has pledged to create special hot-fixes that it hopes will be available within hours of a major security problem.
Gunter Ollman, a consultant with Internet Security Systems, praised Microsoft's initiative, but warned customers not to think of it as a panacea, "Most of the fixes and patches are already available," he said. "What STPP will do is reduce the complexity of installation, but you must remember that it won't protect against new vulnerabilities or exploits until they are catalogued and fixed, this is a good first step but it's not the whole answer."