There was an almost uncanny coincidence in the timing of Microsoft’s first patch announcement for Windows Server 2003.
We all knew that it had to come sometime and it managed to coincide with Gartner’s announcement that "2003 will be the first year in history in which most industries will spend 5% of their IT budgets on security”.
Apparently, enterprise security spending will have grown at a compound annual rate of 28% between 2001 and the end of 2003, while cash-strapped IT budgets overall will have grown only 6% in the same period. Security is no longer a hidden cost of business; it is rapidly becoming the principal cost of doing business in the 21st century, after staffing and other IT costs, which between them chew up most of business income.
Microsoft’s little piece of bad news held its own small silver lining because it illustrated how the company’s Trustworthy Computing Initiative is starting to pay off.
"Secure by design, secure by default and secure by deployment" is Microsoft’s slogan and, while Windows Server 2003 has, according to Microsoft vice president Craig Fiebig, a “60% smaller attack surface”, there is still that 40% gap remaining, which will be giving us regular patches for some time to come.
In this case, Microsoft was quick to act in identifying two rather nasty vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, which would have given real cause for concern in Windows Server 2003’s predecessors. However - and because the product is locked down by default, the vulnerabilities, which might, conceivably, allow an attacker to execute malicious code on a user's system, were moderate rather than critical.
Stuart Okin, Microsoft’s chief security officer in the UK, commented that “Windows 2003 by default is not susceptible to the vulnerability in Internet Explorer", and Jose Lopez, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, remarked that the arrival of a first patch for Windows Server 2003 had not come as a great surprise and that Microsoft is clearly handling the vulnerability issue better than it had in the past. He added, “The company needs time to prove itself,” and that the evidence is encouraging.
So while Microsoft is busy patching with style, its customers still need to make sure that the fixes are applied rather than settle back into complacency over Windows Server 2003’s Robocop image.
More importantly perhaps, if, like many companies, you are still on Windows NT or Windows 2000, then you have to give some serious thought to upgrading, and this, of course, is where Gartner’s costs of security start to kick in.
Do you stick with an older platform that offers the chance of critical risk, or move to one where the risks are classified as moderate? This is where the juggling of budgets arrives. In theory, security should be a non-negotiable business argument, but in practice it is, invariably, a poor relation.
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com