Microsoft security exec promises a safer Vista

Microsoft's business customers in Europe will get plenty of assistance to migrate from their current versions of Windows to Windows Vista when that operating system ships in the second half of 2006, according to Detlef Eckert, chief security advisor for Microsoft in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Plenty of material to guide users will be published and distributed to Microsoft's European partners ahead of the release, and migration "wizards" will be bundled with Vista, he said.

Vista will be significantly more secure than current versions of Windows, according to Eckert, because potential security loopholes, such as easy access to administrator-level authorization, will be disabled by default.

IDG News Service spoke to Eckert recently at a Microsoft security seminar in the Latvian capital of Riga. Following is an edited transcript:

What are the major security concerns that Microsoft products have encountered in Europe, and Eastern Europe in particular?

Security problems are global. There are hardly any regional security problems. The internet is global and has no borders. Moreover, it is not Microsoft as such that has security problems, what you see is increasingly different ways of attacking information systems that run on different operating systems and in different circumstances.

One hears, however, that Eastern Europe is home to a large number of malicious botnets, many of which are based on Windows machines. What can we do about this?

It is difficult to say where these botnets or zombies are located. Clearly, it is where systems are old, where software is old and where security awareness is lacking. The solution is to look for security technologies and to deployment. We always say that customers need to update, that they need antivirus software and they need to have a firewall. In the regions that are said to be weak, one should have information security days sponsored by governments and industry together.

So the problem is in the mind of the user?

It is, of course, user awareness and user behavior. But we as an industry have to make it easier for the user. With Windows Update, we have significantly improved the possibility for users to stay up to date and safe. Another example is that in Service Pack 2, the Windows Firewall is on by default. In earlier versions it was four clicks away, it was too difficult for users to find. We can't blame the user, we have to make it easier for the user to stay safe.

That has been a past criticism of some Microsoft products, that everything was open by default to make it easier to use...

That has now much changed for a couple of years.

Looking ahead to Windows Vista, what will be the significant differences with security from present Windows products?

The Vista platform will have a new security architecture and features to help users stay safe. What you will see in the architecture is that Windows services will be isolated from each other. You will also see that the user will run in user mode, not in administrator mode as it is today. It will be possible for users to be an administrator temporarily to upgrade or install software, but they will revert to user.

Windows Firewall will have outbound protection, and you will see Windows Defender as part of the platform. It is antispyware.

Outbound protection -- that means that if there's something malicious on a computer, the firewall will prevent it from spreading to others?

Yes, that is correct.

Where, in Europe, can enterprise and small business users turn for advice on these new security features as the release date for Vista approaches?

We will certainly have a lot of guidance and material, there will be migration tools and guidance and wizards that will come with the software. The whole Microsoft partner ecosystem will be trained and ready to help with any migration projects.

Any migration timeline?

Not yet. But Vista will be arriving in the second half of this year. There are already early adopters migrating to Vista in beta, and you will be able to buy and migrate to Vista this year, but I can't tell you just when.

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