Microsoft security: Threat or menace?

A couple of weeks ago, Network World Fusion reported that Microsoft Corp. will release an add-on security package for Windows Server 2003 that will implement rights management policies for corporate documents.

"Companies will be able to restrict content copying, forwarding and printing in applications such as portal, e-mail and word-processing software," the story says. It's touted (by Microsoft) as a boon to companies that wish to protect their confidential documents, but it's seen as a chilling deterrent to muckrakers who use a corporation's secret documents to reveal criminal activity. The reality, though, is that it's just another Microsoft boondoggle to try to monopolize the computing industry.

The protections will be handled by a new technology called Windows Rights Management (WRM), based on the not-yet-implemented Extensible Rights Markup Language (XrML). So far, only Microsoft, Adobe and a few of their closest partners support XrML.

You'll also have to purchase new versions of the Microsoft document producing applications (the Office applications, for sure, but most likely all Microsoft applications will be required to support WRM) because the technology is not retroactive.

Of course, you also will have to run Microsoft operating systems exclusively because WRM is part of the server operating system.

The documents themselves won't be able to control their own distribution without extensive changes to the macro language they use, which would open them up to even more egregious virus threats than they already are targeted with.

So in order to get this sense of security (a false one, I might add, but we'll get to that in a moment), you need to run Microsoft operating systems, Microsoft services and applications and no others. Because, you see, defeating the secrecy is child's play. The most obvious way is through photography - if I can see the document on screen, I can take a picture of it. Worse (or better, depending on your point of view), I can copy and paste it. Oh, maybe not with a Microsoft operating system, but its really not that difficult to run up Linux on a machine and use a remote-control service to send Windows screens to my Linux monitor, where a couple of mouse clicks put the details of the document into a perfectly portable file.

Is securing your business documents worth the price of a 100 percent Microsoft monopoly on computing? I don't think so, and I hope you don't either.

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