Microsoft dramatically improves security

Microsoft dramatically improves security . . . . . . on its sprawling campus headquarters by no longer distributing maps to visitors "for security reasons," according to a harried PR person telling lost and bewildered journalists how to navigate the large network of seemingly randomly numbered buildings.

But security for the massive installed base of aging Microsoft products elsewhere in the world remains at risk, worries Jonathan Perera, senior director in Microsoft's security business unit. He shakes his head sorrowfully as he observes that "45 percent to 48 percent of Windows servers in the world are running Windows NT 4.0," which he points out was released in 1996 and designed in 1993-94, giving the advantage to nefarious hackers who "have had 10 years to learn new attack techniques." But the good guys will be getting an extra tool later this quarter, when Microsoft releases its Security Configuration Wizard, which the vendor claims will let sysadmins set security policies on a server once and quickly replicate them across other machines on their networks. Even better is the price: $0.

The folks at SecurityProfiling Inc. in Lafayette, Ind., will be shipping a similar tool in September. The Policy Compliance and Enforcement add-on module to the company's SysUpdate software is designed to give admins central control over security settings on computers across their networks. What's more, it will let your IT staffers remotely shut off features being used by crackers during an attack on your network. That way, claims CTO Brett Oliphant, you can keep most of your systems running and have time to test patches before rolling them into your production environment.

Think your network is being probed by digital bandits seeking to shut you down? Well, maybe the intruders are from the Recording Industry Association of America, who are on an inspired mission to root out every major source of free recordings on peer-to-peer networks. According to Peter Coppola, vice president of marketing at Akonix Systems Inc. in San Diego, the RIAA uses legal probes to track the source IP addresses for distributors of illegal P2P-based tunes. Think your network is clean? Just in case, you can run Akonix's Rogue Aware software (www.akonix.com/products/rogueaware.asp), a free tool now in its 1.5 release that sniffs out unsanctioned P2P and instant messaging traffic. And this fall, Akonix will upgrade its L7 Enterprise IM application for corporate users. The new version will include enhancements for content-filtering and offer improved integration with Active Directory and other LDAP repositories.

Government security initiatives have spurred a partnership between Open Harbor Inc. in San Carlos, Calif., and GT Nexus Inc. in nearby Alameda that will be announced this week. The deal's main attraction is that the two vendors have integrated their respective applications so that companies can manage their extended supply chains, which is GT Nexus' area of expertise, and present customs officials with documents proving that the goods arriving at U.S. ports of entry comply with all the new security provisions, which is Open Harbor's domain. Beth Petersen, a vice president at Open Harbor, says the 24-hour rule (www.customs.ustreas.gov/xp/cgov/import/carriers/24hour_rule/), which requires importers to file correct documentation about goods bound for the U.S. at least a day before they're loaded onto ships, can have a devastating effect on a company's supply chain if the paperwork isn't properly prepared. U.S. Customs has already stopped shipment on hundreds of containers with botched filings. The integrated hosted software will have a single messaging system for notifying supply chain managers of the progress of shipments or any disruptions. Says Greg Johnsen, vice president of marketing at GT Nexus, if shippers fail to police themselves, "the government may step in even more and may make it so restrictive that importers may see higher costs from controls and delays."

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