By Joris Evers
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
October 13, 2006
Security rivals' reaction to word that Microsoft will make changes in
Windows Vista to allay competitive concerns: We'll believe it when we
On Friday, Microsoft said it will give security software makers
technology to access the kernel of 64-bit versions of Vista for
security-monitoring purposes. Additionally, the company said it will
make it possible for security companies to disable certain parts of the
Windows Security Center in Vista when a third-party security console is
Microsoft made both changes in response to antitrust concerns from the
European Commission. Led by Symantec, the world's largest antivirus
software maker, security companies had publicly criticized Microsoft
over both Vista features and also talked to European competition
officials about their gripes.
Security companies are taking note of the changes Microsoft said it
would make to the operating system update, but will judge the outcome
when they actually see them.
"We have not seen anything yet," said Cris Paden, a Symantec spokesman.
"These are technical issues. Until we actually see the APIs, all we know
is what they have said in the media. So far they have not done anything
APIs, or application program interfaces, are the actual parts of Vista
that Microsoft on Friday said it would make available so that security
companies can access the Vista kernel and disable parts of Windows
"If it is true, then it would be a step in the right direction for
giving customers the choice to use whatever solutions they would like,"
The technology to suppress Windows Security Center alerts should be
available next week, but APIs related to kernel protection still need to
be developed and may not be ready before Microsoft ships Vista to PC
makers and CD factories, said Adrien Robinson, a director in Microsoft's
Security Technology Unit.
"We do not want vendors... accessing the kernel through unmodified
approaches or modifying the kernel," Robinson said. "We will not allow
them to go on the fly and modify the kernel, basically circumventing
PatchGuard. We need to work with them on the right approaches to work
Points of contention
Kernel protection and Windows Security Center were two of the main
points of contention between Microsoft and its security rivals.
Symantec, McAfee and others had charged that Microsoft was hurting the
competition and creating an unfair advantage for its own products
through these features.
In 64-bit versions of Vista, the kernel protection, or PatchGuard, not
only locked out hackers but also prevented some security software from
running, security companies have said. They had asked for a way to
access the kernel, which Microsoft insisted would hurt the security and
stability of Windows. Microsoft now says it will provide that access,
albeit in a controlled way.
"We have committed to create a new set of APIs that will enable
third-party security products to access the Windows kernel in a secure
manner," Microsoft said in a statement on Friday.
Windows Security Center, a key piece of Windows Vista real estate, tells
people the status of security on their Vista PC, such as whether
antivirus software or a firewall is installed and running. Security
rivals have asked for a way to disable the Windows Security Center in
favor of their own security dashboards.
Microsoft appears to be granting some, but not all, of that wish. "We
are creating a new set of APIs to ensure that Windows Security Center
will not send an alert to a computer user when an alternative competing
security console is installed on the PC and is sending the same alert
instead," Microsoft said in a statement.
Windows Security Center will continue to be running on the system so
that a customer can have a cross-vendor, cross-technology view of the
security on their Vista PC, Robinson said. In other words, third-party
products won't be able to completely hide the Windows Security Center
interface, which is what security companies had asked for.
McAfee and Check Point Software Technologies, maker of ZoneAlarm
security software, welcomed Microsoft's announcement, but, like
Symantec, reserved judgment.
"We are encouraged by Microsoft's recognition that there is a problem.
However, we do not have specific information on the nature of these
changes, or their timing," said Siobhan MacDermott, a McAfee
spokeswoman. "As more information becomes available, we will study it
carefully before forming a view on whether Microsoft's plans provide a
reasonable basis for addressing these issues."
Check Point's response also stressed that the clock is ticking on the
release of Vista.
"We are encouraged to see Microsoft taking the security industry's
concerns seriously," said Laura Yecies, general manager of Check Point's
ZoneAlarm consumer division. "Once we have a chance to see what
capabilities the new kernel-level APIs will extend to us, we'll have a
better idea if they will be adequate. We hope to see those new API's
Timing is of the essence. Security providers, including Symantec and
McAfee, want to have products available that work with Vista the moment
it is released. Vista, the long-awaited successor to Windows XP, is
slated to be available to large business users next month and the
general public in January.
"If the APIs exist, then Microsoft should make them available to the
security industry immediately," Symantec's Paden said. "We will have
Vista compatible solutions when the operating system is finally
available for consumers. Last we heard, that was going to be January;
therefore, we need these APIs yesterday."
Copyright 1995-2006 CNET Networks, Inc. All rights reserved.
Visit the InfoSec News store!