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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

GOOD news: Microsoft joins the antivirus industry

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Wednesday, 23 June 2004 Rob Rosenberger I WANT TO begin today's column with {ahem} an interesting story.
Hear me out! If Micro­soft sells anti­virus pro­ducts, the com­puting world will literally turn into a much safer place. How could we not want this to happen?
In our current weekly newsletter, I talked about my unabashed love of Microsoft. "But it's time for me to put the bash in unabashed," I quipped. I then used the term "simple ignorance" to describe Redmond's exclusion of critics from their technical discussions with the antivirus industry at large. I soon received an email from one of our newsletter subscribers. The email says her first name is "Ewe" and her last name rhymes with "Clucker." Ewe berated me for insulting our readers' intelligence. She thinks "bash" means something far more heinous than just saying "simple ignorance." She's right, you know. I didn't really bash Microsoft. Memo to Ewe: I'll try harder the next time, I promise. But not right now. So let's talk about Bill Gates' desire to become a virus expert. By now you know Microsoft purchased an antivirus firm. The savvy insider has also heard rumors that Microsoft might purchase Network Associates, but this rumor has since been squashed. (Heh heh. "Bill Gates' desire to become a virus expert." You watch — the media will begin quoting Microsoft's top brass as virus experts. All because Redmond threw a bunch of money at it. Memo to all Microsoft employees: read this so you don't end up looking like this.) A Dow Jones newswire from last year noted the fact antivirus stocks deflated when Microsoft purchased an antivirus firm. Sources at multiple antivirus vendors confirmed their bosses ordered everyone to clam up about the deal; no one wanted to jostle the juggernaut. Nearly all of the boring media comments last year came from presidents & CEOs like Steve Chang (Trend Micro) and Gene Hodges (Network Associates). The top brass at every antivirus firm waited for Microsoft to make their next move. A full year later, the industry still wonders how Microsoft will proceed. Bah. Let them wait. We don't need to know the details of Microsoft's plan; we just need to know the overall plan itself. Microsoft plans to get into the antivirus business — and this plan makes good sense overall. No no, hear me out! I'll explain.
THE FOLKS IN Redmond have long envied the antivirus industry for its ability to (1) issue hundreds of security updates per year, per product, without complaint from either the users or the media; and (2) include fixes for critical security holes in their products without telling the users about it.
Don't under­estimate the role Micro­soft can play here. Tech­no­logy has stag­nated for years under the anti­virus car­tel's reign. Micro­soft's entry into "their" turf could force com­panies to sell much better tech­no­logy, strictly as a com­pe­ti­tive move.
Here's the question. If you'll let antivirus firms patch security flaws in their products without your knowledge — and you do let them! — then why won't you let Microsoft do the same thing? "Because they're not in the security business, Rob." Aha! You just admitted to a double standard. Well, guess what? Microsoft now has an antivirus division. They bought their way into the security business. Someday, Windows will pop up a screen saying "click here to automatically retrieve the latest antivirus updates as soon as they become available." Users have been conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to click that button ... and Microsoft can quietly patch the security holes without its customers' knowledge. Just like the antivirus industry does. The computing world will literally turn into a much safer place. Seriously, folks: how could we not want this to happen? Hmmm, your jaw hit the floor when I said "Microsoft can quietly patch the security holes without its customers' knowledge." Why does this surprise you? It's a generally accepted practice in the antivirus industry, you know. Vendors routinely sneak all sorts of critical security fixes into those "antivirus updates" without your knowledge. They've done it for years. Users only get mad when a non-security company tries to sneak a security update into their computers. These users impose a double standard on Microsoft. Well, guess what? Microsoft now has an antivirus division. They bought their way into the security business. Someday, Windows will pop up a-- oh, waitaminit, I already said that. Face it, folks. Microsoft found a way around your double standard. Customers overwhelmingly feel they have no right to know about critical security holes in antivirus software. Microsoft now owns an antivirus firm, hence you no longer have the right to know about critical security holes in Microsoft products.
WHEN MICROSOFT FINALLY implements the Addictive Update Model, it will give the rest of the antivirus industry a reason to bring innovative technologies to market. Who knows? It might even break the cartel's grip on the global antivirus market.
Yes, Micro­soft flopped the last time they got into the anti­virus busi­ness. They didn't have a plan back then — nor did they realize what it takes to sup­port an Addic­tive Up­date Model. I'll bet on Micro­soft's suc­cess this time around.
Don't underestimate the role Microsoft can play here. Technology has stagnated for years under the antivirus cartel's reign. Microsoft's entry into "their" turf could force companies to sell much better technology, strictly as a competitive move. If new technologies come to market, the computing world will literally turn into a much safer place. Seriously, folks: how could we not want this to happen? "But Rob," you interject. "Didn't Microsoft flop years ago when they tried to get into the antivirus business?" Yes, indeed. The folks in Redmond had no real plan when they bundled Central Point's antivirus software with every copy of DOS — nor did they realize what it takes to support an Addictive Update Model. Microsoft has a plan for its new antivirus division, and they know how the industry exploits the Addictive Update Model. I'll bet on Microsoft's success this time around. When they do succeed, the antivirus industry will face an "innovate or perish" situation. It doesn't matter if they choose to innovate or if they choose to perish. Either way, the computing world will literally turn into a much safer place. Seriously, folks: how could we not want this to happen?

[continued in part 2]