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May 30, 2006 6:37 pm

Vista will set new standards

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Few events in this decade will make more of an impact on computer security than the release of the new edition of Windows.

Vista, the new operating system, will be available to business customers in November, and general users in January. It will set the ground on which the big security battles of the next few years will be fought.

Microsoft operating systems are still used on most computers, and so are naturally the most frequently attacked. Tiny flaws can make for billions of pounds worth of damage for Microsoft customers.

“We do have a very strong focus on security,” say Austin Wilson, a Microsoft director responsible for Vista. Microsoft has taken so much flak for its security record in the past, that it is desperate to make this release the most secure ever.

It seems very likely that it will be. But given how many holes have been found in XP and its forebears over the years, that will not be too difficult.

But what will that mean for the user? And as cybercriminals become ever more skilful, will the new version of Windows be able to resist them?

Much of the security work on Vista has taken place under the surface.

Vista is the first complete new edition of Windows to come out since Microsoft launched its “trustworthy computing” initiative, a company-wide initiative to improve the processes it uses to design software, and beef up the reliability and security of its products.

Only after the world’s hackers have tried to tear Vista apart will it become possible to judge the success of this initiative. But Microsoft has already announced security features which give an indication of its thinking (see list, Page 5).

Many are features that security experts and IT managers have been requesting for years.

For example, huge numbers of XP users log on as administrators rather than users, because there are so many basic tasks that only administrators can do. But logging on as an administrator makes a computer much more vulnerable to attack.

“With XP, you could not change the timezone on a laptop as a user,” says Mr Wilson.

Microsoft has included many new features for business, such as BitLocker, a disk encryption system to secure data on hard drives.

Vista can also be set up to prevent people connecting devices such as iPods to USB ports, and stealing data or introducing viruses.

Large companies are generally less vulnerable than home users and SMEs, as they have full-time IT staffs. The security of home users has implications for cor-porations, as unsecured home PCs are hackers’ most important

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