How the Dominance of Microsoft's Products Poses a Risk to Security
Charles P. Pfleeger
John S. Quartermain
Original PDF version report is available at
(as of October 24, 2003)
2. Author Listing
3. CyberInsecurity Report
4. Biographies of Authors
1. Introduction by Computer & Communications
Industry Association (CCIA)
2. Author Listing
3. CyberInsecurity Report
4. Biographies of Authors
Charles P. Pfleeger, Ph.D - Master Security Architect, Exodus
Bruce Schneier - Founder, Chief Technical Officer, Counterpane
John S. Quarterman - Founder, InternetPerils, Matrix
Perry Metzger - Independent Consultant
Rebecca Bace - CEO, Infidel
Peter Gutmann - Researcher, Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland
Computer & Communications Industry Association
No software is perfect. This much is known from academia and every-day experience.
Yet our industry knows how to design and deploy software so as to minimize security
risks. However, when other goals are deemed more important than security, the
consequences can be dangerous for software users and society at large.
Microsoft's efforts to design its software in evermore complex ways so as to illegally
shut out efforts by others to interoperate or compete with their products has succeeded.
The monopoly product we all now rely on is thus both used by nearly everyone and
riddled with flaws. A special burden rests upon Microsoft because of this ubiquity of
its product, and we all need to be aware of the dangers that result from reliance upon
such a widely used and essential product.
CCIA warned of the security dangers posed by software monopolies during the US
antitrust proceeding against Microsoft in the mid and late 1990's. We later urged the
European Union to take measures to avoid a software "monoculture" that each day
becomes more susceptible to computer viruses, Trojan Horses and other digital
Our conclusions have now been confirmed and amplified by the appearance of this
important report by leading authorities in the field of cybersecurity: Dan Geer, Rebecca
Bace, Peter Gutmann, Perry Metzger, John S. Quarterman, Charles Pfleeger, and Bruce
CCIA and the report's authors have arrived at their conclusions independently. Indeed,
the views of the authors are their views and theirs alone. However, the growing
consensus within the computer security community and industry at large is striking,
and had become obvious: The presence of this single, dominant operating system in the
hands of nearly all end users is inherently dangerous. The increased migration of that
same operating system into the server world increases the danger even more. CCIA is
pleased to have served as a catalyst and a publisher of the ideas of these distinguished
Over the years, Microsoft has deliberately added more and more features into its
operating system in such a way that no end user could easily remove them. Yet, in so
doing, the world's PC operating system monopoly has created unacceptable levels of
complexity to its software, in direct contradiction of the most basic tenets of computer
Microsoft, as the US trial record and experience has shown, has added these complex
chunks of code to its operating system not because such programming complexity is
necessary, but because it all but guarantees that computer makers, users and consumers
will use Microsoft products rather than a competitor's.
These competition related security problems have been with us, and getting worse, for
years. The recent spate of virus attacks on the Internet is one more sign that we must
realize the danger we are in. The report CyberInsecurity - The Cost of Monopoly is a
wake up call that government and industry need to hear.
|September 24, 2003|
Computing is crucial to the infrastructure of advanced countries. Yet, as fast as the
worlds computing infrastructure is growing, security vulnerabilities within it are
growing faster still. The security situation is deteriorating, and that deterioration
compounds when nearly all computers in the hands of end users rely on a single
operating system subject to the same vulnerabilities the world over.
Most of the world's computers run Microsoft's operating systems, thus most of the
world's computers are vulnerable to the same viruses and worms at the same time. The
only way to stop this is to avoid monoculture in computer operating systems, and for
reasons just as reasonable and obvious as avoiding monoculture in farming. Microsoft
exacerbates this problem via a wide range of practices that lock users to its platform.
The impact on security of this lock-in is real and endangers society.
Because Microsofts near-monopoly status itself magnifies security risk, it is essential
that society become less dependent on a single operating system from a single vendor if
our critical infrastructure is not to be disrupted in a single blow. The goal must be to
break the monoculture. Efforts by Microsoft to improve security will fail if their side
effect is to increase user-level lock-in. Microsoft must not be allowed to impose new
restrictions on its customers imposed in the way only a monopoly can do and then
claim that such exercise of monopoly power is somehow a solution to the security
problems inherent in its products. The prevalence of security flaw in Microsoft's
products is an effect of monopoly power; it must not be allowed to become a reinforcer.
Governments must set an example with their own internal policies and with the
regulations they impose on industries critical to their societies. They must confront the
security effects of monopoly and acknowledge that competition policy is entangled
with security policy from this point forward.
The threats to international security posed by Windows are significant, and must be addressed
quickly. We discuss here in turn the problem in principle, Microsoft and its actions in relation to
those principles, and the social and economic implications for risk management and policy. The
points to be made are enumerated at the outset of each section, and then discussed.
1. THE PROBLEM IN PRINCIPLE
To sum up this section:
Computing is essential to industrialized societies. As time passes, all societal functions
become more deeply dependent on it: power infrastructure, food distribution, air traffic
control, emergency services, banking, telecommunications, and virtually every other
large scale endeavor is today coordinated and controlled by networked computers.
Attacking national infrastructures is also done with computers often hijacked
computers. Thus, threats to computing infrastructures are explicitly and inherently risk
harm to those very societies in proportion to those society's dependence on them. A
prior history of catastrophe is not required to make such a finding. You should not
have to wait until people die to address risks of the scale and scope discussed here.
Regardless of where or how it is used, computing increases the capabilities and the
power of those who use it. Using strategic or military terminology that means what it
sounds like, computing is a "force multiplier" to those who use them it magnifies their
power, for good or ill. The best estimates of the number of network connected
computers show an increase of 50% per year on a worldwide basis. By most general
measures what you can buy for the same amount of money doubles every eighteen
months ("Moores Law"). With a conservative estimate of a four year lifetime for a
computer in other words, consumers replace computers every four years on average
the total computing power on the Internet therefore increases by a factor of 2.7 per
annum (or doubles every 10 months). If a constant fraction of computers are under
threat of misuse, then the force available to misusers will thus double every 10 months.
In other words, the power available to misusers computer hackers, in popular
parlance is rising both because what they can buy grows in power per dollar spent
and because the total number of networked computers grows, too. Note also that this
analysis does not even include attacks enabled by storage capacity, which doubles in
price-performance twice as fast as CPU (doubles every nine months rather than
Internetworked computing power makes communication feasible. Communication is of
such high value that it has been the focus of much study and much conjecture and not
just recently. For one-way broadcast communication, the value of the network itself
rises proportionally to N, the potential number of listeners ("Sarnoffs Law"). By way of
example, advertisers pay for television time in rough proportion to the number of
people viewing a given program.
For two-way interactive communications such as between fax machines or personal e-
mail the value of the network rises proportionally to N2, the square of the potential
number of users ("Metcalfes Law"). Thus, if the number of people on email doubles in
a given year, the number of possible communications rises by a factor of four.
Growth in communications rises even more when people can organize in groups, so
that any random group of people can communicate with another. Web pages, electronic
mailing lists and online newsgroups are good examples of such communications. In
these cases, the value of the network rises proportionally to 2N, the potential number of
groups being an exponential growth in N ("Reeds Law").
Assume for now that the Internet is somewhere between the Metcalfe model, where
communications vary according to the square of the number of participants (N^2), and
the Reed model, where communications vary according to two raised to the Nth power
If we make this assumption, then the potential value of communications that the
Internet enables will rise somewhere between 1.52 = 2.3 and 21.5 = 2.8 times per annum.
These laws are likely not precisely accurate. Nonetheless, their wide acceptance and
historic record show that they are good indicators of the importance of communication
To extend this simple mathematical model one final step, we have assumed so far that
all communications are good, and assigned to the value of the network a positive
number. Nonetheless, it is obvious that not all communications (over computer
networks, at least) are positive. Hackers, crackers, terrorists and garden-variety
criminals use the network to defraud, spy and generally wreak havoc on a continual
basis. To these communications we assign a negative value.
The fraction of communications that has positive value is one crucial measure, and the
absolute number of negative communications is another. Both are dependent on the
number of networked devices in total. This growth in the number of networked devices,
however, is almost entirely at the "edges" of networked computing the desktop, the
workstation, the home, the embedded system, the automated apparatus. In other
words, the growth in "N" is not in the core infrastructure of the Internet where highly
trained specialists watch over costly equipment with an eye towards preventing and
responding to attacks. Growth, rather, is occurring mostly among ordinary consumers
and non-technical personnel who are the most vulnerable to illegal intrusions, viruses,
Trojan horse programs and the like. This growth at the periphery, furthermore, is
accelerating as mobile, wireless devices come into their own and bring with them still
Viruses, worms, Trojan horses and the like permit malicious attackers to seize control of
large numbers of computers at the edge of the network. Malicious attackers do not, in
other words, have to invest in these computers themselves they have only to exploit
the vulnerabilities in other people's investments.
Barring such physical events as 9/11, an attack on computing is a set of communications
that take advantage of latent flaws already then present in those computers software.
Given enough knowledge of how a piece of software works, an attacker can force it to
do things for which it was never designed. Such abuse can take many forms; a
naturalist would say that attacks are a broad genus with many species. Within this
genus of attacks, species include everything from denial of service, to escalation of
authority, to diversion of funds or data, and on. As in nature, some species are more
common than others.
Similarly, not all attacks are created equal. An annoying message that pops up once a
year on screen to tell a computer user that he has been infected by Virus XYZ is no more
than that; an annoyance. Other exploitations cost society many, many dollars in lost
data, lost productivity and projects destroyed from data crashes. Examples are many
and familiar including the well known ILOVE YOU, NIMDA, and Slammer attacks not
to mention taking over users' machines for spamming, porn distribution, and so forth.
Still other vulnerabilities, though exploited every day and costing society substantial
sums of time and money, seldom appear in the popular press. According to London-
based computer security firm, mi2g Ltd., global damage from malicious software
inflicted as much as $107 billion in global economic damage this year. It estimates that
the SoBig worm, which helped make August the costliest month in terms of economic
damage, was responsible for nearly $30 billion in damage alone. 1
For an attack to be a genuine societal-scale threat, either the target must be unique and
indispensable a military or government computer, authoritative time lookup, the
computer handling emergency response (911) calls, airport flight control, say or the
attack must be one which once triggered uncontrollably cascades from one machine to
the next. The NIMDA and Slammer worms that attacked millions of Windows-based
computers were examples of such "cascade failure" they spread from one to another
computer at high rates. Why? Because these worms did not have to guess much about
the target computers because nearly all computers have the same vulnerabilities.
Unique, valuable targets are identifiable so we, as a society, can concentrate force
around them. Given enough people and training (a tall order to be sure), it is possible to
protect the unique and core assets. Advanced societies have largely made these
investments, and unmitigated failures do not generally occur in these systems.
Not so outside this core: As a practical and perhaps obvious fact, the risk of cascade
failure rises at the edges of the network where end users are far more likely to be
deceived by a clever virus writer or a random intruder. To put the problem in military
terms, we are the most vulnerable when the ratio of available operational skill to
available force multiplication is minimized and thus effective control is weakest. Low
available skill coupled to high potential force multiplication is a fair description of what
is today accumulating on the periphery of the computing infrastructures of every
advanced nation. In plainer terms, the power on the average desktop goes up very fast
while the spread of computers to new places ensures the average skill of the user goes
down. The average user is not, does not want to be, and should not need to be a
computer security expert any more than an airplane passenger wants to or should need
1 "Government Issue," David Zeiler, The Baltimore Sun/SunSpot.net. September 18, 2003
to be an expert in aerodynamics or piloting. This very lack of sophisticated end users
renders our society at risk to a threat that is becoming more prevalent and more
Regardless of the topic computing versus electric power generation versus air defense
survivability is all about preparing for failure so as to survive it. Survivability,
whether as a concept or as a measure, is built on two pillars: replicated provisioning
and diversified risk. Replicated ("redundant") provisioning ensures that any entitys
activities can be duplicated by some other activity; high availability database systems
are such an example in computing just as backup generators are in electric power. The
ability of redundant systems to protect against random faults is cost effective and well
By contrast, redundancy has little ability to protect against cascade failure; having more
computers with the same vulnerabilities cannot help if an attack can reach them all.
Protection from cascade failure is instead the province of risk diversification that is,
using more than one kind of computer or device, more than one brand of operating
system, which in turns assures that attacks will be limited in their effectiveness. This
fundamental principle assures that, like farmers who grow more than one crop, those of
us who depend on computers will not see them all fail when the next blight hits. This
sort of diversification is widely accepted in almost every sector of society from finance
to agriculture to telecommunications. In the broadest sense, economic diversification is
as much the hallmark of free societies as monopoly is the hallmark of central planning.
Governments in free market societies have intervened in market failures preemptively
where failure was be intolerable and responsively when failure had become self-
evident. In free market economies as in life, some failure is essential; the "creative
destruction" of markets builds more than it breaks. Wise governments are those able to
distinguish that which must be tolerated as it cannot be changed from that which must
be changed as it cannot be tolerated. The reapportionment of risk and responsibility
through regulatory intervention embodies that wisdom in action. If governments are
going to be responsible for the survivability of our technological infrastructure, then
whatever governments do will have to take Microsoft's dominance into consideration.
To sum up this section:
Near-monopoly dominance of computing by Microsoft is obvious beyond the findings
of any court. That percentage dominance is at peak in the periphery of the computing
infrastructure of all industrial societies. According to IDC, Microsoft Windows
represented 94 percent of the consumer client software sold in the United States in
2002. 2 Online researcher OneStat.com estimates Microsoft Windows' market share
exceeds 97 percent. 3 Its Internet Explorer and Office Suite applications share similar
2 "Wal-Mart sells more Linux wares online," Matt Hines, News.com. August 21, 2003.
3 "Microsoft's Windows OS global market share is more than 97% according to OneStat.com," OneStat.com press release. September 10, 2002.
control of their respective markets. The tight integration of Microsoft application
programs with Microsoft operating system services is a principal driver of that
dominance and is at the same time a principal driver of insecurity. The "tight
integration" is this: inter-module interfaces so complex, undocumented, and
inaccessible as to (1) permit Microsoft to change them at will, and thus to (2) preclude
others from using them such as to compete.
Tight integration of applications and operating system achieves user lock-in by way of
application lock-in. It works. The absence of published, stable exchange interfaces
necessary to enable exchange of data, documents, structures, etc., enlists such data,
documents, or structures as enforcers of application lock-in. Add in the "network
effects," such as the need to communicate with others running Microsoft Office, and
you dissuade even those who wish to leave from doing so. If everyone else can only
use Office then so must you.
Tight integration, whether of applications with operating systems or just applications
with each other, violates the core teaching of software engineering, namely that loosely-
coupled interfaces make maintenance easier and life-cycle costs lower. Academic and
commercial studies supporting this principle are numerous and long-standing.
Microsoft well knows this; Microsoft was an early and aggressive promoter of modular
programming practices within its own development efforts. What it does, however, is
to expressly curtail modular programming and loose-coupling in the interfaces it offers
to others. For whatever reason, Microsoft has put aside its otherwise good practices
wherever doing so makes individual modules hard to replace. This explains the rancor
over Prof. Ed Feltens Internet Explorer removal gadget just as it explains Microsofts
recent decision to embed the IE browser so far into their operating system that they are
dropping support for IE on the Macintosh platform. Integration of this sort is about
lock-ins through integration too tight to easily reverse buttressed by network effects
that effectively discourage even trying to resist.
This integration is not the norm and it is not essential. Just limiting the discussion to
the ubiquitous browser, it is clear that Mozilla on Linux or Safari on Macintosh are
counter-examples: tight integration has no technical necessity. Apples use of Safari is
particularly interesting because it gets them all the same benefits that Microsoft gets
from IE (including component reuse of the HTML rendering widget), but its just a
generic library, easy to replace. 4 The point is that Microsoft has performed additional,
unnecessary engineering on their products with the result of making components hard
to pull out, and thus raising the barrier to entry for competition. Examples of clean
4 "Apple Releases its own browser," Joe Wilcox, News.com, January 7, 2003.
interfaces are much older than Microsoft: the original UNIX was very clean and before
that Multics or Dijkstras 1968 "THE" system showed what could be done. In other
words, even when Microsoft was very much smaller and very much easier to change
these ideas were known and proven, therefore what we have before us today is not
inadvertent, it is on plan.
This tight-integration is a core component of Microsofts monopoly power. It feeds that
power, and its effectiveness is a measure of that power. This integration strategy also
creates risk if for no other reason that modules that must interoperate with other
modules naturally receive a greater share of security design attention than those that
expect to speak only to friends. As proof by demonstration, Microsofts design-level
commitment to identical library structures for clients and servers, running on protocols
made explicitly difficult for others to speak (such as Microsoft Exchange), creates
insecurity as that is precisely the characteristic raw material of cascade failure: a
universal and identical platform asserted to be safe rather than shown in practice to be
safe. That Microsoft is a monopoly makes such an outcome the default outcome.
The natural strategy for a monopoly is user-level lock-in and Microsoft has adopted this
strategy. Even if convenience and automaticity for the low-skill/no-skill user were
formally evaluated to be a praiseworthy social benefit, there is no denying the latent
costs of that social benefit: lock-in, complexity, and inherent risk.
One must assume that security flaws in Microsoft products are unintentional, that
security flaws simply represent a fraction of all quality flaws. On that assumption, the
quality control literature yields insight.
The central enemy of reliability is complexity. Complex systems tend to not be entirely
understood by anyone. If no one can understand more than a fraction of a complex
system, then, no one can predict all the ways that system could be compromised by an
attacker. Prevention of insecure operating modes in complex systems is difficult to do
well and impossible to do cheaply: The defender has to counter all possible attacks; the
attacker only has to find one unblocked means of attack. As complexity grows, it
becomes ever more natural to simply assert that a system or a product is secure as it
becomes less and less possible to actually provide security in the face of complexity.
Microsofts corporate drive to maximize an automated, convenient user-level experience
is hard to do some would say un-doable except at the cost of serious internal
complexity. That complexity must necessarily peak wherever the ratio of required
convenience to available skill peaks, viz., in the massive periphery of the computing
infrastructure. Software complexity is difficult to measure but software quality control
experts often describe software complexity as proportional to the square of code
volume. One need look no further than Microsofts own figures: On rate of growth,
Windows NT code volume rose 35% per year (implying that its complexity rose
80%/year) while Internet Explorer code volume rose 220%/year (implying that its
complexity rose 380%/year). Consensus estimates of accumulated code volume peg
Microsoft operating systems at 4-6x competitor systems and hence at 15-35x competitor
systems in the complexity-based costs in quality. Microsofts accumulated code volume
and rate of code volume growth are indisputably industry outliers that concentrate
complexity in the periphery of the computing infrastructure. Because it is the
complexity that drives the creation of security flaws, the default assumption must be
that Microsoft's products would have 15-35x as many flaws as the other operating
One cannot expect government regulation to cap code size such a proposal would
deserve the derision Microsoft would heap upon it. But regulators would do well to
understand that code "bloat" matters most within modules and that Microsofts
strategy of tight integration makes effective module size grow because those tightly
integrated components merge into one. It is likely that if module sizes were compared
across the industry that the outlier status of Microsofts code-size-related security
problems would be even more evident than the total code volume figures indicate.
Above some threshold level of code complexity, fixing a known flaw is likely to
introduce a new, unknown flaw; therefore the law of diminishing returns eventually
rules. The general quality control literature teaches this and it has been the received
wisdom in software development for a long time (Lehman & Belady at IBM 6 and later in
many papers and at least one book). The tight integration of Microsoft operating
systems with Microsoft application products and they with each other comes at a cost of
complexity and at a cost in code volume. Patches create new flaws as a regular
occurrence thus confirming that Microsofts interdependent product base is above that
critical threshold where repairs create problems. Some end-users understand this, and
delay deployment of patches until testing can confirm that the criticality of problems
fixed are not eclipsed by the criticality of problems created. With mandatory patches
arriving at the rate of one every six days (39 through 16 September), it is few users
indeed who can keep up.
Two different subsets of users effectively bow out of the patching game: the incapable-
many (end-users who have limited understanding of and limited desire to understand
5 Microsoft seems at least aware of the problem. See:
6 L.A. Belady and M.M. Lehman, "A Model of Large Program Development," IBM Systems Journal 15(3), p.225252 (1976).
the technology even when it is working correctly) and the critical-infrastructure-few
(for whom reliability is such a vital requirement that casual patching is unthinkable).
Un-patched lethal flaws thus accumulate in the user community. (The Slammer worm
fully demonstrated that point the problem and the patch were six months old when
Slammer hit.) 7 Monopoly market dominance is thus only part of the risk story market
dominance coupled with accumulating exploitable flaw density yields a fuller picture.
Not only is nearly every networked computer sufficiently alike to imply that what
vulnerability one has, so has another, but the absolute number of known-to-be-
exploitable vulnerabilities rises over time. Attackers of the most consummate skill
already batch together vulnerabilities thus to ensure cascade failure. (The NIMDA
virus fully demonstrated that point it used any of five separate vulnerabilities to
Microsoft has had a history of shipping software at the earliest conceivable moment.
Given their market dominance, within days if not hours the installed base of any
released Microsoft software, however ill thought or implemented, was too large to
dislodge or ignore. No more. Of late Microsoft has indeed been willing to delay
product shipment for security reasons. While it is too early to tell if and when this will
actually result in a healthier installed base, it is an admission that the level of security
flaw density was a greater threat to the company than the revenue delay from slipping
ship dates. It is also an admission that Microsoft holds monopoly power they and
they alone no longer need to ship on time. That this coincides with Microsofts recent
attempts to switch to annual support contracts to smooth out their revenue streams is,
at least, opportunistic if not tactical.
On the horizon, we see the co-called Trusted Computing Platform Association (TCPA) 8
and the "Palladium" or "NGSCB" architecture for "trusted computing." In the long
term, the allure of trusted computing can hardly be underestimated and there can be no
more critical duty of government and governments than to ensure that a spread of
trusted computers does not blithely create yet more opportunities for lock-in. Given
Microsoft's tendencies, however, one can foresee a Trusted Outlook that will refuse to
talk to anything but a Trusted Exchange Server, with (Palladiums) strong
cryptographic mechanisms for enforcement of that limitation. There can be no greater
user-level lock-in than that, and it will cover both local applications and distributed
applications, and all in the name of keeping the user safe from viruses and junk. In
other words, security will be the claimed goal of mechanisms that will achieve
7 "Slammer worm brings patch mgmt. issues to the fore," Audrey Rasmussen, Network World Fusion, Feb. 5, 2003.
8 See: http://www.trustedcomputing.org/home
unprecedented user-level lock-in. This verifies the relevance of evaluating the effect of
user-level lock-in on security.
3. IMPACT ON PUBLIC PROTECTION
To sum up this section:
Microsoft and regulators come to this point with a considerable history of flouted
regulation behind them, a history which seems unnecessary to recount other than to
stipulate that it either bears on the solution or history will repeat itself.
Yes, Microsoft has the power to introduce features unilaterally and one might even say
that the current security situation is sufficiently dire that Microsoft as the head of a
command structure is therefore somehow desirable. Yet were it not for Microsofts
commanding position economics would certainly be different whether it would be a
rise in independent, competitive, mainstream software development industries (because
the barriers to entry would be lower), or that todays locked-in Microsoft users would
no longer pay prices that only a monopoly can extract. For many organizations the only
thing keeping them with Microsoft in the front office is Office. If Microsoft was forced
to support Office on, say, Linux, then organizations would save substantial monies
better spent on innovation. If Microsoft were forced to interoperate, innovators and
innovation could not be locked-out because users could not be locked-in.
Both short-term impact mitigation and long term competition policy must recognize
this analysis. In the short term, governments must decide in unambiguous ways
whether they are able to meaningfully modify the strategies and tactics of Microsofts
If governments do not dismantle the monopoly but choose instead to modify the
practices of the monopoly they must concede that that route will, like freedom, require
eternal vigilance. Appropriate support for addressing the security-related pathologies
of monopoly would doubtless include the introduction of effective, accessible rights of
action in a court of law wherever security flaws lead to harm to the end-user. In extreme
cases, the consequences of poor security may be broad, diffuse, and directly constitute
an imposition of costs on the user community due to the unfitness of the product.
Under those circumstances, such failures should surely be deemed "per se" offenses
upon their first appearance on the network.
Where risk cannot be mitigated it can be transferred via insurance and similar contracts.
As demonstrated in previous sections, the accumulation of risk in critical infrastructure
and in government is growing faster than linear, i.e., faster than mere counts of
computers or networks. As such, any mandated risk transfer must also grow faster than
linear whether those risk transfer payments are a priori, such as for bonding and
insurance, or a posteriori, such as for penalties. If risk transfer payments are to be risk
sensitive, the price and probability of failure are what matter and thus monopoly status
is centrally relevant. For governments and other critical infrastructures, the price of
failure determines the size of the risk transfer. Where a software monoculture exists
in other words, a computing environment made up of Windows and almost nothing
else what remains operational in the event of wholesale failure of that monoculture
determines the size of the risk transfer. Where that monoculture is maintained and
enforced by lock-in, as it is with Windows today, responsibility for failure lies with the
entity doing the locking-in in other words, with Microsoft. It is important that this
cost be made clear now, rather than waiting until after a catastrophe.
The idea of breaking Microsoft into an operating system company and an applications
company is of little value one would just inherit two monopolies rather than one and
the monocultural, locked-in nature of the user base would still nourish risk. Instead,
Microsoft should be required to support a long list of applications (Microsoft Office,
Internet Explorer, plus their server applications and development tools) on a long list of
platforms. Microsoft should either be forbidden to release Office for any one platform,
like Windows, until it releases Linux and Mac OS X versions of the same tools that are
widely considered to have feature parity, compatibility, and so forth. Alternately,
Microsoft should be required to document and standardize its Exchange protocols,
among other APIs, such that alternatives to its applications could independently exist.
Better still, split Microsoft Office into its components noticing that each release of
Office adds new things to the "bundle": first Access, the Outlook, then Publisher. Even
utilities, such as the grammar checker or clip art manager, might pose less risk of
compromise and subsequent OS compromise if their interfaces were open (and subject
to public scrutiny and analysis and validation). Note that one of the earlier buffer
overflow exploits involved the phone dialer program, and ordinarily benign and
uninteresting utility that could have been embedded within dial-up networking,
Internet Explorer, Outlook and any other program that offered an Internet link.
The rigorous, independent evaluations to which these otherwise tightly integrated
interfaces would thus be exposed would go a long way towards security hardening
them while permitting meaningful competition to arise. Microsoft will doubtless
counter that its ability to "innovate" would be thus compromised, but in the big picture
sense everyone else would have a room to innovate that they cannot now enjoy.
Where governments conclude that they are unable to meaningfully modify the
strategies and tactics of the already-in-place Microsoft monopoly, they must declare a
market failure and take steps to enforce, by regulation and by their own example, risk
diversification within those computing plants whose work product they value.
Specifically, governments must not permit critical or infrastructural sectors of their
economies to implement the monoculture path, and that includes governments own
use of computing. Governments, and perhaps only governments, are in leadership
positions to affect how infrastructures develop. By enforcing diversity of platform to
thereby blunt the monoculture risk, governments will reap a side benefit of increased
market reliance on interoperability, which is the only foundation for effective
incremental competition and the only weapon against end-user lock-in. A requirement
that no operating system be more than 50% of the installed based in a critical industry
or in a government would moot monoculture risk. Other branches to the risk
diversification tree can be foliated to a considerable degree, but the trunk of that tree on
which they hang is a total prohibition of monoculture coupled to a requirement of
These comments are specific to Microsoft, but would apply to any entity with similar
dominance under current circumstances. Indeed, similar moments of truth have
occurred, though for different reasons, with IBM or AT&T. The focus on Microsoft is
simply that the clear and present danger can be ignored no longer.
While appropriate remedies require significant debate, these three alone would
engender substantial, lasting improvement if Microsoft were vigorously forced to:
Daniel Geer, Sc.D - Dr. Geer is Chief Technical Officer of @Stake, in Cambridge, Mass.
Dr. Geer has a long history in network security and distributed computing management
as an entrepreneur, author, scientist, consultant, teacher, and architect. He has provided
high-level strategy in all manners of digital security and on promising areas of security
research to industry leaders including Digital Equipment Corporation, OpenVision
Technologies, Open Market, and CertCo. He has written extensively on large-scale
security issues such as risk management, applications of cryptography, and Web
security for The Digital Commerce Society, the Securities Industry Middleware Council,
the Internet Security Conference, and the USENIX Association for whom he founded
Dr. Geer has testified before Congress on multiple occasions and has served on various
relevant advisory committees to the Federal Trade Commission, the National Science
Foundation, the National Research Council, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Justice, and the Institute for
Information Infrastructure Protection.
Dr. Geer holds several security patents, an Sc.D. in Biostatistics from Harvard
Universitys School of Public Health and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering and Computer
Science from MIT.
Charles P. Pfleeger, Ph.D - Dr. Pfleeger is a Master Security Architect in the
Professional Services group of
Exodus Communications, Inc. From 1992 to 1995 he was
Director of European Operations for Trusted Information Systems, Inc. (TIS) and head
of its European office in London. He was a member of the author group of the U.S.
Federal security evaluation criteria and a co-author of the evaluation criteria for trusted
virtual machine architectures. He led activities in secure networking, security analysis
in hardware design, secure system architecture, and research into assured service. Prior
to joining TIS in 1988, he was a professor in the Computer Science Department of the
University of Tennessee Dr. Pfleeger has lectured throughout the world and published
numerous papers and books. His book Security in Computing (the third edtion will be
available from Prentice Hall in 2002) is the standard college textbook in computer
security. He is the author of other books and articles on technical computer security
and computer science topics.
He holds a Ph.D. degree in computer science from The Pennsylvania State University
and a B.A. with honors in mathematics from Ohio Wesleyan University.
Bruce Schneier - Internationally renowned security expert Bruce Schneier has authored
six books--including BEYOND FEAR and SECRETS AND LIES--as well as the Blowfish
and Twofish encryption algorithms. Mr. Schneier has appeared on numerous television
and radio programs, has testified before Congress, and is a frequent writer and lecturer
on issues surrounding security and privacy.
Mr. Schneier is responsible for maintaining Counterpanes technical lead in world-class
information security technology and its practical and effective implementation. Mr.
Schneiers security experience makes him uniquely qualified to shape the direction of
the companys research endeavors, as well as to act as a spokesperson to the business
community on security issues and solutions.
Mr. Schneier holds an MS degree in computer science from American University and a
BS degree in physics from the University of Rochester.
John S. Quarterman - John S. Quarterman is founder of InternetPerils, an Internet risk-
management company. Previously, he was Founder and Chief Technology Officer of
Matrix NetSystems Inc., the first company to map and track global traffic across the
Internet. Mr. Quarterman has almost thirty years experience with network issues dating
as far back as 1974, when he first used ARPANET, the Internet's predecessor, at
Harvard University. He subsequently worked on ARPANET Unix software for Bolt,
Beranek and Newman, the original prime contractor for the network.
Mr. Quarterman has consulted for a wide range of companies and organizations,
including AT&T, HP, IBM, MCI and Nortel, among others. Twice elected to the board of
directors of USENIX, he was instrumental in the board's decision to provide funding for
UUNet, one of the first two commercial Internet service providers. A published author,
he has written for Communications of the ACM, Forbes, First Monday and
Computerworld, among others. He has appeared in articles written by others in the
New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News, The Economist, The Washington Post,
Wired and others too numerous to mention.
Perry Metzger - Perry Metzger is managing partner of Metzger, Dowdeswell & Co LLC,
a New York based computer security and infrastructure consulting firm. Prior to this,
Mr. Metzger founded and served as CEO of Wasabi Systems, Inc., a startup specializing
in operating system software for embedded platforms. Previously Mr. Metzger served
as President of Piermont Information Systems Inc., a New York based computer
security consulting firm he founded in 1994. Piermonts clients included prominent
international banks and brokerages, money management companies, public relations
firms and advertising agencies
Before founding Piermont, Mr. Metzger was involved in a variety of innovative
technological projects, including highly parallel computer systems, automated equities
trading systems, automated systems management software, and the implementation of
one of the worlds first firewall systems. Mr. Metzger is highly active in the work of the
Internets standardization body, the IETF. He was instrumental in the design and
standardization of several major internet security protocols,including IPSEC, for which
he served as co-author of several of the initial standards documents.
Becky Bace - Becky Bace is an internationally recognized expert in network security and
intrusion detection. A 2003 recipient of Information Security Magazine's Women of
Vision Award, she is recognized as one of the most influential women in Information
Security today. Ms. Bace has worked in security since the 1980s, leading the first major
intrusion detection research program at the National Security Agency, where she
received the Distinguished Leadership Award, serving as the Deputy Security Officer
for the Computing Division of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and, since 1997,
working as a strategic consultant.
She is currently President and CEO of Infidel, Inc., a security consulting firm. Ms.
Bace's publication credits include the books Intrusion Detection (Macmillan, 2000) and A
Guide to Forensic Testimony: The Art and Practice of Presenting Testimony as An Expert
Technical Witness, (Addison-Wesley, October, 2002).
She received a B.S., Engineering/Computer Science from the University of the State of
New York, and an M.E.S., Digital Systems Engineering, from Loyola College.
Peter Gutmann - Peter Gutmann is a researcher in the Department of Computer Science
at the University of Auckland working on design and analysis of cryptographic security
architectures. He helped write the popular PGP encryption package and has authored a
number of papers on security and encryption including the X.509 Style Guide for
Over the years, Mr. Gutmann has uncovered numerous security flaws in various
computing products, including problems with the encryption used in an early version
of the Netscape browser and, later, Internet Explorer. He has also uncovered flaws in
previous versions of Norton's Diskreet disk encryption, the Windows 95 password file
system and the smart-card fare system used by Auckland's largest public transportation
Gutmann is the author of the much used, open source cryptlib security toolkit.