Vista Security Battle Escalates

The verbal battle between software giant Microsoft and third-party security vendors like Symantec and McAfee continues to heat up. Although Microsoft recently announced it would provide developers ofthird party Windows security applications the necessary technical details to develop products for Windows Vista and avoid beingidentified as malware by Vista’s built-in safeguards, developer McAfee is characterizing Microsoft’s actions as "hollow assurances."

Symantec and McAfee are currently arguing that the information released to security vendors by Microsoft isn’t sufficient to develop full-featured security products. While developers can replacesecurity warnings with their own alerts, the material doesn’t provide access to Vista’s 64-bit kernel, which is protected by a new Microsoft security layer called PatchGuard.

For its part, Microsoft says it will provide security vendors will access to the 64-bit kernel when it issues a service pack for Windows Vista, but Microsoft has provided no data or timetable forsuch an update other than to say the details will be made available "in the months ahead." Vista is scheduled to ship to Microsoft business partners and volume license customers next monthand to consumers in January, 2007; Vista will include both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the operating system on the same installation disks.

Delays in being able to access Vista’s 64-bit kernel mean security vendors will not be able to develop fully-featured third-party security products for Vista in time for the operating system’sconsumer launch, giving Microsoft a unique position in the marketplace for security products in the Windows ecosystem&mdash;and potentially running afoul of antitrust regulation in the EU, SouthKorea, or even the United States&mdash;although Microsoft has, for the time being, dodged EU scrutiny of Vista’s security technologies. Complicating things still further, Gartner security analystNeil McDonald has speculated it may be years before Microsoft enables security vendors to access the 64-bit kernel</a>."With antitrust concerns temporarily satisfied, Microsoft may feel less pressure to make kernel modifications quickly," wrote McDonald.

Enterprises, computing enthusiasts, and high-performance workstation users are expexted to be initial adopters of 64-bit versions of Windows Vista; as with Windows XP, consumers are expected to stickwith 32-bit versions of the operating system initially. However, lack of full-featured third-party security products may hamper adoption of 64-bit editions of Vista in the marketplace, in termsuppressing development of new software and hardware technologies looking to leverage the operating system’s larger address space.

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