RSA - Microsoft's Fathi OK with Vista bugs so far

RSA - Microsoft's Fathi OK with Vista bugs so far

Looks like Vista is on track to meet its goal of having half XP's flaws, Fathi reports

Microsoft's Ben Fathi has a new job now that Vista has shipped, but the man who led the company's Security Technology Unit is still focused on keeping the bad guys away from your PC.

Fathi is now corporate vice president of development with the Windows Core Operating System Division, and is in charge of building the guts of the OS -- things like the kernel, networking, and security. IDG News Service sat down with him recently to discuss the future of Windows security. With the first Vista bugs now being reported, Fathi says it looks like Vista is on track to meet his own stated goal of having half the flaws that plagued XP during its first year.

Following is an edited transcript of the interview, conducted this week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco.

What's going to be the big security story in 2007?

What we've done in previous OS releases and Vista and what our security partners are doing has treated security as a defensive measure. It's a way of stopping people from attacking you.

What we want to do now is move to a world where we actually enable and simplify collaboration between different individuals, by making sure that those connections are end-to-end, that you can provide very fine grained control over the people, the applications and the resources that you give access to.

So what are you doing to make that happen?

There are a number of things we are working on. For example, isolation. We look at isolation in terms of network isolation, whether it's IPsec [Internet Protocol security] or putting in firewalls, or SSL VPN [Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Network]. What we want to do is provide a better layer of isolation at the operating system level. We're looking at putting hypervisors underneath the operating system and building attestation and building a hardware root of trust on the machine.

What that means is that today, if a rootkit makes it onto your machine, it can do a hyperjacking. It can take over the OS or it can even get underneath the OS so that any software you're running, like Kernel Patch Protection, won't even know that it's being lied to by a piece of malware underneath. What we want to do is put the hypervisor there and use things like the TPM [Trusted Platform Module] chip to make sure that the entire boot path is protected and secure and we can trust it and it hasn't been tampered with.

This also gives you the ability to create isolation by creating partitions on the machine. Let's say you're running a server. If you consolidate your server workloads onto a single big machine -- you have a Web workload and a file server workload and a database workload. You want to protect that database workload because you're running your line-of-business apps on it. Just because somebody broke into your Web server doesn't mean they should be getting access to your database or your file server.

Are you surprised by the number of Vista bugs that you've had reported since the launch?

Fathi: I made a statement six or nine months ago that I would like to see half as many vulnerabilities as XP in the first year. Obviously I'd like less than that. I'd be happy with zero. But I think it's reasonable to say, given the additional complexity and given the additional size of Vista, that half as many would be a great goal. Am I surprised with the number? No, I think it's been a relatively small number of vulnerabilities in the three months we've been out.

And given the fact that we proactively went out to the Black Hat conference and handed out copies of this, and that a couple of million people have been using Vista in test versions for the past year or so, that tells me that there are already hackers out there that are trying to attack it. So given that there are less than a handful of vulnerabilities discovered, I think that's good progress.

And you're on track for that half as many?

I think so. Ask me again in six months.

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