Microsoft admits NSA assistance with Vista

Published 11 January 2007

Company is the first to admit such a relationship; NSA looks to plug holes in U.S. computers but may be planting traps for foreign users; known for security weaknesses, deal gives Microsoft the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval

Microsoft’s new Vista operating system, set to be released 30 January, has so far receieved a mixed reception from critics, but we know the program has fans in at least one large office already. For the first time in its history, Microsoft has acknowledged that it has received critical IT security support from the National Security Agency (NSA). That large software developers often work closely with government spooks has long been the dirty secret of the industry, in large part because admitting it was going on might upset customers worried that their own security was being compromised in favor of NSA perogatives. More than any other agency, NSA would benefit from the creation of exploitable code — the idea being to make the system strong enough for American government users but weak enough that knowledgable American spooks can sneak on to enemy computers.

Other software makers have turned to government agencies for security advice. “We work with a number of U.S. government agencies on Mac OS X security and collaborated with the NSA on the Mac OS X security configuration guide,” said Apple spokesman Anuj Nayar. Novell, which sells a Linux-based operating system, also works with government agencies on software security issues, said spokesman Bruce Lowryl, “but we’re not in a position to go into specifics of the who, what, when types of questions.” But Microsoft has received the most attention because it controls more than 90 percent of the nationwide market and its operating systems are standard on U.S. government computers. Moreover, as mentioned above, the company is the first to admit involvement with the NSA — perhaps, some critics suggested, because of the company’s perceived weakness in the security area. NSA approval, said one analyst, might been seen as the “Good Housekeeping seal” of approval.

-read more in Alec Klein and Ellen Nakashima’s Washington Post report