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Microsoft Releases Super-Secure XP to US Air Force 507

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the true-security-through-obscurity dept.
Wired is reporting that Microsoft is releasing the most secure version of Windows XP ever created, but only if you are the US Air Force. "The Air Force persuaded Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to provide it with a secure Windows configuration that saved the service about $100 million in contract costs and countless hours of maintenance. At a congressional hearing this week on cybersecurity, Alan Paller, research director of the Sans Institute, shared the story as an template for how the government could use its massive purchasing power to get companies to produce more secure products. And those could eventually be available to the rest of us. Security experts have been arguing for this "trickle-down" model for years. But rather than wield its buying power for the greater good, the government has long wimped out and taken whatever vendors served them. If the Air Force case is a good judge, however, things might be changing."
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Microsoft Releases Super-Secure XP to US Air Force

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  • Autorun? (Score:5, Funny)

    by someone1234 (830754) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:15PM (#27790439)

    Now i see why they disabled autorun. :D

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lgw (121541)

      Maybe so. And while "the most secure XP ever" might not be that secure in absolute terms, I'm sure it's still a step forward. So even if the choice might not be ideal for the military, it really helps the average consumer (and I suspect that security wasn't the Air Force's primary concern - they just wanted to spend less on the patching treadmill). For once, I'm happy with my tax dollars at work.

      • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TropicalCoder (898500) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:43PM (#27790919) Homepage Journal
        You're kidding aren't you? "85 percent of attacks were blocked after the configuration was installed". ...and the remaining 15% were not! The concept of a secure computer running Windows XP is a contradiction in terms. The military needs to do better than this, or China is gonna whup their ass.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cbiltcliffe (186293)

          Modded troll by people who don't get security.

          99% secure is 100% insecure.

          It doesn't matter if there are 85% less vulnerabilities than before. The fact that there are still 15% left means a targeted attack will still succeed!

          All it takes is a single vulnerability, and you're security is useless.

          Stop using the troll mod as a replacement for either:
          "That makes me uncomfortable."
          or
          "I don't understand that."

          • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Funny)

            by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:09PM (#27791305) Homepage Journal

            You're security is useless?

            ARRRGGHH!

            Apparently, so is my grammar.

            See? Piss me off, and I can't spell.
            That must be my superhero weakness....

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Next up: Why we don't lock our doors, because thieves might happen to carry lockpicks!

            After all, locks are not 100% secure, therefore, that security is totally useless, right?

            • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by tsm_sf (545316) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:30PM (#27791579) Journal
              Wrong analogy. Try: "This bucket has 85% fewer holes than Bucket XP."
            • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by supernova_hq (1014429) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:30PM (#27791581)
              Exactly, locks (unless you pay a shitload for them) are not designed to keep people out. Any locksmith will tell you that the only thing a lock will do is make your neighbours house an easier target.

              Computer security is the same way. You *can* cracl WPA(1/2) encryption, but if you neighbour has his connection open (or is using WEP), you are not likely to become a target.

              The exception, which appears in this situation, is when you are chosen as a target due to a high payoff (military). In this case, simply being harder than your neighbour is NOT going to help you.
              • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Insightful)

                by vertinox (846076) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:05PM (#27792025)

                Exactly, locks (unless you pay a shitload for them) are not designed to keep people out. Any locksmith will tell you that the only thing a lock will do is make your neighbours house an easier target.

                Arguably, an alarm system is more important in keeping people out than the lock on the door. If they kick down the door and a message goes off that lets them know that you know they are there and that the police are coming shortly, they usually won't stick around that long.

                Same thing applies to computer systems. It is more important to know that you have an intrusion as soon as possible than the actual prevention of the intrusion.

                Not that you want to leave the door unlocked, but rather you need the ability to lockdown and detect when someone is there when they shouldn't be.

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by DarkOx (621550)

                  It depends, physical security and data security are not always comparable in that sense. Yes the obnoxious alarm and police being on the way is a problem if you need to load up 50" tv and stereo into your van while fending off the dog.

                  The computer paging the owner on the other hand might not be a problem. If what I want is your identity and you have a fast connection I could copy an awful lot your how directory before you could even get to a keyboard to the machine to see what is happening, or shut it dow

              • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Insightful)

                by lymond01 (314120) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:43PM (#27792467)

                I disagree. Security is a layered thing, both in implementation and subversion. If I'm running Windows NT with no service packs and no firewall, I'm easily hacked by 90% of people.

                If I'm running Windows XP patched and firewalled, I'm easily hacked by 1% of the people. If I'm running OpenBSD fully patched with no open ports aside from SSH, I can be easily hacked by .01% of the people (likely a BSD or SSH developer who slipped in a back door).

                Nothing is 100% secure -- HOW secure you are is the important thing. If this super XP lets in 15% of attacks, you need to ask who knows and who would bother to run those attacks, as well as what other layers of security beyond the desktop are available.

                If you're running a desktop operating system "in the wild" with no patched firewall software of any kind to block basic traffic, then you should add that layer.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by RobertM1968 (951074)

                  Nah, doesnt really work that way. With tens of thousands (or is it hundreds of thousands as I read someplace else?) of these exploits out there for Windows XP, being secure against 85% isn't saying much. Compare that to the number of exploits out there for OpenBSD (times) .01% (times) the number of possible attackers (which will give you a fraction of an exploit).

                  Yes, nothing is secure, but 85%/15% is not a good ratio when compared with the number of exploits times the number of already exploited machines

              • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Funny)

                by Facegarden (967477) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:52PM (#27792581)

                The exception, which appears in this situation, is when you are chosen as a target due to a high payoff (military). In this case, simply being harder than your neighbour is NOT going to help you.

                So, what you're saying is, we need to let our economy keep tanking until people would rather hack into Canada?
                -Taylor

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                You *can* crack WPA(1/2) encryption

                The best known attack against WPA2 is a bruteforce attack. The basis of WPA2 in PSK mode is a 256 bit AES cipher. The key is based on both the password and the SSID (the SSID acts as a salt).

                WPA2 with a good password is a perfect example of a truly secure protocol. If you started to crack my home wireless network you might finish around the time that the run is running out of fuel and certainly long after humanity has either evolved to something entirely unrecognizable

          • Re:Autorun? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by timeOday (582209) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:39PM (#27792429)

            99% secure is 100% insecure.

            Holding out for absolute perfection, I see. Let me know when you find it. I'm stuck here on planet Earth where nothing is 100% anything.

      • Next up, the Army and Navy. After that, government agencies ... finally, big businesses and the public.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gadget junkie (618542)

          Next up, the Army and Navy. After that, government agencies ... finally, big businesses and the public.

          Yes, so we will be able to buy XP instead of the best and most secure OS, Vista!!!!!
          I think that this is the best own goal ever done by MS in its long life, on two counts. first, they are saying that XP is arguably more secure than vista. second, they are saying that while all organizations are created equals, some are more equal than others. Why is it that i cannot buy XP anymore, while the Air force can?
          So, I do not think that "big business and the public" will ever be able to buy that. Never. not eve

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by dave562 (969951)

            Where do you get that they are saying XP is more secure than Vista? Another angle to consider is the one that the Air Force has been running XP for a long time and all of their applications are coded to work with XP. Microsoft took the smart route and improved what the Air Force already had instead of forcing them into an upgrade. Vista very well may be more secure than XP, and Windows 7 might be more secure than both of them.

            For as long as I've been using computers, I've hated the forced upgrade cycle t

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Nope, they removed the _NSAKEY [wikipedia.org]. Or is it _KEY2?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:15PM (#27790443)

    When the navy puts windows on their ships.

  • by mdm-adph (1030332) <mdmadph.gmail@com> on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:15PM (#27790451) Homepage

    ...what they did to make it secure. Is the default wallpaper black with a big picture of a lock on it?

  • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:18PM (#27790491)
    But what good is XP without drivers for keyboard, CD/DVD drives, USB ports, or NICs?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Burkin (1534829)
      I thought the best way to secure a Microsoft product was to never install and run it?
      • by Amouth (879122)

        i remember at a PC shop i worked at we had legit copies of 98se come in with a virus infecting one of the files already on the disk.

        while our MS Sales rep was very quick to replace them we kept one and taped it above the time clock.. just as a reminder that no mater what we do we are all doomed

    • by merreborn (853723) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:38PM (#27790809) Journal

      But what good is XP without drivers for keyboard, CD/DVD drives, USB ports, or NICs?

      In all seriousness, I'd imagine usability is likely the reason this won't see a public release -- "really secure" and "really easy to use" aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but you can bet they sacrificed the latter for the former in this case. I'd fully expect application compatibility to take a serious hit, and for many Windows features to be cut entirely.

      This product is probably unusable for the average consumer. I'm sure there are some enterprise contexts in which it'd make perfect sense, though.

      And of course, Microsoft doesn't want to dilute Windows Vista/7 sales with a new edition of XP (which they'd have to support for years) either.

  • So that means its sitting in a box in the corner under armed guard?
  • Next most secure ever release for US army will be Windows 95, then Windows 3.11 and at the top of security development ever will be release of MS DOS 1.0.

  • If... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by slashkitty (21637)
    If they can make it more secure, why don't they offer everyone the secure version?
  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:31PM (#27790689)

    'The Air Force, on the verge of renegotiating its desktop-software contract with Microsoft, met with Ballmer and asked the company to deliver a secure configuration of Windows XP out of the box. That way, Air Force administrators wouldnâ(TM)t have to spend time re-configuring, and the department would have uniform software across the board, making it easier to control and maintain patches.'

    So if you'd like to do it yourself, you can secure your XP too.

    http://nvd.nist.gov/fdcc/fdcc_faq.cfm [nist.gov]

    I'm not sure super secure is the right word for this version of XP though, given that there are a lot of security features it is missing that Vista, Windows 7 and some other OSes have.

    • Actually we were pushing a "secure" version of XP before I got out of the AF in 2006. Basically it was just locked down, if you didn't have to have it to do your job that feature/program was disabled by the security settings. I believe the image we pushed was made by the NOSC at the time. It wasn't anything you couldn't do on your own to your home computer.
  • by t0qer (230538) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:35PM (#27790775) Homepage Journal
    So I have this on good authority from someone who works there... A few years back the VA decided to start migrating from IIS to apache. At the same time they wanted to migrate file servers as well. When MS caught wind of this, they told the powers that be at the VA, "You drop us, and we'll audit you." Part of the contract MS holds with the VA is they're allowed to perform a license audit any time they want. The VA did its own internal investigation and figured out pretty quickly that MS had them, "Over the barrel" so to speak... I don't think the Air Force really wants to use MS stuff, but if they're in a similar situation as the VA, this doesn't bode well for them. I hope the Obama administration catches wind of this and puts a stop to this practice. It isn't right that my tax dollars are being forced into MS's pockets. I think in these rough economic times our government needs to really start exploring more OSS/free solutions out there.
    • what was the threat, the cost of the audit or what the audit might find? it seems like if it's the latter than it's their own fault.
    • by Mr 44 (180750)

      I think in these rough economic times our government needs to really start exploring more OSS/free solutions out there.

      Great point - think how good for the economy it would be if the gov't stopped buying commercial software altogether! Thousands of developers/QA/etc would soon find themselves out of jobs, and able to contribute to open source projects all day long while collecting unemployment!

    • The Air Force has yet to explain who, if anyone, authorized the bombing of a Redmond, WA software company by a squadron of B-52s.

  • so the Air force paid MS to "lock down windows" probably to the STIG.. Instead of doing what DODIIS does and create a Install disk to be installed and tested against, so if you do have to rebuild its there... I thought that MS came up with an affordable PL3 or PL4 System, we have been working with MS for a PL3 system, but it would cost almost a million more than a comparable Trusted Solaris or SELinux solution. and be hell to administer
  • by PapaSmurph (249554) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:37PM (#27790805) Homepage

    While this was an interesting article, the XP and the Vista versions used by the USAF are the same ones used by the general public. The only differences are the security setting, the firewall configuration, and the user configuration. No one is an admin unless they need to be, and no normal day-to-day work is done in admin mode (same thing you do in Linux, no doubt).

    I didn't know this article was going to be published, but when I found it, I was not surprised by the comments. I've been working on this program for more than 2 years. Users hate it. Developers loathe it. Network security staff loves it.

    Nothing can make Windows (or any other OS) completely secure if it's connected to a network. This is as close as the federal government as ever come.

    • by PhxBlue (562201)

      I didn't know this article was going to be published, but when I found it, I was not surprised by the comments. I've been working on this program for more than 2 years. Users hate it. Developers loathe it. Network security staff loves it.

      Which means the Air Force probably got it right.

  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:38PM (#27790821) Journal

    The airforce and the military in general would do well not to create a monoculture; especially not one based on an arguably insecure operating system that is nearing its end of life. Despite the existence of *nix alternatives that are of comparable ease of use and generally superior security and customization, the military continues to insist that using an old operating system full of flaws and actively exploited by the vast majority of malware is suitable for government use. There is something very wrong here.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      oh yes, we definitely don't want a monoculture. Please make sure the poor 19 year old airman who barely knows how to install a driver in XP now must know how to do so on a Ubuntu box, a Macintosh, XP, Vista and for the hell of it, a couple Win 3.1 boxes 'just in case'. And pity the poor sergeant who is given a Powerpoint presentation by the general and has to figure out how to make it work across 4 different versions of Office, OpenOffice, etc.
      But at least we'll know when we get hacked that only part our

  • From TFA:

    "Turns out when you configure things properly and don't touch them, they actually work pretty well," Gilligan said.

    No shit Sherlock!

  • Don't tell me! They removed the floppy disk drive - yes?

  • by jdb2 (800046) * on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:42PM (#27790899) Journal
    It's called running XP in VMware under Linux.

    ( Also, is it just me or does the "XP" after "Super-Secure" look like a smiley representing someone laughing their guts out? )

    jdb2
  • Maybe they should have been working with MS for the past year testing and securing a Windows7 desktop config.
    • by Hadlock (143607)

      NASA doesn't use bleeding edge technology, but you want our national defense system(s) to be running on it? Someone promote this man to a government military buying agent!

  • OK, as if, anyone smell BS here, like I do?
    Here is a link to a story of how the Air Force wanted to create a wrold botnet to control and send cyber attacks should they need them for global scale cyber warfare.
    http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/05/15/1654235 [slashdot.org]

    My guess is, it was easier to get M$ to bend and rewrite certain things that would allow the Air Force to backdoor into systems, and create a buzz, saying that we now have the best and most secure version of XP EVER!, Because we bought it so much,

  • Can anyone explain why a company with the manpower and wealth of Microsoft can't just ship XP with sane security defaults out of the box for everyone else?

    This is the 21st century, right?

  • that's not really saying much.

  • by hAckz0r (989977) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:01PM (#27791207)

    85 percent of attacks were blocked after the configuration was installed.

    Now lets rephrase that; 15% of the attacks were still successful after a complete lock-down configuration was applied and lots of manpower went into burning custom installation disks and procedures. Is it just me or does anyone else see a problem with this?

  • Here's a link to the screenshot [blandname.com] of the new, super secure Windows XP. ;-)
  • So, if you're an organization with a lot of guns and airplanes you can get a better deal from MS?

  • by PPH (736903)
    Just put XP on a Time Warner broadband connection. Try downloading anything as big as a virus and you'll violate the TOS.
  • "Many of the changes were complex and technical, but Gilligan says one of the most important and simplest was an obvious fix to how Windows XP handled passwords. The Air Force insisted the system be configured so administrative passwords were unique, and different from general user passwords, preventing an average user from obtaining administrative privileges. Specifications were added to increase the length and complexity of passwords and expire them every 60 days"

    Is there any way of scripting this und
  • I was hoping to see Balmer yelling "Gilligan!" and hitting him with the little plaque.

  • And the US Air Force lost this fight.

  • What operating systems [nist.gov] have FDCC settings? Currently, FDCC settings are intended for Microsoft Windows XP Professional with Service Pack (SP) 2 or SP 3 and Microsoft Windows Vista Business, Microsoft Windows Vista Enterprise, and Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate with SP 1.
  • Oxymoron? (Score:4, Funny)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:58PM (#27792647)

    >> the most secure version of Windows XP

    Isn't that an oxymoron? Kinda like dry water?

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