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Windows Operating Systems Software Security

The Windows Security Nightmare 969

latif writes "Microsoft has set aside a $5 million fund for paying off informants on malware authors. In my opinion a good chunk of this money deserves to be paid to individuals who help catch the Microsoft employees behind the design of Windows Registry and Windows Update. As I found out, the two mis-features work together to deprive Windows users of all protection from malware. The details of my experience are in the article Why Windows is a Security Nightmare." In a related story, Anonymous Wussie writes "This guy had family with a problem: A Windows XP computer hit by worms that couldn't stay on-line long enough to get patched. His solution? A CD. This article describes the custom made CD he sent to his family member with patches, tools, and instructions to make a fresh install of Windows XP Home Internet safe. I know I'll be doing this in the future."
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The Windows Security Nightmare

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  • Uh huh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by imidazole2 ( 776413 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:32PM (#9175400) Homepage Journal
    A typical Windows system follows a simple lifecycle: it starts out with a clean Windows installation, which gradually deteriorates as programs are installed, and uninstalled. Eventually, the Windows registry accumulates so much crud that the user is forced to do a clean install. When a user does a clean install that user's system loses all the previously applied security updates, and becomes a sitting duck for worms and other malware.

    Thats why I'm such a FreeBSD/Mac advocate.
    • by ( 410908 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:44PM (#9176291) Journal
      As we all know, computers, aren't meant to be in the hands of users, but strictly confined to (some) admins.

      There is a solution that any knowledgable admin can use : whenever a new service pack is out, you create an updated Windows installation cd (or dvd) that include the latest service pack => When reinstalling, you do that from SP4k or whatever, and it gives you an nice, almost secure config to start updating from...

      Also, a standard practice in my home is the use of Ghost just after the installation of all the basics softwares and updates...=> ditto.

      Now, a solution I have personnaly used on a friend computer after the usual "crashed before it even updated" episode : I booted her compuer using knoppix, downloaded the latest service pack and quite a bit of separate updates on a separate partition and then made an install without the net on...Ironic, using Linux to get a windows install running...

      Also (but that is only true on my own home network) I use a dedicated firewall (yeah, Linux) on my network, and I only keep open the ports I need...So, if I need to make a "virgin" Windows install, the firewall protects me from the nasty worms/exploits/whatsoever...

      Repeat after me : No Lusers in my Computer room ! 8)
      (Happily supporting my dad since Windows 3.11, I made my preceding comments a rule... backup often, streamline your updates, use a dedicated firewall...and NEVER let your dad (or any Luser) with a root/administrator account...btw, he's still using 98...
      • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @04:23PM (#9176729) Homepage
        1) working from behind a standard router is good, as you say. Any basic NAT will block most attacks.

        2) you outline a problem - using anything but windows update for updating a machine is the domain of super-l33t windows geeks. Not normal people. I know my way around a windows box very very well, but trying to update anything on a win box without the updater I find nearly impossible. Yes, there are admin downloads, but I find them outright scary to slog through.

        IMHO, they need something simpler - 2 things.
        a) a way to generate an updater CD to re-apply all windows update patches currently installed on your PC (for when you wipe) and b) up-to-date updater CD ISO's available to download for each currently supported MS OS for when you need to set up a friends computer. I recently set up a friends '98 box and it was a headache - a nice "download this disk and burn it for patching" that I could launch from XP would be ideal. If they're concerned about bandwidth, throw some of their mass of coders to make an MS torrent-a-like for said ISOs.
    • Re:Uh huh! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by zoloto ( 586738 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @04:22PM (#9176714)
      "Microsoft has set aside a $5 million fund for paying off informants on malware authors

      Maybe microsoft should pay the money to themselves and redesign their software

      You know, if the next version of Windows(TM) pulls what Apple did with their OS X, built a bsd underbelly to it and didn't allow backwards compatibility outside of a sandbox of sorts I wouldn't cry. Then it would be possible to secure the system and hopefully they'd get rid of their god forsaken registry / file and drive permissions / insecure nature for the most part.

      It won't be infallible, but simply less insecure for the current vulns out there.

      Then again, MSFT might implement this shiz so badly and incorrectly that we'd be stuck with a bunch of new prolems of which we haven't a clue to fix.

      just my 2cents
  • offended (Score:5, Troll)

    by andy666 ( 666062 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:32PM (#9175401)
    From article:

    "so simple, even my grandmother could implement it."

    As a 48 yo grandmother, I am offended that technical incompetance is equated with being a grandparent. I don't think anyone would have said "so simple even my grandfather could implement."

    I am incidentally, a C programmer of 20+ years.
    • by AtariAmarok ( 451306 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:39PM (#9175481)
      ""so simple, even my grandmother could implement it."

      "(AP) Dateline August 12, 2008. National and international commerce was brought to a halt as the "SugarCookie" worm infected and seized up the installed base of Windows 2006 computers. An FBI task force was able to determine that the worm was written by someone's grandmother who thought she was entering a cookie recipe into her computer. She was quoted as saying 'I did not know that Windows was so insecure that you could bring down networks with accidentally-written worm programs'"

    • by 2names ( 531755 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:45PM (#9175576)
      or not is immaterial. The simple fact is that as one ages, one loses touch with new technology and advancements for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with a person's abilities or intelligence. Mostly, people just stop caring about the latest gizmo and care more about things that are really important like family.

      But, if you don't believe me try this little test:

      Take an iPOD, a Laptop with a wireless card in it, and a wireless access point to a retirement home. Place them on a table right next to an Internet connection of any kind. Now ask if any of the residents can get a song from the iTunes store onto the iPOD.

      I'll put dollars to doughnuts you won't find a single resident who can do it. Not because they aren't capable of learning how, but because they really just don't care about that kind of thing anymore.


      • by captainClassLoader ( 240591 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:41PM (#9176265) Journal
        2names comments:

        "Now ask if any of the residents can get a song from the iTunes store onto the iPOD.

        I'll put dollars to doughnuts you won't find a single resident who can do it. Not because they aren't capable of learning how, but because they really just don't care about that kind of thing anymore."

        Then again, you might be surprised. I once did a benefit ambient gig at a retirement home, and then wound up giving a seminar on my set-up after the gig, as a pile of people crowded around my gear to ask me how I got all those sounds. My impression was that this retirement home was a pretty boring place, and a guy showing up with a bunch of synths to crank out strange quiet downtempo stuff sorta made their day...

      • by bloxnet ( 637785 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @04:10PM (#9176581)

        My grandparents are in their 80s...and you are probably right, but the generation(s) in their 50s-60s are more likely to have been exposed to technology and it's increasing role in our day to day lives to completely invalidate your theory.

        Even more so, each year that passes you will have more grandparents who are moderately tech's not in anyway a question of age, but experience. There are still quite a few people in their 20s, 30s, etc who would also not be able to pass your IPOD+ITunes test, because (brace yourself for the shock), they don't drool over tech items like the majority of slashdot readers do.

        It's just depressing to see that the rampant ageism that is applied to older people is still going strong in the tech industry...and does not seem to show signs of stopping.

        The original poster was offended because she was both a grandparent and a woman into technology, and admittedly, she is a rarity even now....but the real point is that the more time passes, it's more and more possible that this will not be an exception to the standard. And in the spirit of fairness, she was kind of silly to be up in arms about it anyhow...although her point *was* and *is* valid.
      • by jamesmrankinjr ( 536093 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @05:20PM (#9177317) Homepage

        Take an iPOD, a Laptop with a wireless card in it, and a wireless access point to a retirement home. Place them on a table right next to an Internet connection of any kind. Now ask if any of the residents can get a song from the iTunes store onto the iPOD.

        On the other hand, if you tell them that they can use it to download pictures of their grandkids, they'll probably have it up and running faster than a 19 year old nerd could :).

        Peace be with you,

  • Use the Firewall (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:33PM (#9175412)
    People always complain about their computers getting infected before they are able to download the patches - but this is easy to prevent if you just switch on the included firewall software.
    • Re:Use the Firewall (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jdreed1024 ( 443938 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:41PM (#9175520)
      People always complain about their computers getting infected before they are able to download the patches - but this is easy to prevent if you just switch on the included firewall software.

      Too bad the firewall software loads *last* in the startup sequence, leaving a gaping hole of anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes (on a slow machine) when your machine is on the net and unprotected. And during the height of worm activity, that's *more than enough* time to get infected.

      • by radish ( 98371 )
        How about you wait until the firewall is loaded before plugging in the network cable?
        • by Marc Desrochers ( 606563 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:53PM (#9175676)
          How about Windows not enabling the network inteface before it has all of the network settings loaded for it.

          ...and I don't believe obtaining a DHCP lease would be a problem through this.

          Asking users to plug/unplug their network cable is just plain silly.

          • by needacoolnickname ( 716083 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:10PM (#9175908)
            Asking users to plug/unplug their network cable is just plain silly.

            I'd have to disagree. I think making someone work for something might make them a bit more appreciative of what needs to be done to maintain it.

            I told my father to take his computer to a local shop to have it fixed rather than drive up to me. Once he learned how much it costs to have things fixed that can easily be avoided he seemed much more interested in learning how to take care of things than thinking "this thing should just do as I want it to" (and he stopped downloading stupid ass screensavers.

            A little work goes a long way.
        • by somethinghollow ( 530478 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:58PM (#9175731) Homepage Journal
          Okay. I'll climb under my desk, unplug my nic, climb out, power on the machine, wait until everything is loaded, climb back under my desk, plug it back in, then climb out and be productive.

          That is a great solution. Maybe Microsoft should make a KB article and send it to all the upperlevel business types in corperate America. I can see all the suits in their lavish office hundreds of feed above the city streets doing the Microsoft Shuffle. Now all they need is a catchy pop song to go with it and they'll be on Casey Kasem's Top 40.

          I'd rather just use my Mac.
        • by One Louder ( 595430 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:58PM (#9175742)
          Unfortunately, that assumes that one is familiar enough with Windows to know that's the order in which things load, that unplugging the network cable won't make the machine somehow think it's not *going* to be on a network.

          It's a rational expectation that a brand new machine, or one restored to factory configuration, should have no fatal problems - we certainly expect that the wheels don't fall off our cars just after we drive off the new car lot. We shouldn't have to *know* that we have to tighten the lugnuts or get new tires because the ones I juts bought are about to explode, and I shouldn't have to immediately change the locks because everyone and their grandmother can pick the one I just bought with a toothpick.

          Perhaps I'm taking the analogy too far, but can you name another product that is widely sold brand new with massive known defects?

        • by sik0fewl ( 561285 ) <.xxdigitalhellxx. .at.> on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:27PM (#9176120) Homepage

          How about you wait until the firewall is loaded before plugging in the network cable?

          Yeah, that's an elegant solution:

          "Windows has finished starting. It is now safe* to plug in your network cable."

          *Warning: may not actually be safe.
        • Re:Use the Firewall (Score:5, Interesting)

          by pohl ( 872 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:32PM (#9176178) Homepage
          How about you wait until the firewall is loaded before plugging in the network cable?

          +5 Funny. This reminds me of a situation at work. We sort of have two separate halves of the software development department: Java and the Microsofties. One day I wandered by the server room where the most brilliant of the Microsofties was installing some sort PDF-indexing engine on one of their Windows servers. They were being thwarted by some dialog box that kept comming up during the install. His solution to the problem at the moment that I happened by was...I swear to jam a penny into the keyboard such that it kept the return key held down, so that the key-repeat would dismiss the dialog box over & over again, in hopes that it would happen rapidly enough to get through the install.

          I swear, it's a totally different culture. Some of us insist on good software architecture. Others have an amazing capacity to assfucked by bad software architecture and keep going back for more. You can bother about yanking and reinsertintg your ethernet if you really want to. I'll work around the problem by being a more selective consumer, thank you.

      • Re:Use the Firewall (Score:3, Informative)

        by Setti ( 682783 )
        Too bad people don't know how to unplug the ethernet until the firewall is up :P

        Considering it's all a hassle... Isn't SP2 supposed to resolve the issue with the Firewall loading last?
    • Re:Use the Firewall (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sean80 ( 567340 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:45PM (#9175579)
      I still don't get it sometimes when people say this. I would only feel comfortable making this sort of statement based on some evidence. Not a troll or anything, but has anybody ever seen any evidence which indicates what majority of the PC-using community understand what a "firewall" means, and, if they do, how to turn it on when they receive their brand-spanking new PC from Dell?

      If that number turned out to be unusually low, perhaps the key is to really shove this sort of education down people's throats. How? I don't know. A series of ads on TV? Not likely. Get it into the headlines? Not likely. So I'm just not sure how this could be done.

      One thing's for sure, my mom wouldn't know what a firewall is, nor how to turn it on, and I shudder at the thought of trying to explain it. Honestly.

    • by dylan_- ( 1661 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:48PM (#9175608) Homepage
      Since a few people have mentioned this: He was using Windows 2000. It doesn't have a firewall.
  • Burn a cd? (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustKidding ( 591117 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:35PM (#9175428)
    custom made CD he sent to his family member with patches, tools, and instructions to make a fresh install of Windows XP Home Internet safe. I know I'll be doing this in the future."

    Better make that a rewritable...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:35PM (#9175432)
    the CD held knoppix
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:36PM (#9175438)
    my windows security nightmare involves bill gates breaking all my boxen with a life size stainless steel Clippy.
  • Heh not me. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:37PM (#9175446) Homepage Journal

    This article describes the custom made CD he sent to his family member with patches, tools, and instructions to make a fresh install of Windows XP

    I took the extreme opposite approach: I don't help family or friends with their Windows problems if they've asked me for advice and gone against it. (as written about in my journal [] last March.)
    • Re:Heh not me. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xplosiv ( 129880 )
      Unfortunately, most people can't get away with that attitude, that's almost as bad as burning bridges. Someday your friend/family member will be asked if they know anyone who is willing to accept a high paying Windows admin job, and your friend/family member will say "No, the only person I know doesn't do windows". Instead, refer them to websites where they can download anti-spyware software, anti-virus software and such, you have nothing to lose, and while you give them this information, you can tell the
    • by blastedtokyo ( 540215 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:01PM (#9175788)
      Son, I think it was a virus that took your name out of the will.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:37PM (#9175455)
    Microsoft should send XP SP2 CD-ROM to everyone that has registered Windows XP. After user installs and visits some web site, they enter into Microsoft award contest. 100 random users that install XP SP2 receive 50.000$ award each. I guess everyone would upgrade if they could receive an award.

    Small price for Microsoft, great effect on security.
  • Big problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdreed1024 ( 443938 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:37PM (#9175458)
    A Windows XP computer hit by worms that couldn't stay on-line long enough to get patched.

    This is a serious problem, actually. During the height of the worms last summer, we saw hundreds of machines that got infected while in the middle of downloading updates. It even got to the point that the WinXP "firewall" wasn't good enough, since it loaded *last* in the startup sequence, and there was a good 20 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on the speed of the machine) when the machine was on the net and unprotected, even if you had enabled the firewall settings.

    It's the bigger problem of running services by default. The average user doesn't need half of the services that run. Linux figured that out years ago - most services are off these days, and those that are on are fairly secure (ie: sshd). Even if some of these services are required for system operation (like some folks have claimed), there's no reason for them to be listening on addresses other than

    • Re:Big problem (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kenja ( 541830 )
      "This is a serious problem, actually. During the height of the worms last summer, we saw hundreds of machines that got infected while in the middle of downloading updates. It even got to the point that the WinXP "firewall" wasn't good enough, since it loaded *last* in the startup sequence, and there was a good 20 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on the speed of the machine) when the machine was on the net and unprotected, even if you had enabled the firewall settings."

      There is a system called "unplugging th

  • You Mean digital? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mordaximus ( 566304 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:38PM (#9175461)
    the Microsoft employees behind the design of Windows Registry

    Ah yes, brought to you by the letter V, as in VMS. IIRC it was a few digital VMS engineers that left and help build many of the more functional components of WinNT. And apart from the ACL, i believe the registry (at least for pathworks) was another digital innovation...

    Never forget there is very little you can credit Microsoft with...

  • all he had to do (Score:5, Informative)

    by xplosiv ( 129880 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:38PM (#9175463)
    was have them type 'shutdown -a' at the command prompt and the rebooting would have stopped. I have helped people remove this worm many times using Remote Assistance, over dialup without any issues. The firewall software is going to cause more problems in the long run as it will block some of their games, or even him remotely accessing the machines in emergencies.
  • by kbahey ( 102895 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:38PM (#9175464) Homepage
    I cannot help but see the analogy here.

    Microsoft takes the approach of fighting the symptom (malware, ...etc.), and not the root cause (flawed security design, ...etc.).

    This is the same way many governments approach things like terrorism. They address it like a security problem only, that Intelligence Agencies and the Military/police handle. Why these ideologies developed, and what are the social, economic, and political reasons that lead to it is never even attempted.

    And it is not only America, this has happened before in Ireland, Spain, Egypt and elsewhere.

    Unless the root cause is studied, a correct diagnosis is made, and then remedial actions are taken, no amount of policing will fix the problem for good.

  • Custom patch CD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by prisen ( 578061 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:39PM (#9175471)
    This isn't anything new -- I've sent plenty of patch CD's with customized .bat/.cmd files along with stupid-easy instructions thanks to an autorun.inf that takes care of everything from hotfixes to updating DirectX and IE, even restarting the box when it's done..all without bothering the user with confusing dialog boxes. It helps quite a bit when your family has dial-up and can't even get to Windows Update before Sasser or equivalent hoses their machine.

    But, then again, I've sent many times more Linux distro CD's to my friends.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:40PM (#9175490)

    If you're going to go after Windows employees, don't bother with the registry and update guys. Nail the guys who made ActiveX and Outlook.

    There ya go, I'm an informant now. When can I expect my check? =)


  • by thewldisntenuff ( 778302 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:41PM (#9175515) Homepage
    I think the biggest problem in making an update cd or instructions on how to update their computer is not getting the right programs together - it's getting them to properly use and learn how to be on top of security issues.

    Case in point-
    I return home for the semester break, and my sister's pc is riddled with spyware, malware, you name it. The thing is no longer functional, so I had to format the hard drive, yadda yaddda yadda...I gave her a full lesson, and made sure she knew exactly what to do. Yet a month later, the computer was back in the crapper again...She stated that she lost all of the programs she liked when I fixed her computer-

    That's the problem...Unless I boot linux and pull the internet from the back of the machine, her pc will never be secure...No matter how many times you teach/tell someone about computers and online security, for most noobs or non-users, it just doesn't seem to click...

    As far as issues with Windows Update...Best bet is to download from someone else's high-speed pc. I had a similar incident with SoBIG and a reinstallation of XP.
  • i use windows (Score:4, Interesting)

    by takitus ( 733922 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:41PM (#9175516)
    and have a hardware firewall, run ie and outlook express and have never had a problem. it can almost always be chalked up to not knowing how to operate things properly. i have made similar cds that are all automated. i used to sell them around the time the blaster worm came out on the side of the streets outside best buy etc for $20 a piece. made a few grand off that. best buy was chargin $80 for the same thing that my cd did =). either way... windows is only as safe as you make it. the only thing required to keep viruses from getting in a windows box is running the patches, and even that isnt that necessary if you have a firewall. all of the rest of the viruses are contracted through user error. poo!
    • Re:i use windows (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ForemastJack ( 58751 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:27PM (#9176129)

      Quoth the parent:

      i used to sell them around the time the blaster worm came out on the side of the streets outside best buy etc for $20 a piece. made a few grand off that.

      I read that and nearly spit coffee on my keyboard. OK, let's assume that the parent poster is being 100% honest, that he made "a few grand" selling home-burned CDs outside Best Buy at $20 a pop. That's, conservatively, 100 CDs!

      In other words, at least one hundred people were perfectly willing to shell out money -- cash, presumably -- to some random guy in front of a store, then take this guy's CD home and blindly install whatever the hell he'd given them!

      Folks, talk all the shit about Microsoft that you want, but there's your security problem! If this guy is on the level, we've just had a prime lesson in the reason why Blaster, et al spread like typhoid.

      You know, don't you feel sorry for Microsoft, sometimes -- just a little bit? I mean, imagine you're a Microsoft engineer. You're hard-working. You really do try, given the massive user base you have to support and the cruft of legacy code you're stuck with. Reasonably fast patching for security holes, updates -- hell, they'll send you a damn CD of updates for free!

      And then you read something like this. And request an immediate transfer to the Office development group...working with Clippy would seem like a joy.

      And for all the linux advocates out there -- especially the zealots, the Stallman's Witnesses -- this is a cautionary tale. If and when linux starts to hit the desktops, you're going have this same problem. If 100 users are willing to take some guy's CDs and install them, no questions asked, they're not going to flinch when he says, "Oh, and it will prompt you for your administrator password. You'll need to enter that in order to make sure the system is scrubbed." Play out your own nightmare scenario, there. Linux is inherently more secure? Really?

      Social engineering-based cracking can't be stopped. Not by Windows, not by Linux.

  • by pariahdecss ( 534450 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:43PM (#9175543)
    How about creating a CD to make the internet safe from Windows XP
    Maybe something that strips out the entire TCP/IP stack - a castration of sorts for the good of all mankind

    My name is Bill and I pronounce Windows -- WeenDOHS
  • by mgoodman ( 250332 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:47PM (#9175597)
    ...why stupid people shouldnt use computers.

    Just because its made by microsoft, that doesn't mean an idiot should administer it. It certainly doesn't mean its going to be secure and stable out of the box.

    The huge divide between Unix/Linux and Windows is that Unix/Linux forces you to know what you're doing when you install something on your computer. Windows assumes the opposite.

    However, if you do know what you're doing with Windows, problems of this nature are not really problematic. Fixing Windows without reinstalling is easy for competent administrators. Jeez, I can get around in Windows without a mouse and without explorer.exe.

    Here's a hint guys: if something breaks on Windows -- don't install a program to fix your computer. It will break it further. Don't install registry cleaners -- they suck. Slick your system, ghost your system, take registry snapshots now and then. Don't install third party software on production machines without testing on crap boxes first. Do know your system in and out.
  • What a bozo! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gregarican ( 694358 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:47PM (#9175600) Homepage
    I can empathize with the author's issues and gripes, but a bit of enduser education could have prevented a decent amount of them. Here's a good document [] on how to survive your first day with Windows XP.

    The author's slanted raving is over the top. I could just as easily read about some Linux newbie's nightmare experience trying to get all of his hardware to work or how they had to rebuild the kernel after applying some new module to their system.

    My main gripe with how things are is that all new PC's should be delivered fully patched as of their configuration date. And since Microsoft has switched to their license subscription model they should ship out CD's to all licensed customers with all rollup security packs available. Just like a TechNet subscription operates for previewing beta products. I don't mean a user calls into Microsoft to request a CD. It's their place to send them out. Just like an auto company would mail out recall notices.

  • by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:48PM (#9175618) Homepage Journal
    I skimmed through the article, which didn't have many technical details. Here's what we do at work:

    You can integrate the service pack into the setup (which will be especially useful when SP2 arrives) so that it's installed at the same time. This works with Windows 2000 and up.

    You can then use Sysprep (brief introduction []) to automatically deploy the latest patches the first time the machine boots.

    Here's a nice article [] on how to burn the result to a bootable CD.

    It's a bit of work, and requires constant maintenance but it saves a lot of headaches in the long run.

    An easier method, if you have a lot of machines with identical specs. Build a template machine with the OS installed, adding all the service packs, patches, etc. Use software like Ghost [] to make an image for deploying to multiple machines.

    Who says the stuff you learn on an MCSE isn't useful? :-)
  • by Halvard ( 102061 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:49PM (#9175625)

    That's what the "Teddy Bears of Doom" are/were all about. They were the people that beat up the programmers for buggy code. They were immortalized as one of the four random faces in the Windows 3.1 Easter Egg (I believe Gates, Ballmer, I forget but I think it was the project manager who left after 1 year cycling sabatical, and the Teddy Bear).

  • by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:52PM (#9175673)
    ...and she has never run into a problem that SpyBot can't fix (aside from the occasional reboot when game software goes haywire).

    I run Linux and have been hacked once about three years ago (back when I had a cable modem connection). The only reason I knew they hacked me was when I noticed an extra user with several p0rn media files in their home directory. It has gotten me into the habit of patching Linux regularly and being much more strict on my firewall rules.

    I think the only real difference between Linux and Windows from a security standpoint is that in Linux you can usually turn off the offending service much more easily until a patch is available.
  • by Paladine97 ( 467512 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:54PM (#9175690) Homepage
    I have used Windows for a long long time and have never experienced any of the problems that the author claims. It seems like he has a beef with Windows and generalizes for all installations. For example:
    A typical Windows system follows a simple lifecycle: it starts out with a clean Windows installation, which gradually deteriorates as programs are installed, and uninstalled. Eventually, the Windows registry accumulates so much crud that the user is forced to do a clean install. When a user does a clean install that user's system loses all the previously applied security updates, and becomes a sitting duck for worms and other malware.

    A Windows system doesn't deterioriate if you know what you're doing. The author clearly assumes that the uninstallation packages actually work. This is a fatal mistake. I always manually look in the registry for left-overs when I do an uninstallation. I just uninstalled Mozilla? I find all Mozilla folders underneath HKLM/HKCU and delete them too. This tends to work well except when dealing with COM object registration (which is a nightmare).

    Then he tries to run a registry cleaner on his system. You know those warnings that say "MAKE SURE YOU BACKUP YOUR REGISTRY"? Well they say that for a reason. Back it up. Then when the shit hits the fan like the author said, he can restore from a boot disc.

    Yeah the registry is a pain sometimes, but combined with some experience and know-how, you can keep a system running without having to reinstall.
  • by erikharrison ( 633719 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:57PM (#9175723)
    I've been working tech support for an ISP for years, and this guys fundamental conclusion is correct - Joe User can't keep his system secure - he just can't. And Joe Sysadmin has a damn hard time of it himself.

    The amount of "repair" functionality inside of MS products is a huge sign that users and developers are sick of the reinstall cycle, but that the OS design makes it very difficult to fix. Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Office all have "repair my installation" tools built in, XP and ME have System Restore.

    I have watched users get the Sasser virus, run system restore, have system restore break the XP firewall, cause a port lockdown, resolve the port lockdown so they can run windows update, only to become reinfected with the sasser. Maintainence of Windows is hard, OS reinstall is easy. OEM aren't value adding to the OS by providing solid maintanence tools, their providing restore disks, because writing such a maintanence tool is INCREDIBLY difficult.

    I understand MS's need to stay commited to this design, at least through Longhorn and it's revs. But as long as you are, MS, please give us a non network dependent tool for maintaining and distributing patches and updates. Let OEMs and (in my case) ISPs ship critical fixes on CD so that we can help our users. Make System Restore a fine grained tool, where I can back up critical system files and DLLs, as well as the registry. Don't force me to go to a third party for a "registry cleaner". Provide me with the OS for the tools that I need and that vendors need to maintain the OS.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:57PM (#9175724) Homepage
    One safe option is to run the free version of QNX [] on the desktop.

    The free version of QNX comes with no inbound services enabled. Most of the standard UNIX-type services are available, but they're not installed by default. It's a pure client. In fact, it's very close to what the iOpener ran. Both dial-up and LAN connections are supported.

    Mozilla 1.1 runs, but without Flash. There's a word processor, ABIword. The whole GNU toolchain is available. Unfortunately, OpenOffice hasn't been ported.

    It's refreshing to run a system without all the Microsoft crap, or the Linux emulations of it.

  • by dameron ( 307970 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @02:59PM (#9175756)
    Here's a possible solution I was discussing not twenty minutes ago.

    1) add private network ip address ( to existing public server

    2) do no NAT or other routing on this ip

    3) have squid running on to accept connections from a handful fo addresses in 10.0.1.x or do proxy authentication

    4) when installing/updating/troubleshooting windows boxes assign them a 10.0.1.x address and set windowsupdate to use the proxy

    Windows update runs, the machine is on its own tiny network isolated from all legit traffic and can't compromise your network plus it it can't be infected from outside as it's safe behind the proxy. When you feel it's safe (you've got all patches, firewall, etc configured) restart with DHCP and get an address on your "real" network.

    Or you could roll your own installation cd with the correct service packs and security updated included, but why fix a software problem with software...?


  • by jwcorder ( 776512 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:00PM (#9175778)

    I could not help but find myself in quite a humorous state as I read that article. As a Support Analyst for a Fortune 50 company, I see many of the errors that the user was describing in the beginning of the article. Unforunately for him, he reinstalled the OS. All he needed to do was recreate his Windows profile.

    The right click locking explorer and the functionality loss of Mozilla were most definely not caused by the Reg, but more likely caused by a corrupted NTUSER.Dat file in the profile folder of his machine.

    Furthermore, if you are currently reading this article on your home PC and not sitting behind a firewall of some sort, please send an email to with the attention line reading I am no longer worthy.....just kidding just kidding.

  • by Quarters ( 18322 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:06PM (#9175862)
    The author installed a bunch of 30 day trial software that borked his system. He then chose a registry cleaner without doing much research on them and ended up using a pretty poor one. Then he complains because his machine got fuggered when he had to reinstall the OS.

    Cry me a river. A tool like Norton System Works that has both an installation watcher and a great Windows configuration diagnostic/repair tool would've solved his problems. Grabbing the first tool listed on when you type in "Registry Cleaner" is not the inteligent way to go about system maintenance.

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:17PM (#9176003) Homepage
    Best quote in the article: "Windows users are so accustomed to usability problems that they don't even recognize them as usability problems."

    Unfortunately, this extends far, far beyond Windows. This is a problem for the entire industry.

    It reminds me of the way nuclear power plants are (were?) licensed. If, during review, the nuclear regulatory commission finds a safety issue that is unique to the particular installation, the licensee must address it before it can be licensed. If, however, the licensee can demonstrate that the issue is actually "generic"--that is common to all nuclear power plants--the licensee need not do anything about it.

    In the PC world, any problem that persists for more than a few years is not longer perceived as a problem. It becomes "generic."

    The phenomenon is even getting worse over time, thanks to the general public's increasing familiarity with computers. During the eighties, when manufacturers were trying to seduce individuals into buying home PCs (and IT managers into abandoning those hard-to-use green screens for easy-to-use GUIs), usability disasters were treated as important. No more.

    Computers hit their peak of usability sometime in the eighties and have been in steady decline ever since.

    One of the biggest issues noted in the article is the instability of Windows over time as software packages are installed and uninstalled. But this is hardly limited to Windows. The irony here is that the ability to uninstall software properly was supposed to be a logo requirement for Windows NT 4.0 software, and one of the features that Microsoft used to urge its superiority to 3.5.

    Unfortunately, software installation and uninstallation is not a trivial problem. To do it right would require a great deal of functionality that can only be performed by the OS, which would need, for example, to track which system components were in use by which applications. And it would need to have the ability to associate specific versions of system components with applications, so that it would not be vulnerable to the assumption that Version 3.6.1 of the Frammis Service is absolutely guaranteed to have fewer bugs and be totally backward compatible with every previous version of the Frammis Service that has ever been released.

    And before sixteen people reply explaining that .NET fixes all that, spare me. As I pointed out, it has been true FOREVER that Microsoft has claimed that the next release of NT/Win2K/WinXP/Longhorn/whatever would fix all that.

    Microsoft didn't solve the problem. They just sort of declared that it had been solved. Installshield and friends kludge their way through installations, merrily making clumsy guesses and assumptions about the history of the system and the needs of other applications and overwriting files and changing registry settings. SQA departments are happy if the installed application runs after installation on a clean OS with no other software installed and don't have the time or the mission to make sure that (say) installing the application doesn't break anybody else's application. (Indeed, one suspects that in some parts of the industry, it's consider a plus if installing one application breaks other applications, if they happen to be competing applications).

    I could go on and on. (Indeed, I already have). In the world of PC's (and I include both WIndows and Macs--and nothing I've read makes me think Linux is very different), an awful lot of things don't work very well and NOBODY SEEMS TO CARE because it's "always" been that way. Laypeople have gotten accustomed to blaming themselves ("my computer hates me,") IT departments don't even expect computers to work properly after about three years; developers/hackers/sophisticated users enjoy the challenge of troubleshooting the latest glitch... ...and formerly tame, humble consumer devices like televisions sets, cars, and cameras are getting computers built into them and are declining in usability too.
  • by Ridgelift ( 228977 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:43PM (#9176278)
    The whole idea of Windows Update is a joke. Using an unreliable and insecure network as the primary means of distributing security updates is simply idiotic. This is like asking people to walk through a minefield to get to a shelter.

    And yet, people still want Windows. I work in a high-tech call center, and people still look at me with blank stares when I tell them I don't use Windows at all at home.

    Q "What do you run for anti-virus?"
    A "Nothing. Linux isn't as succeptible to viruses"

    Q "What about spyware?"
    A "Same thing. I don't run anti-spyware either because I don't get it. Oh, and I can update my computer without rebooting too"

    I've even had a laptop running nothing but Slackware, and technical people _not_ believing that Windows wasn't somehow still on the machine! People just don't see computers with anything other than Windows. If computers = Windows, then how can people get sick of Windows and not be sick of computers? The fact is, Microsoft has done a brilliant job of equating computers with Windows, to the point where even most technical people don't see any other option.

    I think my job as an Open Source advocate is to just let people see Linux run on a computer, and let them follow the inevitable logical conclusion themselves.
  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:44PM (#9176289)
    This guy's an idiot. He installs crap and unreliable third party applications and drivers on his system and then blames Microsoft! The article was a rant about security, so why the comments about the registry? It seems that was a dig based on some other personal dislike. He admits he placed his trust in some third party tool to clean his registry! Seems rather foolish.

    If Linux were as popular as Windows, there would just as much poor quality crap coming out for it trashing /etc, /lib, rc scripts, etc. Just as time consuming and frustrating to fix. Just as painful for incompetent and computer illiterate people. Just as many people running with root level priviledges. Just as many boxes cracked automatically before security updates can be downloaded.

    I ran Windows 2000 for 3.5 years with the only problems coming from Creative Labs DXR3 and SoundBlaster Live! drivers, and Mozilla's graphics resource eating issues. I won't buy anything from Creative Labs again, and Mozilla have fixed their bugs. I only had to re-install Windows after I accidentally trashed the first part of its partition playing around under Linux (Grub, Lilo, dd ... oops!).

  • by 5n3ak3rp1mp ( 305814 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @04:12PM (#9176603) Homepage
    1) run any security updates
    2) strongly suggest not using Outlook
    3) Completely lock down the "Internet" security zone in IE and force users to add sites that don't function properly (due to scripting turned off) to "Trusted Sites" (which has scripting on)
    4) Strongly suggest that users use Firefox instead of IE wherever possible
    5) Install antivirus software
    6) Install Spybot Search & Destroy and AdAware

    This keeps most spyware, virii and worms out.

    As a curious side-note, the first thing I do with a new OS X install is...
    1) Apply security patches
    2) There is no Step 2 ;)
  • Firewalls!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by diamondsw ( 685967 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @04:23PM (#9176740)
    Okay, let's get one thing straight. The only reason Windows is so easily attackable (and why Mac OS X and Linux are not) is that Windows ships with 10 million services running and listening on well-known ports. It's not the registry (although that contributes to instability over time), it's not Windows Update (although that could be much better designed - resumability, and fewer reboots!). The reason Windows is so vulnerable is it has far too many open avenues of attack.

    Try to hack a default OS X install, or many default Linux installs - sorry, *no* ports are open by default, so what can you attack? At best you minght be able to DDOS the box, or some upstream piece of network equipment, but you can't crash or hack the box itself.

    On my OS X box all I have open is SSH and everything else configured to only listen to localhost. If you manage to crack that, I have a lot more to worry about.
  • by Digital_Quartz ( 75366 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @05:08PM (#9177209) Homepage
    Such a CD should be shareable amongst users, so that if someone doesn't have an update CD, he/she can simply get one from a friend or an acquaintance.

    Well, first off, there's nothing to stop you doing this now. You can just download all the patches individually and burn them to a CD. But what's the problem with this?

    The short; this just means you'll be distributing virii by sneakernet. (Which is, admittedly, much slower than the Internet, but none the less...)

    You know, back before we had this newfangled "interweeb", we still had virii and worms. They were passed around on corperate networks, from networks to other machines and networks by floppy disk, and also they were sometimes distributed on BBSs with sloppy sysadmins.

    A "sharable" disk means that, instead of going through the effort of downloading those hundreads of megs of patches, I can just go copy a friend's disk. A copy of a "friend or an aquaintence"'s disk, however, is not a copy from a trusted source. Where did they get the disk from anyways? Who did they copy it from? It would strike me as very easy to craft a disc which would install a few intentionally malformed patches.

    There are a couple of solutions to this problem. You could, for example, make your machine compare a the cryptographic hash of each patch against a known cryptographic hash. In order to get the known hash, however, you'd have to connect to that ol' public network again, with an unprotected machine. Since this functionality does not exist in current versions of Windows, you would also need some kind of initial patch from Microsoft to pull this off.

    Another fix would be to cryptographically sign everything with a public key cryptosystem. This works great, so long as noone breaks your cryptosystem and/or finds the private key. Again, the functionality doesn't exist in today's implementations of Windows, so you still need another initial patch. (At least, as far as I know... I suppose XP might have signed updates; I've never tried to forge one.) This might be promising for future versions of windows. Microsoft has already bet your system security on a public key system with signed .NET objects, so this isn't so bad.

    Both of these can easily be circumvented by a "sharable CD" that uses autorun to install nasty things before you install any patches at all. Of course, autorun is another feature of windows with questionable security.

    In the end, the public network isn't really such a bad tool for delivering patches. Microsoft's implementation could be improved upon; upon installation of a "fresh" copy of XP, for example, the install could connect to the net and download all required patches prior to opening any ports on the system. (You don't need RPC to download patches, afterall). This is, more or less, the idea behind having the personal firewall enabled by default (only that's a little more kludgey).

  • by comcn ( 194756 ) on Monday May 17, 2004 @05:45PM (#9177559) Journal
    I had this issue just the other day. I found out that Microsoft provide a "hidden" option on Windows Update to allow downloading all patches for a certain operating system.

    The following URL describes how to do it:; en-us;323166 []

    Basically, go to Windows Update, click on "Personalize Windows Update", and then turn on "Display the link to the Windows Update Catalog", and save. You then go back to the main page, where you can access the windows update catalog and download to disk all current patches for a particular OS automatically.

    When I found that I was very pleased.

    I think there is software to automatically install it all from disk, too, but I haven't had time to look for that, yet.

VMS must die!