Gates Pushes Maximum Security

The Microsoft chairman cites the need for a 'trust ecosystem.'
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SAN JOSE, Calif. --

Microsoft

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Chairman Bill Gates opened the RSA Security conference here on Tuesday by outlining his company's approach to an overall secure digital environment that would enable both businesses and consumers to make transactions online more securely -- and simply -- than in the past, and he encouraged industrywide cooperation to meet these goals.

Gates' presentation also included a short demo of some of the new security features in the new Windows Vista operating system, to be released later this year.

His presentation focused on four areas: building a so-called "trust ecosystem" where trust, accountability and reputation are the foundation for secure online computing; engineering security into products from their inception; simplifying security for users and developers; and building a "fundamentally secure" platform, such as his company's forthcoming Windows Vista.

In an age in which so much of life is becoming digital -- such as medical records, taxes and entertainment -- it's important to have a "trust ecosystem," Gates said. He described that as a broad trustworthy environment between people and businesses that builds on reputation of the users, Web sites and code.

Gates discussed how a new feature of Windows -- code-named "InfoCard" -- will simplify and improve safety of transactions and sharing personal information online. Instead of typing in a password or credit card number each time a person makes a purchase, their InfoCard stores select personal information and verifies a person's identification to a trusted Web site as needed.

Second, Gates said developers need to consider security in all phases of designing products, rather than as an afterthought. IT professionals also need simple management tools to verify if code is secure.

The third piece, and certainly most relevant to the average computer user, is that security needs to be easier for end-users, IT professionals and developers to implement.

"If you look at security systems out there today, we don't achieve this," Gates said. Security is "overly complex," he said.

Gates touted Windows OneCare Live, now in beta, a subscription service that provides firewall, antivirus protection and backup, which is Microsoft's effort to make it easier for the average home user to maintain and protect their PC.

And lastly, the industry needs fundamentally secure platforms to build on, said Gates. He highlighted Windows Vista, the company's forthcoming operating system, which will protect against malware and intrusions -- automatically scanning downloads, for instance, to keep spyware from getting on to PCs surreptitiously.

"Security would jump out as the thing we've spent the most time on," Gates said.

John Pescatore, vice president for internet security at research firm Gartner, said, "It was good, visionary stuff. I think he laid out some really cool goals, and I think in Vista you'll see some of them come out for the first time."

He would have liked to have seen Gates go further, however, and say that the company's goal is to make add-on antivirus and anti-spyware products obsolete, because their own product would be so secure. Many of the vendors at the security conference exist because it's so easy to attack Windows, Pescatore said.

But Pescatore said that Vista is a real step forward and will include tougher protections against spyware and hackers. He called it "the first desktop operating system to take security seriously from Microsoft."

"Microsoft is not the punching bag for security anymore," Pescatore said.