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Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Gates `gets realistic' about MS problems

VEXING FLAWS Unable to explain security problems and weak virus protection, Bill Gates had to turn to the fight against spam to placate irritated and impatient users

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SAN FRANCISCO

Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates gestures during his keynote address at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Bill Gates said on Tuesday that Microsoft plans this summer to introduce a new version of its Internet Explorer Web browser with stronger features to protect against viruses and other vexing security flaws that have plagued Windows users.

In a wide-ranging speech at the RSA computer security conference, Gates, Microsoft's chairman, said the company was making progress in its fight against spam, adding that "phishing" software scams were the fastest growing security problem the company faces. He said the company is spending about US$2 billion a year on computer security development and research.

Gates did not mention the Firefox browser, which is freely available and has rapidly gained users since it was introduced by the open source Mozilla Foundation late last year. But Firefox is apparently enough of a threat that Microsoft felt compelled to rush Internet Explorer 7.0 into the market, ahead of the Longhorn version of Windows which is not due out until 2006.

"Browsing is a vulnerability," Gates said. He said the company would make a test version of the program available this summer.

"It will be another important advance," he said.

The computer security industry has generally been skeptical of Microsoft's security efforts because it has struggled against viruses and is often blamed for the problems that plague hundreds of millions of personal computers.

But on Tuesday, Gates received support from one security expert who has been a frequent critic of the company.

"In the past, he has made ridiculous promises," said Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer who is founder and chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security, a security firm based in Mountain View, California "Today he was realistic and he didn't make grandiose claims. I think he realizes it's a hard problem."

In addition to announcing Internet Explorer 7.0, Gates demonstrated the company's new anti-spyware technology that it obtained with the acquisition of Giant Software late last year. The company is offering the software free to Windows users. Gates also showed a system called Spynet, which makes it possible for Microsoft to collect data needed to counter new attacks.

About 6.8 million computer users have downloaded a test version of the anti-spyware program according to Mike Nash, a Microsoft vice president who heads the company's security business unit. Of that number, about 3 million are routinely sending monitoring data to Microsoft.

There were executives at the conference who said Microsoft is not helping computer users, but is merely advancing its own interests.

One of them, Gregor Freund, chief technology officer for Check Point Software Technologies, with offices in Redwood City, California, and Israel, was not impressed. After all, he said, Microsoft's products created the security problems and have caused "billions of dollars of damage to their users."

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