Features

Locking Windows

National

Issue: "Isabel's slow march," Sept. 27, 2003

WEDNESDAY HAS A WHOLE NEW MEANING FOR Windows users. It's Update Day, when Microsoft issues the latest fixes for security flaws in its operating systems.

Microsoft started providing updates via an option in Internet Explorer's tools menu several years ago. The company also advises downloading regular updates and running current firewall and anti-virus software. Its patches are free to owners of legal copies of the programs that need fixing.

Now the Redmond software giant is considering a drastic step to protect computers: making Windows repair itself automatically. This means the software will regularly log on to the Internet (probably late at night) and "phone home" to Microsoft for updates. Then it will install the new code with no user assistance. Critics call this an intrusion that could itself be a security risk, but supporters say it may be the only way to protect hundreds of millions of computers.

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Microsoft has also hired Phil Reitinger, a former deputy cybercrime chief at the Justice Department, as its senior security strategist. He testified before Congress that his employer is doing everything possible to fight security breaches. Still, he added, "there is no such thing as completely secure software."

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