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Tuesday, 13 October 2020 08:26

Microsoft adept at deflecting questions about culpability in malware pandemic

Microsoft adept at deflecting questions about culpability in malware pandemic Image by Bellinon from Pixabay

Microsoft's Windows operating system is the target of a massive majority of the malicious software that abounds these days. And it has adopted the same strategy for avoiding blame as it did with the problem of viruses and worms: presenting itself as part of the solution, not the problem.

The step taken with viruses and worms was to add Windows Defender to its system. Thus, we had the peculiar situation where an operating system both facilitated attacks and also tried to block them.

This led to complaints that Microsoft was muscling in on a market and pushing out third-party providers, with one security company, Kaspersky, even going so far as to file an official complaint with authorities in Russia.

Part of Kaspersky's plaint was: “Since Microsoft itself develops antivirus software — Windows Defender that switches on automatically if third-party software fails to adapt to Windows 10 in due time — such actions lead to unreasonable advantages for Microsoft in the software market… Our task is to ensure equal conditions for all participants on this market. The trend is clear: Microsoft is gradually squeezing independent developers out of the Windows ecosystem.”

The complaint was dropped after Microsoft agreed to make changes to Windows Defender.

But essentially this means that the security of the Windows operating system does not need to be bolstered up; it can continue to resemble Swiss cheese till kingdom come. Few security companies would complain about this because a lot of their income comes from providing services around this highly insecure operating system.

Over the last two or three years, Microsoft has had to face the fact that ransomware has become a very serious problem for Windows – and only Windows. So it has gone on the front foot and started issuing white papers and blog posts about the scourge, often not even mentioning the word Windows.

But it need have no fear of anyone in the tech industry complaining; all these companies are bothered about is their bottom lines and Windows does indeed contribute a lot to that.

Ransomware is now a well-organised industry; there are suppliers, contractors, sub-contractors and a well-organised supply chain. Initially limited to encrypting files and demanding payment for a decryptor, the ransomware gangs have added data theft and distributed denial of service attacks to their arsenals, in order to force victims to comply with their demands.

The latest bid by Microsoft to paint itself as part of the solution, and not the problem, is to poke its nose into threat detection. One frequently reads posts, from its fans in the journalism sector, about how the big boys from Redmond helped fight the latest nation-state threat.

The latest is, of course, the unquestioning coverage given to the bid to interrupt the operations of the Trickbot botnet that is the largest globally and a source of numerous attacks on Windows systems.

Microsoft is aware that either individuals or businesses will find it very difficult to move away from Windows; application software is mostly written for this operating system. Like the smoker who continues to puff away through a hole in his/her throat, users will stay on until the bitter end.

With the company's latest annual report showing revenue of US$20 billion from Windows, Microsoft is never going to even think of giving up on the product. Users will just have to swallow what comes along and live with it.

No member of the tech press will bother questioning the company. There is fear of being cut off from drops, freebies and visits to Redmond. Nobody wants to pick a fight with a company that is one of the tech big five.

It's not a good note on which to end, one which holds out no hope for the future. But as long as users do not act, nothing will change.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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