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Send in the Marines

Trust, if there’s no room for it in politics, is there a place for it in computing?

Trust has, like cornflakes, has become a commodity. In the dictionary, it is defined as ‘Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing’ and if something is ‘Trustworthy’, then it ‘Warrants trust is reliable’.

Place computing and trust together in the same sentence and tell me if it feels right? Is there such a thing as ‘Trustworthy Computing’ or has Microsoft made a mistake by placing so much emphasis and indeed, its credibility, on the ‘T’ word?

I happened to turn the television on this evening and discovered that Channel 4 was showing the John Wayne film of the Vietnam War, ‘The Green Berets’. It struck me watching the film out of the corner of my eye and writing this column at the same time, that there was an analogy for me to draw upon from the story. One side, led by the heroic Wayne, ‘Colonel Kirby’ relies on a heady mix of optimism and overwhelming firepower, to keep someone called ‘Charlie’ outside the barbed wire perimeter of the jungle camp but “What”, says Kirby, “Happens if Charlie hits this camp before it’s completed”?

Charlie, you see, has a habit of “Sneaking through the wire at night” and I’m equally reminded that Microsoft has spent the equivalent of a small country’s GDP trying to build more ‘Trust’ into it’s products but on a month-by-month basis Charlie and his friends, continue to probe and find their way through the gaps in the wire and as long as these gaps keep appearing in Windows or even Linux, then any real suggestion of trust in the computing space remains an out of reach abstraction.

Every other night harassment”, remarks Colonel Nim. “It’s pretty good shooting”, says Colonel Kirby, referring to the damage Charlie is causing. “Yes” says Nim “But they have eyes in our camp

Have the events of the Summer, W32 Blaster, Sobig-F, Welchia and more, quite possibly before this column is published, irreparably damaged our confidence in the Windows environment or are consumers and businesses more likely now to recognise that we are caught in the crossfire of an undeclared war for control of cyberspace, where Windows just happens to be the most prominent and often, most vulnerable victim? It may not matter that this month’s statistics suggest that Linux is now the more popular target because most of us depend on Microsoft plugging the gaps in its software perimeter before Charlie exploits them on our Servers.

Can patching ever work efficiently or even effectively? I’ve heard it suggested in the last week that Microsoft should send every customer on the face of the planet a CD with the latest patches and Service Pack. This may seem like a good idea, after all, I would be online all day from a dial-up connection, updating my four PCs but by the time the CD arrived in the post there likely would be something else to worry about on patch Wednesday.

I really don’t believe that businesses are prepared to let Microsoft or any other software company, such as Sun, take patching to its logical conclusion and patch their systems automatically through an evolution of ‘Windows Update’. Interoperability still remains a myth in this business and patches, which can and often do carry errors, occasionally wreak havoc which expensive and mission-critical production systems and occasionally even desktop PCs.

So, let me know through the mailbag. Was this summer an unfortunate hiccough and is Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing campaign while bruised and bleeding, still relatively intact in both principle and practise? And can patching ever work effectively enough to stop Charlie creeping through the wire and causing the multi-million pound levels of business interruption seen this summer?


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