18-Mar-01 - German Military Bans Windows

Reliance on Microsoft software and American communications systems is believed to allow U.S. spy agencies easy access to German secrets.

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Germany's Bundiswehr is banning Microsoft software (and presumably other major American software packages) from use in critical environments due to concern over "back doors" suspected to have been placed for the use of U.S. spy agencies, particularly the NSA (National Security Agency).

China, last year, declared Linux, particularly the home grown Red Flag Linux, the official operating system for Chinese government and commerce due to similar security fears.

Such concerns were highlighted in September 1999 when the mysterious extra security key in Microsoft's crypto API was revealed (by an improperly cleaned up release) to be named NSAKey. A Google search on "NSAKey" will show a large amount of the discussion is in German.

Microsoft denied NSAKey was an NSA back door, and security analysts said it almost certainly wasn't because it would be kind of dumb and there are easier ways to do the job, but considering the silly antics of our spy agencies, many people are still suspicious.

Analysis

It is surprising this kind of move hasn't happened a lot sooner. Given the pervasive influence of U.S. spy agencies, and Microsoft's tenuous grasp of ethics, it just doesn't seem reasonable that Windows would not have government back doors.

This will probably be another boost for Linux, the logical alternative to Windows, especially since it already has a strong foothold in Germany. The fact that there can be no secrets in Linux certainly makes it worth considering.

A move away from Windows by the Bundiswehr would be far reaching, since the (rather substantial) German defense industry would probably move to follow suit to assure compatibility and compliance with contract terms. More bad news for Microsoft.

It is interesting that the NSA itself has been developing "Secure Linux", a version sufficiently secure even for its own needs. In keeping with the GPL license, the NSA has contributed the code back to the Linux community. As you might expect, it is being examined with the utmost suspicion.

Should your business be concerned about government "back doors" in Windows? Well, only you and the FBI would know that, right?

- Andrew Grygus

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