Everyone is a forensic expert now
Summary: Free access for everybody; Microsoft’s back-door keys are now available for everyone to download and new issues about Windows security raise serious questions about liability
Credit goes to Bruce Schneier, who warned about this when it was first introduced publicly. He predicted exactly what would happen with Microsoft's back doors (also learn about CIPAV), which it foolishly believed it could keep under exclusive police control. According to this from Gizmodo:
Apparently Microsoft’s COFEE software that helps law enforcement grab data from password protected or encrypted sources is leaking all over the internet. So not only can you steal the software, but break the law by using it too.
Siren.gif: Microsoft COFEE law enforcement tool leaks all over the Internet~!
It was one of the most sought after applications on the Internet until it was leaked earlier today. And now that it’s out there—and it is all over the place, easily findable by anyone able to use a search engine—we can all move on with our lives. Yes, Microsoft COFEE, the law enforcement tool that mystified so many of us (including Gizmodo~! and Ars Technica~!), is now available to download. If only there were a “bay” of some sort where, I don’t know, pirates hang out…
Law does not directly interfere with behaviour, so mere threats against COFEE downloaders will not undo the damage which is coming.
The amusing thing is that Robert Scoble mocked me for writing about this back in 2006 when it was secret. Being a Microsoft evangelist (lead AstroTurfer), it was probably his duty to deny the existence of such back doors, which are now available for access by anyone who is interested and determined enough to find the trap door binaries.
The police is said to be carrying the software on USB drives, so how inevitable was such a leak really? It’s a stupid idea to begin with, just like AutoRun, which was removed by Microsoft for doing more harm than good (infection upon insertion). That was Microsoft’s admission of failure with its security approach and the Washington Post has a whole new article about it:
What Windows Autorun Has Wrought
A new report by Microsoft shows that the two most prevalent threats to Windows PCs in the first half of 2009 were malicious programs that have been aided mightily in their spread by a decision by Microsoft to allow the contents of removable media — such as USB thumb drives — to load automatically when inserted into Windows machines.
In its latest “Security Intelligence Report,” Microsoft counted the number of threats detected by its anti-malware desktop products, and found that the Conficker worm, along with a Trojan horse program called Taterf which steals passwords and license keys for popular computer games, were detected on 5.21 million and 4.91 million Windows computers, respectively.
NASA’s operations in space were affected by this (computer viruses passing via USB drives in Windows, maybe with AutoRun doing its magic). It’s even too much for the FBI. Free Software Magazine now asks: “Are Microsoft to blame for ‘hidden’ malware costs and will Windows 7 make any difference?”
A couple of stories have hit the headlines this year concerning the huge cost that some UK Local Governments incurred when dealing with malware attack on their Windows machines. If you missed them, Manchester City Council had a single USB infected with the infamous Conficker worm and it cost them — brace yourself — £1.5m ($2.4m) of which £1.2m (US$1.9m) was spent on IT, of which a staggering £600,000 (US$980k) went on consultancy fees including money to Microsoft. A while later, Ealing Borough Council were hit with a cost of £500000 (about US$ 800k) when they were also hit by a single USB stick containing conficker. Some in the industry tweeted and blogged this as being a “hidden cost of using Microsoft Windows”. In the ensuing discussion, many pointed out that the high cost was really due to the lack of a proper patching and disaster recovery policy at the council. So which is right? Is dealing with malware a hidden cost of using Windows or of a poor IT strategy?
Regardless of your software choice, a poor patching policy is a very bad idea if you value system integrity. But if you going to argue your case on TCO, Microsoft, don’t then try to dodge talk of the additional costs for maintaining, patching and clearing a Windows-based system.
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