Overcoming "security by good intentions"

Monday, 9 June 2003, 2:20 PM EST

Last week Microsoft announced plans to revise the process it uses to provide patches that fix problems with its software. While IT executives around the world may be swooning in gratitude at this latest demonstration of 'Trustworthy Computing' in action, those in the real world of IT, such as system administrators, network engineers, and security staff - in other words, the "doers with a clue" - have little to rejoice about with this latest news from Redmond.

By now, anyone with a Windows computer knows that hardly a week passes without a software patch/hotfix/update issued by Microsoft to fix a problem in its products. For security professionals and system administrators alike, the number of alerts and advisories pertaining to a new Microsoft software problem showing up in our e-mail inboxes almost matches the number of e-mail offers for miracle drugs promising to increase the size of certain body parts overnight.

I've never been a big fan of Microsoft's product update process. In fact, there are times when I believe it's better not to install a Microsoft patch, since applying a patch for one problem tends to create numerous new ones - an ongoing cycle that I've dubbed the Redmondian Law of Unintended (But Accept It Anyway) Consequences. Anyone who suffered through the Windows NT Service Pack fiasco over the years knows what I'm talking about, especially since it's difficult, if not impossible, to remove a patch or service pack (or fully trust it's been removed) without a complete re-install of the operating system.

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