All posts by Andy Taylor

Andy Taylor is Host of TechtalkRadio and its affiliate broadcast. He has been in the Technology Media since 1996 and has served on the Panels at Consumer Electronic Show Las Vegas and Moderated. He has presented a weekly broadcast on New Technology and Gadgets in Tucson's CBS Affiliate KOLD TV as well as been a guest on Radio Segments around the country. He currently serves as resident Tech Analyst for KMSB Fox 11 Tucson

For Windows Vista Security, Microsoft Called in Pros

When Microsoft introduces its long-awaited Windows Vista operating system this month, it will have an unlikely partner to thank for making its flagship product safe and secure for millions of computer users across the world: the National Security Agency.

For the first time, the giant software maker is acknowledging the help of the secretive agency, better known for eavesdropping on foreign officials and, more recently, U.S. citizens as part of the Bush administration’s effort to combat terrorism. The agency said it has helped in the development of the security of Microsoft’s new operating system — the brains of a computer — to protect it from worms, Trojan horses and other insidious computer attackers.

“Our intention is to help everyone with security,” Tony W. Sager, the NSA’s chief of vulnerability analysis and operations group, said yesterday.

The NSA’s impact may be felt widely. Windows commands more than 90 percent of the worldwide market share in desktop operating systems, and Vista, which is set to be released to consumers Jan. 30, is expected to be used by more than 600 million computer users by 2010, according to Al Gillen, an analyst at market research firm International Data.

Microsoft has not promoted the NSA’s contributions, mentioning on its Web site the agency’s role only at the end of its “Windows Vista Security Guide,” which states that the “guide is not intended for home users” but for information and security specialists.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker declined to be specific about the contributions the NSA made to secure the Windows operating system.

The NSA also declined to be specific but said it used two groups — a “red team” and a “blue team” — to test Vista’s security. The red team, for instance, posed as “the determined, technically competent adversary” to disrupt, corrupt or steal information. “They pretend to be bad guys,” Sager said. The blue team helped Defense Department system administrators with Vista’s configuration .

Microsoft said this is not the first time it has sought help from the NSA. For about four years, Microsoft has tapped the spy agency for security expertise in reviewing its operating systems, including the Windows XP consumer version and the Windows Server 2003 for corporate customers.

With hundreds of thousands of Defense Department employees using Microsoft’s software, the NSA realizes that it’s in its own interest to make the product as secure as possible. “It’s partly a recognition that this is a commercial world,” Sager said. “Our customers have spoken.”

Microsoft also has sought the security expertise of other U.S. government and international entities, including NATO. “I cannot mention any of the other international agencies,” said Donald R. Armstrong, senior program manager of Microsoft’s government security program, citing the wishes of those agencies to remain anonymous.

Microsoft’s concerns extend beyond the welfare of its software when it seeks the security expertise of government agencies. “When you get into an environment where a Microsoft product is used in a battlefield situation or a government situation where if a system is compromised, identities could be found out,” and it could be a matter of life and death, Armstrong said.

Other software makers have turned to government agencies for security advice, including Apple, which makes the Mac OS X operating system. “We work with a number of U.S. government agencies on Mac OS X security and collaborated with the NSA on the Mac OS X security configuration guide,” said Apple spokesman Anuj Nayar in an e-mail.

Novell, which sells a Linux-based operating system, also works with government agencies on software security issues, spokesman Bruce Lowry said in an e-mail, “but we’re not in a position to go into specifics of the who, what, when types of questions.”

The NSA declined to comment on its security work with other software firms, but Sager said Microsoft is the only one “with this kind of relationship at this point where there’s an acknowledgment publicly.”

The NSA, which provided its service free, said it was Microsoft’s idea to acknowledge the spy agency’s role.

The NSA’s primary mission is signals intelligence — monitoring the communications of foreign powers, terrorists and others. But its secondary objection is “information assurance,” under which the security of Microsoft’s operating system falls.

Industry observers suggest that both the NSA and Microsoft have good reason to disclose their relationship. For Microsoft, the NSA’s imprimatur may be viewed as a vote of confidence in the operating system’s security.

“I kind of call it a Good Housekeeping seal” of approval, said Michael Cherry, a former Windows program manager who now analyzes the product for Directions on Microsoft, a firm that tracks the software maker.

Cherry says the NSA’s involvement can help counter the perception that Windows is not entirely secure and help create a perception that Microsoft has solved the security problems that have plagued it in the past. “Microsoft also wants to make the case that [the new Windows] more secure than its earlier versions,” he said.

Armstrong, the Microsoft manager, said: “The entire crux of Vista was security. . . . Security is at the forefront of our thoughts and our methods in developments and is critically important to our customers.”

By: Alec Klein and Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Staff Writers, Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Woman Faces 40 Years for Porn-Infected PC (Crazy, but True)

Julie Amero, a substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, has been convicted of impairing the morals of a child and risking injury to a minor by exposing as many as ten seventh-grade students to porn sites.

The story is short: On October, 19, 2004, Amero was a substitute teacher for a seventh-grade language class at Kelly Middle School. A few students were crowded around a PC; some were giggling. She investigated and saw the kids looking at a barrage of graphic, hard-core pornographic pop-ups.

The prosecution contended that she had used the computer to visit porn sites.

The defense said that wasn’t true and argued that the machine was infested with spyware and malware, and that opening the browser caused the computer to go into an endless loop of pop -ups leading to porn sites.

Amero maintains her innocence. She refused offers of a plea bargain and now faces an astounding 40 years in prison (her sentencing is on March 2).

Horner made an image of the computer’s hard drive. He saw that there was no firewall and that the antivirus program was outdated. He also found 42 active “spyware/adware tracking cookie/programs.” Most important, Horner said that 27 of the spyware apps were accessed before Amero had access to the computer.

The defense wanted Horner to have Internet access at the trial in order to re-create what happened to Amero in the classroom. The prosecution objected, claiming they hadn’t had “full disclosure” of Horner’s examination.

Article by: Steve Bass’s Tips & Tweaks, PC World

Microsoft woos bloggers with free computers, Vista

‘There is no expectation of any editorial payback,’ says a spokeswoman…

January 02, 2007 (Computerworld) — Microsoft Corp.’s efforts to woo influential bloggers by sending them free computers loaded with the Vista operating system is generating controversy, with some online writers attacking would-be Vista reviewers for taking what were tantamount to bribes, while recipients defend their editorial independence, arguing that journalism-style rules prohibiting such gifts are outdated.

Bloggers who acknowledged receiving the computers as part of the joint Microsoft and AMD Inc. marketing program include Mary Jo Foley, Om Malik, Michael Arrington, Ed Bott and others.


In total, Microsoft and AMD gave away 90 PCs, all loaded with the highest-end version of Windows Vista, the 64-bit Ultimate edition. Most received
Acer Ferrari laptops that list for between $2,000 and $2,400 at retail stores. Others received media center desktops made by Velocity Micro Inc.

In letters accompanying the computers, which arrived last week, bloggers were given the option of returning the hardware to Microsoft, keeping it or disposing of it in some other way. “Microsoft has been very open and transparent,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman. “There is no expectation of any editorial payback.”

Jason Calacanis, founder of blog network Weblogs Inc. and an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Sequoia Capital venture capital firm, called the PC giveaways “payola” and “bribes” that respectable bloggers should refuse.

“Any free product or service is a bribe, with very few exceptions,” he wrote in an online posting. “It’s wrong, and bloggers are simply new to the space and they don’t know what to make of this very, very obvious situation. The bloggers who go down the road of free products will learn, over time, that their credibility takes a hit…. At the end of the day your reputation is all you have, and life is too short to blow it on some free stuff.”

Skepticism also reigned at Slashdot, an aggregator of tech news, where 303 mostly-negative comments about the Microsoft-AMD program were posted.

Long Zheng, an Australian college student and blogger who received a Velocity Micro computer, had received 199 mostly-negative comments at his blog. He plans to donate the PC, after reviewing it, to his former high school.

Bott, a computer magazine editor-turned blogger who plans to return his laptop to Microsoft, argued that traditional journalism strictures against keeping expensive gifts shouldn’t apply universally to all bloggers.

“I’m a journalist by training and by profession, and that dictates my decision,” Bott wrote. “But what if I were a starving student or an MVP who started a blog because I was passionate about technology and wanted to share that passion with a community? Everyone in the community wins when that person gets the chance to play with new technology. In that case, Microsoft is just doing some smart marketing, seeding the market and increasing mind share. They could spend the same amount of money hiring people to write white papers or running ads in the Wall Street Journal. But the world will get a lot more valuable feedback if that information comes from real people actually using this technology.”

Foley, who writes the All About Microsoft blog, wrote that accepting the Acer laptop from Microsoft made sense for her because she had no plans to upgrade her existing PC running Windows XP. Nevertheless, she told Microsoft that she is treating the Acer laptop as a “loaner, not a gift.”

The Microsoft spokeswoman said the computer giveaways were the latest aspect of a three-year program to work with independent bloggers whose musings on Windows and other Microsoft products are widely read by techies online. She did not immediately comment on reports that as part of the program, Microsoft also pays the expenses of some bloggers to travel to Microsoft events or trade shows.

TechtalkRadio Blog

Hey there, thanks for stopping by the TechtalkRadio Blog using the Blogger.Com layout. We decided to try it out after getting some request to get our blog back up on the Site. With the growth of sites Like MySpace and others, having a centralized place for our blogs would be a very cool thing. I would like to be able to show you new products, testing results and websites that we just thought were pretty cool.

I would also love you to participate! Tell us what you found, a site you liked and maybe even a deal you found at the store or online. We’ll still publish at Myspace and hope this can grow into something. This blog will be moderated by Andy and Carol and have contributions from hopefully people like yourself.

Thanks again and we’ll update soon!