- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Department of Homeland Security officials acknowledge that using Windows software for all the department’s personal computers may pose a security problem, but they are having “very serious and candid conversations” with Microsoft about the issue.

The agency has offered to help test the company’s products before they are released.

Microsoft executives, saying they need to do better, are embarking on a new security program for current and future software releases, and welcomed the offer of assistance.

Rep. Adam H. Putnam, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform technology subcommittee, asked agency officials at a hearing last week about what he called the government’s software “monoculture,” pointing out that “90 percent of the federal government [uses] a single operating system” — Microsoft Windows.

Over the summer, government agencies and private companies using Microsoft products incurred billions of dollars worth of damage from the “Blaster” and “SoBig.F” worms, which exploited defects in the Windows operating system. Some had to cease operations for a time.

“How do we guard against these worms and viruses and issues that will only grow worse and more rapid as time goes by?” Mr. Putnam asked.

Homeland Security Chief Information Officer Steve Cooper replied that 80 percent of the systems his team inherited were Windows and “the costs of changing would have been prohibitive.”

Microsoft warned consumers Wednesday about four critical new flaws in the operating system.

Mr. Cooper said in an interview that the agency has had some “very serious and candid conversations” with Microsoft executives about the problem.

He said they were approaching the issue in a “collaborative” way, and were looking for evidence that Microsoft was working to reduce the number of security flaws in its products.

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