Microsoft denies it built 'backdoor' in Windows 7

Don't worry, company tells users; NSA involved only in security compliance standards

Microsoft today denied that it has built a backdoor into Windows 7, a concern that surfaced yesterday after a senior National Security Agency (NSA) official testified before Congress that the agency had worked on the operating system.

"Microsoft has not and will not put 'backdoors' into Windows," a company spokeswoman said, reacting to a Computerworld story Wednesday.

On Monday, Richard Schaeffer, the NSA's information assurance director, told the Senate's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security that the agency had partnered with the developer during the creation of Windows 7 "to enhance Microsoft's operating system security guide."

Echoing earlier concerns, Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronics Privacy Information Center (EPIC), questioned the wisdom of letting the NSA participate in OS development. "The key problem is that NSA has a dual mission, COMPUSEC, computer security, now called cyber security, and SIGINT, signals intelligence, in other words surveillance," Rotenberg said in an e-mail.

Yesterday, he raised the issue, which isn't new, of whether the NSA pressures companies like Microsoft to craft so-called "backdoors" into their code that would let the agency track users and intercept users' communications. Rotenberg called it an "obvious concern," and added that it might be difficult for major software makers to turn down NSA "suggestions" because the U.S. federal government is an important customer.

Today's categorical denial by Microsoft was accompanied by further explanation of exactly how the NSA participated in the making of Windows 7. "The work being discussed here is purely in conjunction with our Security Compliance Management Toolkit," said the spokeswoman.

The company rolled out the Windows 7 version of the toolkit late last month, shortly after it officially launched the operating system.

The compliance management toolkit provides a set of security configurations that address additional levels of risks beyond those addressed out of the box, as well as tools to deploy these configurations and monitor what Microsoft calls "configuration drift." The toolkit is aimed at enterprises, government agencies and other large-scale organizations.

Microsoft's rejection of the idea that it's hidden a backdoor in Windows came as no surprise to security researchers, who yesterday expressed doubt that the company would put its reputation at such risk. "I can't imagine NSA and Microsoft would do anything deliberate, because the repercussions would be enormous if they got caught," Roger Thompson, the chief research officer of antivirus vendor AVG Technologies, said yesterday.

John Pescatore, an analyst with Gartner Research, agreed. "[The concerns] are way overstated," he said today in an e-mail. "NSA worked with Microsoft and others, like Cisco, on security configuration standards for [their] products."

Cisco, in fact, has built "lawful intercept" capabilities into its products, including its Internetworking Operating System (ISO) and its VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) lines. The term describes the process by which law enforcement agencies conduct electronic surveillance of circuit and packet-mode communications under authorization, such as electronic wiretap orders.

Rotenberg still questioned NSA involvement. "The key point is that the NSA is not the right agency to promote computer security in the private sector," he argued. "The risks to end users are real -- the original NSA key escrow proposal, 'Clipper,' was a terrible idea -- and there is too little transparency about these arrangements."

The Clipper chip Rotenberg referred to was a project first proposed in 1993 that would offer ultra-strong encryption, but would allow access to encrypted data by law enforcement. The NSA proposal, however, raised a firestorm of protest and the idea was ultimately dropped.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags MicrosoftnsaWindows 7

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?