Microsoft and the Death of the Internet

Microsoft and its products and services are slowly destroying the Internet or at the very least changing the dynamics of the Internet. There are three main reasons for this rift in the Internet. The first reason is Microsoft’s standards. The second reason is the popularity of Microsoft software. The final reason is the security (or lack thereof) of Microsoft software. When you combine these three reasons together you get a potential Internet killer.

Microsoft’s standards and use of existing standards is shoddy, at best. Microsoft has a tendency to create standards to suit their needs as opposed to using an already established standard. Anyone in the tech industry long enough has seen this at least once. This is fine and dandy and it’s great that Microsoft has the resources to accomplish these tasks. The problem comes in because, usually, Microsoft standards are closed, independently managed standards or protocols. This means that only Microsoft gets to tinker with the standard, manage it, produce it, and secure it. When there is a standard and the only entity that knows the standard in and out is a major corporation then something is wrong. Microsoft also has a tendency to take existing standards and modify them a little (or a lot in most cases) then re-badges the new standard as Microsoft [INSERT OLD STANDARD NAME HERE]. This process makes a fine, open standard become a closed standard with an open basis which really does no good. Then there are the other standards. Standards like civility, morals, and security. But, when was the last time a security conscious nice guy succeeded in the world of IT?

A lot of people say that Microsoft’s popularity or market dominance is the key reason that their products are the targets of so many malicious code writers. This might be somewhat true. Microsoft is the world’s largest software company. Microsoft operating systems run on the majority of PCs around the world. So it could be safe to say that being number one isn’t always the greatest thing. Think of it like football, if you’re the number one team in the division, conference, or league everyone is gunning for you because every other team is trying to be number one. Microsoft’s inherent popularity does make them the single biggest target for viruses, worms, and other malicious code. Everyone on the planet would probably agree that doing the smallest amount of work possible to achieve the greatest effect possible is not only efficient but a good way to get your name out. Due to the flaws in Microsoft operating systems this effect can be huge (global) with a minimal amount of code (less than one megabyte). In military terms, firing for effect in the case of damaging or infecting Windows based PCs is a one shot deal for malicious code writers. This all makes perfect sense to a lot of people but for another look at things check out what Scott Granneman of SecurityFocus has to say about Linux vs. Windows Viruses.

Another thing to take into consideration is the overall security practices of Microsoft. In other words, the complete lack of security practices. The biggest one that most people are familiar with is the fact that by default users in Windows XP are setup as administrator (or root, to you Linux/Unix folks). This is great because it eases things for users but simply horrific when it comes to system security because every user of the system can run whatever kind of code they want with no method of checks and balances. Another flaw in the way Microsoft handles security is how their software is so closely tied together. Outlook (a mail client) intertwines with Internet Explorer (a web browser) which in turn is tied directly into the operating system itself. It’s a direct path from e-mail to kernel and Windows executables are very easy to run (click, click). It would appear at this point that Microsoft has entirely too many security issues to overcome. If Microsoft were to create a more secure operating they would have to completely start over. To start over though you need defined security practices and methods. It would appear that Microsoft is still trying to establish their practices. This becomes apparent every time I get an alert about a low priority update that could have devastating effects if not installed and the flaw is exploited. Another prime example is updates that fix the security problem but can sometimes make the system complete unusable. That is just not acceptable and until Microsoft better defines their methods and practices better security is an unattainable goal.

Microsoft could essentially kill the Internet in quite a few ways. As most network admins have noticed there is a significant amount of background noise on the Internet these days thanks to the plethora of worm infected systems. This background noise can be filtered to a degree but it’s still there in some capacity and still slows networks and Internet backbones down. This noise could become so prevalent that it becomes the majority of Internet traffic. This isn’t likely but it is still possible. Another way that the lack of Microsoft security and its poor practices could destroy the Internet is the proliferation of e-mail borne viruses. I know that lately I been getting at least ten e-mails a day that are infected with a virus of some sort. These e-mails could easily become the majority of all e-mails (after spam) quickly and could render e-mail and the protocols associated with it worthless or too risky to use. These are just two small scenarios that could put the Internet in the crosshairs of a Microsoft lack of security cannon.

The most attainable and seemingly clear way Microsoft can kill the Internet is to divide it. I mentioned Microsoft’s perpetual difference in standards, this difference even boils down to Internet Explorer. Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn’t fully support all web standards and definitely doesn’t adhere to a vast majority of the web standards of past and present. With the news that Internet Explorer 6 is the last standalone version of the web browser (meaning all other versions will be tightly incorporated into an operating system or office suite) it becomes apparent that in a few years there could be essentially two Internets. One Internet would be global standards based Internet like the one we have now while the other could be a Microsoft only or Microsoft “enhanced” Internet. The “Microsoft Internet” could or would be accessed only by Microsoft browsers or software (mail, FTP, chat clients, etc.) and your features and content would be within arms reach of the largest software company in the world. Throw this in with Digital Rights Management and Trusted Computing and you could be looking at the death of the Internet or the death of Microsoft. This scenario isn’t likely now but is very likely five to ten years from now should Microsoft continue with their current ways and means of accomplishing innovation. Microsoft could be creating the greatest rift in communications in the history of mankind thus killing the Internet.

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