A National Security Agency director just bragged to a Senate subcommittee about his agency's close "cooperation" with Microsoft to, err, "enhance" how Windows 7 guards a user's privacy. Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy?
The spooks at the NSA are, of course, notorious for their role monitoring internet activity, and for their use of warantless wiretaps to monitor U.S. phones, often illegally. So computer users could easily be worried to hear that the NSA has "partnerships" with Microsoft, which makes their operating systems; Intel, which makes their wireless chipsets; and McAfee, which makes their antivirus software (so-called!).
From NSA Information Assurance Director Richard Shaeffer's testimony to the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security:
Working in partnership with Microsoft and elements of the Department of Defense, NSA leveraged our unique expertise and operational knowledge of system threats and vulnerabilities to engance Microsoft's operating system security guide without constraining the user's ability to perform their everyday tasks... All this was done in coordination with the product release, not months or years later during the product's lifecycle.
Shaeffer also talked about his agency's "trusting relationship" with the private sector, including a "partnership" with Intel and McAffee to promote a security protocol — or should we say, "security" protocol? — from the federal government.
These IT companies all want to do business with the government, so it's to their advantage to be seen as cooperative in implementing federal protocols in their products. But should consumers distrust these ties? The general consensus among private-sector security experts canvassed by ComputerWorld was, in the words of one, "I can't imagine NSA and Microsoft would do anything deliberate because the repercussions would be enormous if they got caught."
Right, because if there's anything that clearly motivates these two massive organizations with virtually guaranteed near-term revenue streams, it's fear of public shame. This is why we have not seen either entity doing anything embarrassing, recently.
(Pic: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, by Getty Images.)