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Given where MS started, "less evil" is damning with faint praise. The people in charge include people who were part of everything that was wrong with the company all along. As long as I have a reasonable alternative, I will never choose to trust Microsoft.

Then again I'm biased. Their desire to sell insecure software to the US government when that was against the law lead them to deliberately destroy the life of a friend of mine who they were afraid was going to turn whistleblower to such an extent that he died and left behind a widow and small kids. (Example incident. At one point he got hired at another company, and his manager to be received a call from Microsoft whose whole point was, "How much do we have to pay you to fire him before he starts?" Microsoft knew how to be evil.) I'm not forgetting Ed Curry. Nor do I have any desire to forgive Microsoft.

As long as people associated with the worst of their excesses remain involved and in control - people like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer - I will always make the non-Microsoft choice.




I hadn't heard this story before, but time isn't kind to this particular conspiracy. The moment of clarity: Mr. Curry wanted to sue Microsoft but "couldn't find a lawyer willing to take on the case" -- in 1998. EVERYBODY was suing Microsoft in 1998, including multiple governments. If you couldn't find someone to sue them that year, I'm afraid you don't have much credibility.

And this made my head hurt:

"All computer security systems begin with the Intel processor itself," Curry said. "I helped Intel develop their processor, so I know how they work and how vulnerable they can be if left exposed." ... "In fact," he added, "Microsoft NT 4.0 is the least secure of all the NT versions... Processors on Windows NT Version 4.0 are insecure because they have been designed to automatically open the processor up to accept commands on start-up."


I love how everyone is an instant expert on the Internet, even if they have only heard of the issue minutes before. I'm not a random internet conspiracist. I'm an established member of this community reporting what happened to someone that I considered a friend at the time that it happened.

Here is the story as I remember it.

The private lawsuit that Ed Curry had standing to bring was a complex contract violation between himself and Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft was not carrying through with their obligations left Ed Curry with very poor personal finances. Therefore any lawyer who took the case on would be doing so on contingency. No matter how many other lawsuits may have been filed, it is not a particularly easy matter to find a lawyer who is willing to spend years in a private lawsuit against pockets as deep as Microsoft's in the hope that someday, maybe, you'll get a big enough settlement to justify it.

So what were Ed Curry's other options?

Well he was aware that Microsoft was breaking the law in a rather egregious way. Windows NT 3.5.0 service pack 3 had a C2 certification. Ed knew this, he is the person who had done that security evaluation. (Which he did on the very contract that Microsoft was breaking the terms on.)

However Microsoft was advertising that Windows NT 4.0 had a C2 clearance. And was selling that into government departments whose regulations required that clearance. Ed Curry was aware of the false advertising, and the lack of clearance, and was furthermore aware that major design decisions, such as putting third party graphics drivers into ring 0, made the attack surface against Windows NT 4.0 sufficiently large that it could not qualify for C2 certification. (Historical note, Windows NT 4.0 never got that certification. But many years later, on service pack 6, they got a British certification that they claimed was equivalent.)

But what could he do about that? Microsoft was clearly breaking the law. But as a private individual, Ed did not have standing to sue Microsoft for the false advertising. He's not the wronged party, you need someone like the attorney general to sue. But Microsoft was politically connected, and getting those people interested is difficult.

What Ed decided to do - in retrospect it was clearly a mistake - was to go public with Microsoft's lawbreaking in the hope that he could get the attention of someone sufficiently highly placed to force Microsoft to follow the law. That's when Microsoft went nuclear. They paid every one of his clients to go elsewhere. After his company went bankrupt, when he got a job they paid that company to preemptively fire him. After several months of this, he died of a heart attack.

Incidentally you may wonder why Microsoft broke their contract with him in the first place. The reason was simple. They came to him with NT 4.0, and said that they wanted C2 clearance. He came back and said that it would never pass, and explained why. They told him to lie so that they could get the certification. When he refused to lie, they decided that they would punish him for failing to cooperate, and decided to not live up to their side of the agreement, safe in the knowledge that he was not going to have a reasonable chance of successfully suing them for it.

That's what happened, and I don't much care whether you happen to believe it. I was there, you weren't, and people who are active on HN will make up their own minds about me.


I knew Ed Curry and worked with him at his home north of Austin for some reporting I did regarding bugs in the Cyrix CPUs. He was a friendly and kind-hearted person, was deeply devoted to both his religion and family. With respect, however, he did not have the best of business judgement. I spoke with him during the time he was setting up his NT certification business. I do not recall all the details, but even today I remember feeling uneasy that he was investing so heavily in creating a business for C2 certification before demand had proven itself. The alarms were going off in my head. I really think that Ed read a lot more into the relationship than he had a right to do.


I would not disagree with your evaluation.

It does not excuse Microsoft's behavior.


And here's where I flash pocket aces: I sat in a room with no windows and no computers, across from men with strong chins and short haircuts, reviewing Windows NT source code line by line. On friggin' paper.

Never heard of this guy. Never heard this story. It makes no sense, and I cannot even imagine what "automatically open the processor up to accept commands on start-up" means.

Mr. Curry eventually met with senior NSA/DoD officials, aired what he had -- while a major government lawsuit against Microsoft played out -- and nothing.

Also, Windows NT 4.0 very much did get C2 certification and had E3 (equivalent but not transferable) at the time. Which again doesn't help the story in hindsight.

I mean, seriously... read this nonsense (gcn.com). This stuff doesn't even qualify him for a Wikipedia entry. It's just the story of someone who cracked under the pressure of releasing a version of NT every year for four years straight. He certainly wasn't the only one.

-----

Curry also gave Schaeffer an updated document pulled from Microsoft’s Web site. Under a section of frequently asked questions on security, the site answered the question: “Is Windows NT a secure enough platform for enterprise applications?” by stating that the company recently enhanced the security of NT Server 4.0 through a service pack.

“Windows NT Server was designed from the ground up with a sound, integrated and extensible security model,” the Microsoft Web site said as late as last week. “It has been certified at the C2 level by the U.S. government and the E3 level by the U.K. government.”

Hodson said the passage claiming C2 certification cited by Curry refers to NT 3.5 with Service Pack 3, which is the only version of NT to meet the NSA’s C2 level requirements to date. But because the passage earlier mentions NT 4.0, Hodson said, the meaning could be misconstrued.


Interesting. On Microsoft's own site they have http://support.microsoft.com/kb/93362 which does not list 4.0. But I found several references claiming that they did achieve C2 certification with service pack 6 in early 2000. My memory had that as a British certification that they claimed was equivalent, but Google is not turning up anything that supports my memory.

However that said, by the time they got that many service packs out, it was clearly no longer the same operating system that they were pushing in 1995. There will never be proof either way, but my belief is that the reason that it took 6 service packs before that certification happened is that there were real security flaws in early NT 4.0.

As articles like http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/1998/05/12121 make clear, Ed Curry's claims were serious enough to be reported in the press at the time. And governments are large and diverse enough that there is no reason to believe that the opinions of people pursuing an anti-trust case about browsers would have much impact on people. This qualifies as a lot more than "nonsense".

As for your "pocket aces", I have absolutely zero clue who you are or whether you're telling the truth. I have no reason to doubt that people who would have been reviewing that code would find themselves on Hacker News. Obviously if you were working for the NSA, you wouldn't be likely to be inclined to leave a traceable trail all over the internet demonstrating that fact. However you wouldn't necessarily know everyone else involved. Nor after 17+ years can any of us claim perfect memory of everyone we might have worked with.

But I did know Ed somewhat. My impression of Ed, and the impression of many others we both interacted with, is that he was a credible witness. I never encountered any evidence that indicates that he was lying.


Interesting. On Microsoft's own site they have http://support.microsoft.com/kb/93362 which does not list 4.0.

I see 4.0 listed on the page. It's right at the bottom -- twice.


Yes, they list the advice in the article as applying to NT 4.0. And the advice on access controls does apply there.

But the only sentences stating that specific versions have actually received C2 type certifications are in the summary. And the statement there is that 3.5 was certified as of 1995 in the USA, and 3.5.1 was given a E3/F-C2 rating in the UK. Nowhere in that article does it say that any version of 4.0 ever received C2 certification.

If you think I'm missing something, please quote directly from the relevant section of the article.


There's no need to guess about any of this:

"SAIC's Center for Information Security Technology, an authorized TTAP Evaluation Facility, has performed the evaluation of Microsoft's claim that the security features and assurances provided by Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 6a and the C2 Update with networking meet the C2 requirements of the Department of Defense Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria (TCSEC) dated December 1985." [1]

Anyway isn't all of this missing the point that the TCSEC C* requirements didn't really amount to much anyway? It's a pity no general purpose operating systems were ever evaluated to A1 criteria, and that that the Common Criteria haven't lead to systems like EROS/Coyotos/Capros receiving more development attention.

[1] http://web.archive.org/web/20060503192159/http://www.radium....




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