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For Windows Vista Security, Microsoft Called in Pros
Novell, which sells a Linux-based operating system, also works with government agencies on software security issues, spokesman Bruce Lowry said in an e-mail, "but we're not in a position to go into specifics of the who, what, when types of questions."
The NSA declined to comment on its security work with other software firms, but Sager said Microsoft is the only one "with this kind of relationship at this point where there's an acknowledgment publicly."
The NSA, which provided its service free, said it was Microsoft's idea to acknowledge the spy agency's role.
The NSA's primary mission is signals intelligence -- monitoring the communications of foreign powers, terrorists and others. But its secondary objection is "information assurance," under which the security of Microsoft's operating system falls.
Industry observers suggest that both the NSA and Microsoft have good reason to disclose their relationship. For Microsoft, the NSA's imprimatur may be viewed as a vote of confidence in the operating system's security.
"I kind of call it a Good Housekeeping seal" of approval, said Michael Cherry, a former Windows program manager who now analyzes the product for Directions on Microsoft, a firm that tracks the software maker.
Cherry says the NSA's involvement can help counter the perception that Windows is not entirely secure and help create a perception that Microsoft has solved the security problems that have plagued it in the past. "Microsoft also wants to make the case that [the new Windows] more secure than its earlier versions," he said.
Armstrong, the Microsoft manager, said: "The entire crux of Vista was security. . . . Security is at the forefront of our thoughts and our methods in developments and is critically important to our customers."