Symantec and McAfee get an early Christmas present from Microsoft

Microsoft has given in to pressure from the European Union (EU), Symantec and McAfee with regards to kernel-level access in Vista. Microsoft has introduced a new protection system called Kernel PatchGuard to secure Vista's kernel from modifications by either programs or hackers. Symantec and McAfee (in a rather bold move) balked at such changes and said that Microsoft was locking them out entirely from providing security software for Vista.

Despite support from Russian-based Kaspersky in the matter, Microsoft has decided to make available kernel-level APIs to give security firms secure access to the Vista kernel. Microsoft feels that this addition along with changes in the way that Vista's Security System reports warnings will be enough to satisfy not only Symantec and McAfee, but also the EU. Here's a clip from Microsoft's Brad Smith on the subject:

Some security vendors expressed some concerns to the Commission, and to us, that they had previously used access to the kernel to facilitate features in their own product and that they would no longer be able to do so. We were concerned that it would be a mistake for the future of computers if PatchGuard were to be removed or eliminated. We devised a new engineering approach that will create and extend new kernel level APIs so that PatchGuard will be retained, the security of the kernel will be protected, and yet security vendors will have an opportunity to meet their needs through these kernel level API extensions. We felt that this was again the right kind of solution that meets the needs and obligations that we have under competition law, whilst also meeting the needs of computer users around the world.

When notified of the change, a representative for Symantec responded with "We have not seen anything yet. These are technical issues. Until we actually see the APIs, all we know is what they [Microsoft] have said in the media. If it is true, then it would be a step in the right direction for giving customers the choice to use whatever solutions they would like." Likewise, a spokesman for McAfee stated "We are encouraged by Microsoft's recognition that there is a problem. However, we do not have specific information on the nature of these changes, or their timing."

We will surely be hearing more about these kernel-level APIs within the coming weeks as Microsoft works together with security firms. Given that this seems to be a last minute change of heart on the part of Microsoft, it remains to be seen whether the changes will be in place in time for Vista’s November RTM date.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller

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