[ISN] "The Bad Boys are also Terribly Clever"
isn at c4i.org
Mon Feb 7 08:31:43 EST 2005
SPIEGEL Interview with Bill Gates
January 31, 2005
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, 49, talks about the thorny issues of
computer security, competition, software bundling and how he lives
with the downsides of his wealth and fame. In addition to being the
world's richest man, Gates is the founder of the world's most powerful
SPIEGEL: Mr. Gates you came to Munich this week specifically to
initiate a project for more Internet security in Germany. The
government sponsor is Labor and Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement.
Why are you taking the initiative now?
Gates: The enthusiasm about how computers, the Internet, and good
software can help people is probably as large today as it ever was. A
lot of fantastic things have happened in the past few years. Just
think about how e-mail contact or digital business with photos or
music have developed world-wide. But while we still work on wonderful
further developments, some really serious issues are being forced onto
the agenda, and we now have to ensure that they do not ever become a
problem. This stretches from annoyance about a mailbox filled with
junk advertising to the risk that your computer has been taken over by
hackers to spy on your data. There is a lot to do, especially for
SPIEGEL: You want to achieve that single-handedly?
Gates: The bandwidth of problems is enormous. And not only individual
companies are facing demands, but our entire industry. In meeting
these demands we have to work together with governments and public
agencies. Politics has to ensure the legal framework.
SPIEGEL: And consumers?
Gates: PC users will have to grapple more intensively with very
practical questions. For example: Do I need regular updates of my
software? That alone is a gigantic thing for us. When we offer an
improvement to Windows via the Internet today, there are a few hundred
million people who take up the offer, but also a few hundred million
who do not do it. Or here's another question: How do my children use
the Internet? If nothing else, that is a challenge now because at
times kids handle the World Wide Web significantly better than
parents. One thing we have to do is make computer use simpler in order
to increase people's awareness of such questions.
SPIEGEL: Did you underestimate the security problems? A few years ago,
the chief concerns of your industry were making computers more
efficient and hooking up as many houses as possible. Now security is
of chief concern. Even Microsoft seems to have first become aware of
the danger after Sept. 11.
Gates: The terrorist attacks in 2001 just showed people up close where
a lack of security can lead. Problems with computer security have more
to do with the unbelievable success of the computer itself. The more
successful the PC became, the more the downsides also became clear,
such as: how can I prevent someone from stealing my credit cards off
the Internet? In some areas, the bad boys are also terribly clever --
and occasionally more crafty than we had expected.
SPIEGEL: Those who send spam advertising e-mails for example.
Gates: I don't want to minimize the problem at all. We will still have
a few years of fighting with that. But, there are many things that
have already improved. On the other hand, problems in the area of data
theft have increased.
SPIEGEL: From which corner do you expect the greatest challenge? Virus
makers? Hackers? Spam senders?
Gates: There will always be people who try to take advantage of the
medium by bothering us with marketing stuff, which is fast, easy, and
cheap to distribute world-wide. We will be able to control that to
some degree because the sources allow themselves to be traced back.
The people who create advertisements for a certain company usually
receive money from the company. That makes them traceable. We have
been making enormous progress on this front. I worry more about
whether our general dream will be fulfilled.
SPIEGEL: What is that dream?
Gates: That we can globally communicate with one another without
mistrust and can do it more creatively. To do this, for example, it is
important that your identity is safe on the Internet. In the end it
involves a promise, the promise of the digital age. But I also do not
believe that the current difficulties can really endanger that.
SPIEGEL: Microsoft is not only a part of the solution, but also,
because of its market power, part of the problem. When a company
provides more than 90 percent of all personal computers with software
it is inevitably a target for hackers interested in causing the most
Gates: There are actually a large number of operating systems in
addition to Windows, for example, such as OS from Apple or Linux and
SPIEGEL: ... but in the realm of normal personal computers, they don't
play a large role worldwide.
Gates: The truth is: the fewer operating systems there are within a
company, the better it is from a security point of view.
SPIEGEL: I beg your pardon?
Gates: Simply because one must spend billions of dollars to ensure the
security of each individual system. Our company has an unbelievable
number of people who are solely responsible for this type of security
around the clock.
SPIEGEL: The particular charm of Linux is that it is an adaptable
system that users can shape themselves.
Gates: If everything runs under the same platform, however, you can
better concentrate resources and more quickly repair errors. For
instance, in a hospital where different systems are used, a single
problem in one section cause the other systems to crash. Thus, from a
security standpoint it is always better to focus on one system.
SPIEGEL: But your small competitor Apple, for example, is much less
frequently a victim of virus attacks ...
Gates: ... put so sweepingly, that is not correct. Of course we are
the largest target, simply because we have the most widely
disseminated system. But it affects others in exactly the same way.
Linux is, in many respects, even more significantly affected.
SPIEGEL: In a few hours a Windows virus can travel across the world
like an epidemic...
Gates: ... above all because of our global popularity. But we know
that. And we must apply still more time and money to it. However, spam
or data theft are not questions of the operating system. For this, you
also need laws and global standards.
SPIEGEL: Once again: Windows is the most vulnerable.
Gates: You could look at that in many ways. The speed with which, for
example, the Linux community reacts to problems is not especially high
-- that's because this system, unlike ours, simply does not keep
thousands of people on standby to deal with problems. In this respect,
a commercially distributed operating system also has decisive
benefits. Sweeping judgments don't help because we all have to take
the problems seriously. Even Linux developers know that there is no
miracle cure in Linuxland. They, too, must continue to work and
continue to make progress.
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