[ISN] "The Bad Boys are also Terribly Clever"

InfoSec News 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 
software company. 

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 
damage possible.

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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