Palladium pesticide triggers poison pens

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 12:00am

Unleashed in August, that SOB - the SoBig virus - continues to ricochet through cyberspace. Assuming that you are: a) organised, b) sane and c) wedded to the Windows operating system, you will have updated any antivirus software to catch, quarantine and destroy any SoBig strains.

But what would you give for an invention that prevents scum such as SoBig from even beginning to infiltrate your hard drive? Consider Palladium.

Announced in June last year, Palladium is pitched as 'the codename for an evolutionary set of features for the Microsoft Windows operating system. When combined with a new breed of hardware and applications, these features will give individuals and groups of users greater data security, personal privacy, and system integrity'.

In short, Palladium is a digital pesticide meant to ensure computers stay free of worms, viruses and similarly noxious vermin.

Microsoft decided in January to give it the new, 11-syllable name of Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB), for some mysterious reason.

What is the point of swapping a cool name, which originally meant a sacred object believed to have the power to preserve the state possessing it, for an acronym that is impossible to remember?

Ostensibly, the change was a bid to placate a minnow firm also called Palladium. However, the truth may be that Microsoft wanted to lower its initiative's profile and stem the sarcasm. ABM (Anything But Microsoft)-minded critics vilify NGSCB as if its purpose were to abet rather than block intrusion.

'Isn't it ironic that the company responsible for nearly every major computer security problem, virus and backdoor - thanks to its poor software development and testing among other factors - is now heralding its ability to make everything right in a stroke?' sniped Richard Forno on the technology news site the Register.

'I read the story a half-dozen times, and I'm still not sure if it's a real project ... There's so much wrong with this idea that it's difficult to decide where to start debunking it,' wrote Nicholas Petreley in Computerworld.

Admittedly, even if Microsoft had a new technology capable of ending Third World hunger and First World obesity, digital seers would still lambaste it because they view Bill Gates as a grey incarnation of Satan.

Attacking the latest Microsoft monster is an international blood sport, and so much more fun than explaining, say, how it works. Quite how NGSCB functions is anybody's guess - the Microsoft FAQ explores the 'cryptographic algorithms' angle but dances around this issue.

When, if ever, NGSCB will materialise is also open to conjecture. The dates 2004 and 2006 have both been mooted.

Nevertheless, presumably Microsoft wants each of the world's six billion people to adopt its system. If you consider how much its software your computer contains, you will probably conclude that resistance is futile. But cast your mind back to Xenix, Microsoft's version of Unix (the fiendishly complex but stable alternative operating system) for microprocessors. Remember MultiPlan, an early spreadsheet program. And let us not forget Bob, the company's highly user-friendly graphical interface aimed at those who cannot spell the word 'technical' let alone cope with the real-life complications it implies.

None of these could be described as a killer application which changed the course of personal computing. In fact, each disappeared without a trace.

So the future of Palladium, or whatever you want to call it, is by no means secure. This columnist, for one, would rather chance it with SoBig and other forms of virtual vileness than languish within the secure confines of a corporate fortress.