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Microsoft to Get Malware Bailout in Germany

2009-12-08

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With the economic crisis still being in full effect, Germany wants to throw government money at another industry giant. However, this time it is not an ailing car manufacturer, but the software producer Microsoft. The German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) plans to team up with internet service providers (ISPs) to establish a call center helping malware-troubled Windows users.

The project was announced today at the German IT summit in Stuttgart. Starting in 2010, ISPs will track down customers with infected PCs, e.g., by looking for communication with botnet controllers. These customers will then be directed to a special website offering advice on removing the malware. If this is unsuccessful (or the site is blocked by the malware), people will get access to a call center, where a staff of about 40 will try to fix the problem.

This approach raises a number of concerns. First, it leaves the software manufacturers out of the equation. Therefore, there will be little incentive to write secure code, as the cost of additional support will be passed (at least partly) to the government. Second, it also discourages the users from switching to more secure products. Both aspects can be interpreted as a direct subsidy for Microsoft. The timing of the initiative could also not be better: last week Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the attack vector number one, lost its leadership in Germany to rival Firefox. Additionally, the plan establishes questionable practices for IT security. Malware infections are seen as something inevitable, which is definitely not the case.

Unfortunately, how much government money is involved is also kept secret. SPIEGEL ONLINE reports that the BSI refused to disclose the costs for the project, citing procurement regulations. However, the plans could be overthrown anyway: chances are that such subsidies are in violation of EU laws.

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