Computer expert vows no back door for Microsoft

A computer expert working for Microsoft has denied that the company is considering including a ‘back door’ into its new operating system, despite concerns that law enforcement agencies will be unable to read any encrypted data stored on computers which would help them to crack criminal activity.

Mar 23, 2006
By David Howell

A computer expert working for Microsoft has denied that the company is considering including a ‘back door’ into its new operating system, despite concerns that law enforcement agencies will be unable to read any encrypted data stored on computers which would help them to crack criminal activity.

The concerns were raised regarding the forthcoming successor to the Windows XP operating system – dubbed Vista – which will feature a state of the art encryption process.

However Niels Ferguson, a cryptographer working for Microsoft, said that back doors were “simply not acceptable”. Writing in his blog, Mr Ferguson said: “The official line from high up is that we do not create back doors. In the unlikely situation that we are forced to by law, we’ll either announce it publicly or withdraw the entire feature.”

The blog entry was in response to a recent BBC feature that criticised the BitLocker encryption system that Vista will contain when it is released later this year. The system is designed to make copyrighted material such as music and films harder to play illegally on computer systems. Mr Ferguson reiterated Microsoft’s stance about a back door, stating:

“The suggestion is that we are working with governments to create a back door so that they can always access BitLocker-encrypted data. Over my dead body.”

Microsoft is talking to governments who have expressed concerns that their law enforcement agencies would be at a disadvantage once Vista becomes widespread on millions of computers across the globe, but Ferguson concluded by stating: “They foresee that they will want to read BitLocker-encrypted data, and they want to be prepared. Like any security technology, BitLocker has its avenues of attack and law enforcement should know about them. For example, if they search a house and find a computer, they should also take all USB thumb drives, as these might contain a BitLocker key.”

With less than a year to go before the release of Vista it isn’t certain how Microsoft will react to these concerns. The idea behind BitLocker is to protect copyrighted material that is stored on computer systems, but the encryption technology could just as easily be used to encrypt and therefore protect details of criminal activity.

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