Microsoft has teamed with the US government to refine a locked-down, more secure configuration of Windows XP.
Originally developed by the US Air Force in cooperation with Microsoft, the special XP set-up uses hardened Group Policy Objects (a technology in Microsoft's Active Directory) and images, which the Air Force used as the standard OS image for its desktop Windows machines.
The project evolved into the Federal Desktop Core Configuration (fdcc) recommendations maintained by US standards organisation NIST. Sys admins can download the configuration along with group policy objects.
Earlier reports by Wired suggested that Microsoft has worked with the government to develop a secure configuration of XP for use by the military and that this might be somehow out of reach to the hoi polloi, who are left with a system whose out-of-the-box configuration leaves it open to all manner of worms as soon as it's connected to the net.
The suggestion was that the Air Force use its purchasing muscle to persuade Microsoft into delivering a secure configuration of Windows XP.
Roger Grimes, a security architect on the ACE Team within Microsoft, said that the original article was incorrect and that "there isn't a special version of Windows for the Air Force."
"They use the same SKUs as everyone else. We didn't deliver a special settings that only the Air Force can access," he said.
Microsoft consultants worked with the Air Force and later the federal government in refining this configuration, tailored to fit within a broader security policy framework.
"A lot of the other improvements, such as patching, came from the use of better tools, and were not necessarily solely due to the changes in the base image (although that certainly didn't hurt). So, it seems the author mixed up some of the different technology pushes and wrapped them up into a single story," Grimes added in comment to Bruce Schneier's security blog.
Talk of the under-publicised project has generated a lively debate on Schneier's blog and elsewhere on the net this week. Numerous stories have repeated the original (incorrect) line that the configuration is only available to the military.
So the version is available to anyone - or at least anyone with funds enough to pay either Microsoft or a consultant to implement it. An additional snag is that this configuration will not be suitable for all environments and may get in the way of some applications. So don't feel too left out. ®